A gold ring was found in 1974 in the excavations south of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.a At the time, the suggestion that the ring depicted the Holy Sepulchre, or tomb of Jesus, met with considerable scholarly skepticism. The ring has never been studied or published. My own view is that the structure on the ring does in fact represent the Holy Sepulchre.
Although the ring was uncovered in an excavation, unfortunately, the locus and level of the find give no indication of its date.b The ring must therefore be dated principally on the basis of its style. On this basis, we must be very vague: The ring could have been manufactured at any time during the last thousand years.
Rings like this are, however, known from several other collections. A very similar example can be found at the Benaki Museum in Athens. Others have been found in Israel Jerusalem) and in Europe, a fact not without significance, as we shall see.
The shape of the structure depicted imitates the features of a particular building, not simply a building in general. But what building? Let us look at the ring and its building more closely:
The structure is square. It has a cone-shaped cupola on top. On each facade is a large round vault. In the center of each of the four round vaults is a shaft with two branches at the bottom. The round vaults are composed of gold granulation.
The cupola on top of the structure is made of long strips, joined at the top by a ring. On top of the cupola ring is a knob. On the lower part of the cupola are two rows of perforations, or holes, that alternate above one another. A zig-zag line runs between perforations.
The ring itself, through which the finger fits, is granulated on its edges. A wavy line meanders around the center part of the ring.
It is my impression that the ring is Christian because of the design of the vaults: The shaft with two branches resembles a stylized lily with a long central petal reaching the top of the vault, apparently part of the construction; actually each side of the structure is divided in half by this stylized lily that in effect creates two vaulted sections. The ring shows four identical facades. The lily was a well-known Christian symbol during the Crusader period. We should, therefore, look for an important building from the Christian world to identify the structure.
There is a remarkable similarity between the structure on the ring and a representation of the Crusader Holy Sepulchre from the church itself. This Crusader Holy Sepulchre is depicted on marble screens.c Now housed in the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem, these screens depict the Holy Sepulchre as a cone-shaped cupola with a knob at the top, just like the structure on our ring. Another likeness is noticed when the ring is compared to the 15th-century engraving. The dome and open vaults on the ring resemble the structure on top of Jesus’ tomb enclosure.
Accordingly, I believe that this ring very probably represents a depiction of the Holy Sepulchre, or tomb of Jesus, within the church rotunda as it was seen in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during the Crusader period. The fact that such rings have been found in Jerusalem and in Europe tends to support this identification.
Rings with buildings on them are well known from the 15th and 16th centuries. The most popular ones were Jewish wedding rings that showed various buildings of European style, and that were sometimes inscribed with the Hebrew inscription mazel tov (“good luck”).
It is very probable that ring makers in Jerusalem copied this concept for Christian pilgrims visiting Jerusalem; such rings featured the Holy Sepulchre and were very probably sold as souvenirs in the 15th and 16th centuries. In this way, some of the rings made their way to Europe. Others, like this one, remained in Jerusalem, to be uncovered centuries later by archaeologists.
A gold ring was found in 1974 in the excavations south of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.a At the time, the suggestion that the ring depicted the Holy Sepulchre, or tomb of Jesus, met with considerable scholarly skepticism. The ring has never been studied or published. My own view is that the structure on the ring does in fact represent the Holy Sepulchre. Although the ring was uncovered in an excavation, unfortunately, the locus and level of the find give no indication of its date.b The ring must therefore be dated principally on the basis of its style. On […]
You have already read your free article for this month. Please join the BAS Library or become an All Access member of BAS to gain full access to this article and so much more.