Royal Cornwall Museum: Medieval Gold Ring

The whole ground floor of the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro is dedicated to Cornish history. From the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods to the 20th Century, you’ll find a continuous stream of exciting artefacts and knowledge.

Following the floor, from left to right, you’ll see that history moves chronologically. On the back wall, you’ll find the section featuring Medieval Cornish history. Here you will see a gorgeous gold ring, right in the center of the display. Figure 1 shows the ring.

Figure 1 – Medieval gold ring (1450-1500) at Royal Cornwall Museum.

The museum has labeled this gold ring to be from 1450-1500. Saint Margaret was revered in Medieval England. She was often depicted in artwork of the time. Figure 2, Saint Margaret Slaying the Dragon by Raphael (1518), shows Saint Margaret slaying the beast with a crucifix.

Margaret was born in C. 291 AD and lived in Antioch. She is remembered as a ‘White Gem’, a virtuous virgin Saint.

At the age of fifteen, she attracted the attention of a Provost named Olybrius. He intended to make her his wife. He did not approve of her Faith as a Christian. He ordered her before him and demanded she change her Faith, but she refused. This outraged Olybrius who had Margaret imprisoned.

Once again, Olybrius ordered Margaret to renounce her Christianity, to which she refused. As punishment for her second refusal, Olybrius had Margaret beaten with iron rods. This beating left her with wounds as deep as her bones. Despite the abuse, Margaret still refused to deny her Faith.

Figure 2 – Saint Margaret Slaying the Dragon by Raphael (1518)

After Margaret returned to her cell, she prayed. Prayed to the Lord to reveal what was against her. A dragon appeared. There are different versions of what happened next. Some say that the beast ate her whole, however, Margaret made the sign of the cross from within the belly of the dragon. This caused the Dragon to explode, leaving Margaret alive. Another version suggests that before the beast could devour Margaret, she was able to use the sign of the Cross to kill the dragon. In both versions, it is Margaret that is victorious.

When Olybrius discovered what happened, Margaret was branded and thrown into a fire. Before she could die, her body was removed and submerged in water to prolong her suffering. At this point, Margaret rose from the water, no wounds to be seen on her body. She proclaimed that the Lord had baptised her in the water of everlasting life.

Figure 3 – Medieval image of Saint Margaret slaying the dragon by an unknown artist.

Five thousand people are said to have witnessed this miracle. Outraged that so many people now had irreversible belief in Christianity, Olybrius ordered all witnesses to be executed. He didn’t want their Faith to spread. Margaret, along with the witnesses, was beheaded.

There are many depictions of Saint Margaret engraved into gold rings. We are lucky enough to have one on display so close to home. This really is a beautiful piece of jewellery.

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