Jewelers routes

28 July 2021

The rings of the Serenissima

The ring is omnipresent in the history of Venice. Three stories and legends to accompany your visit to the city known as the Serenissima.

By Sandrine Merle.



1/ The ring of the relics of Saint Mark

The value of a basilica or cathedral lis enhanced by the holy relics it shelters: a thorn can be enough, the summum being the crown of Christ of the Holy Chapel. In 827, Venice led a fantastic expedition to Alexandria to recover the relics of Saint Mark: they were slipped into a container containing pork so that they would escape the control of the Muslims! Destroyed by fire during revolts, the church that housed them was replaced by the famous basilica that we know today. During its construction, which lasted a century, the relics were lost. Miraculously, during the inauguration, a pillar collapsed, the sarcophagus reappeared and the remains of Saint Mark emerged smelling of roses. The ring that adorned his finger was given to the nobleman Domenico Dolfin who passed it on to his descendants. They sold it in 1509 to the Scuola Grande di San Marco, where it was stolen in 1575 by Nadalin da Trento. Under terrible torture, he confessed to stealing liturgical objects that were recovered except for the ring melted for eight ducats. Today only The Miracle of the Ring of Saint Mark, the painting by Domenico Tintoretto remains as proof of the lost relic. In 2014 it was restored by Save Venice, an American association whose Vice President is the Italian jeweler Alberto Nardi.


2/ The ring of marriage with the sea

Around the year 1000, the Doge is said to have thrown a gold ring into the waters of the lagoon for the first time, pronouncing his words: “We marry you, sea, as a sign of true and perpetual domination”. He thus recognized the power of Venice over the sea following the conquest of Dalmatia by the Venetians, around 997: this launched the expansion of the city-state and opened the way to its maritime domination. In 1176, Pope Alexander III gave his golden ring to Doge Ziani, thus making official the ceremony known today as “marriage with the sea” (sposalizio del mare) and which takes place every year on Ascension Day. It was interrupted by Bonaparte’s troops ,who burned the Bucentaure ­– the ceremonial galley used by the Doge for the marriage. Although the city lost this supremacy, the municipality of Venice revived this ceremony in 1965, and it is now the mayor who casts the ring into the waves.


3/ The ring of the storm

On February 15, 1340, when a storm threatened Venice with catastrophic flooding, a fisherman in a boat took refuge on the shore in front of the present Doge’s Palace and met a knight. The knight ordered him to take him to San Giorgio Maggiore and then to San Nicolò du Lido where two other knights boarded. Then the boat headed for the Adriatic, where they encountered a ship filled with creatures of the Devil, the same ones that were causing the storm. The three knights, who are none other than St. Mark, St. George and St. Nicolò, succeeded in repelling them. On the way back, Saint Mark took off his ring and asked the fisherman to give it to the Doge Bartolomeo Gradenigo who would reward him. This ring is still part of the treasure of the Basilica of San Marco. Venice is truly the Serenissima of the rings…


Related articles:

The Pala d’Oro in St. Mark’s basilica  with Alberto Nardi

Nardi, the Moor of Venice

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