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Antique engagement rings

The fact that Martin Luther was after all a Renaissance man often goes unnoticed behind the display of his religious fervor. A fine testament to his interest for every detail of Creation, as well as appreciation for artistry and ingenuity can be found in Luther’s betrothment and marriage rings. The unbelievable complexity of these engraved creations should be marked by everyone who is trying to come up with a creative idea for a wedding ring!

William Jones book on ring lore has a wonderful account of these antique rings:

Mr. H. Noel Humphreys, an eminent authority on these subjects, states (Intellectual Observer , February 1862): ‘The betrothment-ring of Luther, which belonged to a family at Leipsic as late as 1817, and is doubtless still preserved with the greatest care as a national relic of great interest, is composed of an intricate device of gold-work set with a ruby, the emblem of exalted love. The gold devices represent all the symbols of the “Passion.” In the center is the crucified Savior : on one side the spear, with which the side was pierced, and the rod of reeds of the flagellation. On the other is a leaf of hyssop. Beneath are the dies with which the soldiers cast lots for the garment without seam, and below are the three nails. At the back may be distinguished the inside of the ladder, and other symbols connected with the last act of the Atonement; the whole so grouped as to make a large cross, surmounted by the ruby, the most salient feature of the device. On the inside of the ring the inscriptions are still perfect. They contain the names of the betrothed pair, and the date of the wedding-day in German, “der 13 Junij 1525.” This was the ring presented to the wife at the betrothal, and worn by her after the marriage.

Luther's rings The marriage-ring worn by Luther after his marriage was still more intricate in its structure. It is an ingeniously contrived double-ring, every intricacy of structure having its point and meaning. In the first place, though the double-ring can be divided, so as to form two complete rings, yet they cannot be separated from each other, as the one passing through the other causes them to remain permanently interlaced, as an emblem of the marriage vow, though still forming two perfect rings; illustrating also the motto engraved within them, “Was Got zussamen fü get soll Kein Mensch Scheiden ” — What God doth join no man shall part. On the one hoop is a diamond, the emblem of power, duration, and fidelity; and on the inside of its raised mounting, which, when joined to the other hoop, will be concealed, are the initials of Martin Luther, followed by a D., marking his academic title. On the corresponding surface of the mounting of the gem of the other hoop are the initials of his wife, Catherine von Bora, which, on the closing of the rings, necessarily lies close to those of Luther. The gem in this side of the ring is a ruby, the emblem of exalted love ; so that the names of Catherine and Luther are closely united, when the rings are closed, beneath the emblems of exalted love, power, duration, and fidelity. There can be but little doubt that these curious and interesting rings were designed by the celebrated painter and goldsmith, Lucas Cranach, and possibly wrought with his own hand, the marriage of his friend Luther being a special occasion which he doubtless wished to honor with every
attention. Lucas was, indeed, one of the three select friends whom Luther took to witness his betrothal; the others being Dr. Bugenhagen, town preacher of Wittenberg, and the lawyer Assel, who all accompanied him to Reichenbach’s house, where Catherine resided.’

Double-rings are well known in various cultures. In Japan, double-rings are know as a variation of hanayama puzzles. According to one seller of these Japanese rings (who incidentally brings up Luther’s name), “It is rumored to prove as evidence of its wearer’s adultery…when it comes apart into pieces.” This may or may not be a very strong selling point, but the notion is curious. Caveat emptor!