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Currently shown

“Jesuit” Ring

Location

FRANCE, POITOU

Title

“Jesuit” Ring

Date

17th c.-1st quarter of 18th c.

Materials

Brass

Dimensions

2.5 cm (diam.)

Credits

Purchase, gift of F. Cleveland Morgan, inv. 1953.Ab.6

Collection

Decorative Arts and Design

These brass rings are what French ethnologists have referred to as “lucky charm” or, in the North American context, “Jesuit” rings. Featuring oval, rectangular or heart-shaped plaques, such rings were worn by common folk in several regions of western France from the late sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth century. Rings with “L-Heart” designs were probably given as gifts – tokens of love – or to mark an engagement. Those with the IHS Christogram had a religious or magical-religious connotation that served as both proof of devotion and protection against illness and evil spells.


In New France, a great number of these “Jesuit” rings were exchanged when contact was made with Native peoples, particularly through the fur trade, diplomatic relations, and missionary activities. The discovery of many of them on the sites of Euro-Quebec settlements and in archaeological sites showing evidence of family habitation suggests they were also worn by colonists in the seventeenth and first half of the eighteenth century. The rings on view here come from the Westmeath Township (Renfrew County) area in Ontario and from Tadoussac in Quebec.


The rudimentary aspect of the fluted ridges and the three points above the cartouche lead to the belief that ring 1953.Ab.10a might be among the oldest in North America. Ring 1953.Ab.10b is the sole example in North America with a vertically positioned L-Heart design and a reticulated pattern band. Of all such rings that have been studied, only two others have worked bands. Ring 1953.Ab.7 is very likely the only Jesuit ring in North America to be adorned with a Christogram placed on its side within an oval cartouche, which is enhanced by parallel ridged lines.

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