Let us tell the story of how the Holy Ring of the Virgin was brought in the city of Perugia, and …
It is the end of July 1473, a little friar named Vinterio, originally from Mainz (Germany), but a longtime resident in the convent of San Francesco di Chiusi, is heading towards the Porziuncola of Santa Maria degli Angeli of Assisi for the solemn recurrence of the Pardon of Assisi. In the bag that hangs on his shoulder, there is a priceless treasure, a chalcedony quartz jewel: The Sacred Wedding Ring of the Virgin Mary.
Legend has it that around the year one thousand, a goldsmith from Chiusi named Ainerio received it as a gift from a Jewish merchant of precious stones. The first owner, who in turn had inherited the jewel, longed to cede it because this object gave him a strong spiritual torment. The Virgin appeared to him in a dream and the principles of his jewish religious belief were wavering. The only advice he wanted to give Ainerio was to keep the object among his dearest things, and to render to it the veneration it deserved. Thus, the Holy Ring arrived in Chiusi; the goldsmith placed it in the family crypt but, perhaps not fully believing in the story of the Jew, he soon forgot his recommendations.
A few years later, while he was accompanying his only child, who died prematurely, he suddenly saw the deceased rise from his bed and give him a stern warning that he had abandoned such a precious relic. Ainerio then wanted to amend his own shortcomings and, having obtained the irrefutable proof of the authenticity of the ring, he donated it to the nearby convent of Santa Mustiola so that, from that moment, everyone could honor the mystical object publicly,
Fra Vinterio knew the legend well, has deep respect and even fear in handling that jewel. They told him that in the past all those who abused the holy relic were punished. A countess who wished to wear the Holy Ring ended with a paralyzed finger and, only after having asked for the forgiveness of the Virgin Mary, was her finger restored.
A large number of faithful, returning from the Pardon of Assisi, are destined to be disappointed when they arrive in Chiusi after a few days of travel; the sacred object is now in the friar’s purse and the annual exhibition of August 3rd will not be celebrated without the Holy Ring. For the city, this celebration day is the most important of the year; according to Fra Vinterio, however, the people of Chiusi do not deserve to possess that celestial gift because they behaved very badly towards him. In fact, they have unjustly accused him of the theft of some chalice, arrested him, locked up for forty days in jail with his feet and his hands chained, and he was even tortured, to obtain the confession of a crime he did not commit.
After the misadventure, even his fellow brothers in the convent continued to defame him and he thought that depriving them of their most precious treasure was the only way to satisfy his resentment of those people. He prepared a strong acid to corrode the iron chains, on the night of July 23, he hid in the church and, with a copy “contrafactam” of the keys, had opened the small coffer box within which, in a purse of silver brocade, was stored the ring; he then wrapped it in a shred of silk, and then placed it in his purse; he had been in Chiusi for six days, and then decided to go on horseback in the direction of Assisi, long before the wrongdoing had been discovered.
While his thoughts return to that particular evening, Fra. Vinterio was already halfway on his journey to the land of the Poverello (Assisi the land of St. Francis) on this first stage of the long journey to finally arrive in his native homeland. Suddenly, a thick fog descended in front of him, so in order not to lose his bearings and risk losing his way, he decided to stop in the nearby city of Perugia where an old acquaintance lives. The friar spent a very agitated night there; he regretted everything and now he does not know what to do with that ring. The next day, the conversation he had with his friend Luca Delle Mine was decisive for him and it is clear that the only possible solution is to deliver the relic to the city authorities.
It is his friend Luca himself who tries to solve the problem but he had to cross the door of the “Palazzo dei Priori” (government office) four times to be taken seriously. Even at this point, the incredulity of the authorities was at its maximum, since everyone knows the fame of the jewel, but nobody has seen it so close that one can recognize it, nor does the explanation given was clear on how it got there from Chiusi.
The day of the Holy Ring’s inauguration arrived and soon the people of Chiusi discovers the theft. The relevance of the news is of such importance that it takes little time for it to arrive to Perugia and the local authorities had to reject their initial convictions. The Prior acknowledges the Lord God for having chosen his city and gives Luca a prize of 200 florins, an annuity for himself and his children and exemption from taxes for the family until the third generation.
At the same time, the hunt for the thief fra. Vinterio begins. He was eventually traced in his hiding place in Santa Maria Novella, on 5 August, captured and put in prison. When questioned, he immediately denies the involvement of other people in the incident and confesses the strong resentment towards his confreres, which led him to the sacrilegious theft.
The ambassadors left immediately to communicate to Pope Sisto IV the news of the arrival of the Holy Ring in Perugia. The Pope grants his blessing and authorizes the official exposition, which takes place for the first time on August 15, the commemoration of the Assumption of the Virgin, in a cathedral crowded with a festive crowd of devotees. Fra Vinterio, meanwhile, was destined to rot in prison. In October 1473, he wrote a petition to the authorities: he affirms that, beyond the crime committed, he is “the one for whom God used in mediating for your excellent and magnificent city for the arrived of the Sacred Ring of the glorious Virgin Mary” and deserves clemency. The process against the friar began on the 22nd of November 1474 and, given the exceptional nature of the incident, the trial was a mixed commission of religious and civil authorities. The accused confessed all and for this reason he deserves to go to prison;
The relic is now officially owned by the city of Perugia, to which it was donated; its initial location is in the altar of the Decemviri chapel in the Palazzo dei Priori. In order to store the jewel, a wooden box is built, closed by seven keys, protected in turn by a metal grating closed by four others keys. Only fifteen years later, in 1488, as soon as the work of San Lorenzo was completed, that the jewel moved to the new cathedral. All the best artists participated in the decorations of the Chapel of the Holy Ring and the painting of the “Marriage of the Virgin” is commissioned to Perugino. The chest with the relic is placed behind the altar, in a room built for the occasion, about eight meters above the floor, hidden in a closet that simulates the effect of a wall covered with marble. The fourteen keys that are used to touch the relic are appropriately distributed among the highest civil and religious authorities of the city, so that only the synergy between them can lead to the opening of all the locks. Since then the tradition has been handed down and today the third Sunday of January and 29th and 30th July, the Municipality, the Collegio della Mercanzia, the Collegio del Cambio, the Archbishop, and the Cathedral Chapter combine their keys to extract the monile from its casket. On the day of its arrival in Perugia, the Holy Ring has helped to create a bridge between official religiosity and popular devotion and the city has repeatedly resorted, through extraordinary ostension, to the mercy of the Virgin to avert calamity natural or enemy invasions. The true protagonists of this cult are, however, the generations of pilgrims who in every age have prayed before the relic to heal their diseases, especially those of the eyes.
The Holy Ring: revenge, fog, the process – by Emanuele Legumi
For further information:
“De annulo pronubo deiparae Virginis qui Perusiae religiosissime adservatur”, GBLauri, Rome 1622
“Della Historia di Perugia”, P.Pellini , Perugia 1664
“The wedding ring of Virgin Mary is venerated in the cathedral of Perugia”, A. Rossi, Perugia 1857
“The legend of the Holy Ring of Chiusi”, A.Spicciani, Sienese Bulletin of homeland history 1995
“The Holy Ring “, MLBuseghin, Perugia 2003
” The Holy Ring – Legend, History, Art, Devotion “, Various Authors, Perugia 2006