Provenance is a fundamental organizing principle in archives. It refers to the individual, family, or organizational body that created or accumulated material in a collection. The principle of provenance dictates that records of the same origins be kept together to preserve their context, rather than grouping items of various origins together by subject (the way books are catalogued) or medium (as artworks may be).
As provenance is intrinsic to our profession, it is very frustrating to be faced with an item whose previous owner cannot be identified. With textual records, there are often clues, but an artifact without accompanying documentation can be a real mystery.
Last year, custodianship of some of our former bishops' rings was transferred from the Chancery Office to the Archives. Unfortunately, it was not clear as to which of our bishops these rings had belonged.
A Roman Catholic bishop receives an episcopal ring when he is consecrated. Aside from those personally purchased or gifted, bishops' rings belong to the Church. The ordinary of a See inherits the previous bishop's ring collection, which is held in trust. A bishop may be buried with a ring that he owned, but all those belonging to the Church must be returned upon his death. Bishops may also choose an episcopal ring formerly worn by a predecessor, which can further obscure its provenance.
Rose gold episcopal ring with a large amethyst, flanked on either shoulder with a mitre, cross and crozier.
On the gemstone is etched a dove holding a branch embellished with tiny diamonds.
Inside the band is engraved: Nov. 10-1867 and Nov. 10-1890
From this tradition, we can conclude that the episcopal rings transferred to the archives were likely worn by a bishop that retired or died in Toronto. One of the rings in question has two dates engraved on the band: "Nov. 10-1867 and Nov. 10-1890". The former is a significant date to only one of our ordinaries: Archbishop John Walsh was consecrated bishop on that day, after being appointed Bishop of Sandwich (i.e. Windsor), the former seat of the Diocese of London, Ontario.
Case closed? Not quite.
Most Reverend Walsh was appointed Archbishop of Toronto on August 13, 1889 (coincidentally, 128 years ago today) and installed here on November 27, 1889. Therefore, the second date seems to have little significance to Archbishop Walsh. The word "and" in the engraving suggests (at least to me) that the dates refer to the same person rather than a subsequent wearer. In any case, November 10, 1890 does not pertain to any of our other bishops.
To determine if the ring was ever worn by Walsh, we checked his official portraits taken in London and in Toronto. Unfortunately, it's not a match. The ring in the photos seems to have a large central stone encircled by a halo of small diamonds. The setting is lower than that of our mystery ring.
|ARCAT Photographs Collection, PH 05/01P|
Carte de visite portrait of Most Reverend Walsh, Bishop of Sandwich (and then London, when he move the seat of his See back there) by Frank Cooper, Artistic Photographer, Dundas St., London, Ontario [ca. 1880?]
|ARCAT Photographs Collection, PH 05/02P|
Carte de visite portrait of Most Reverend Walsh, Bishop of Sandwich, by Edy Bros. photographers, 214 Dundas St., London, Ontario [ca. 1870?]
The mystery ring is certainly larger and more ornate that the ring he is wearing in the portraits, which is probably the ring from his consecration gifted by the Toronto clergy. Most Reverend Walsh began his career in Toronto and was much respected by his fellow priests. According to the Jubilee Volume 1842-1892 of Archbishop Walsh and the Archdiocese of Toronto, the clergy presented "a mitre, crozier, pectoral cross and ring" to "their dearly beloved brother."
Though the photos do not confirm that our mystery ring belonged to Archbishop Walsh, they do not remove the possibility either. Bishops may own multiple episcopal rings, and they are a common gift. Fancier ones may be saved for special occasions rather than everyday use.
One could speculate that he was given this ring to mark his elevation to archbishop on the anniversary of his consecration date. November 10, 1890 would have marked the first anniversary of Walsh's consecration that he celebrated as Archbishop of Toronto. Although it would have been more appropriate to bestow an archbishop's ring on Walsh at his Installation Mass in 1889 (or, for that matter, in the Jubilee year of 1892 when the diocese turned 50 and Walsh celebrated 25 years of ordination), it is not completely outside the realm of possibility.
Until further information comes to light, that frustrating question mark will stand beside the issue of provenance.
To read about provenancial mysteries that we've actually solved, see these former posts:
Record of the Week: "the famous cameo ring"
Record of the Week: the mysterious Death Mask
Record of the Week: Cardinal McGuigan Gets the Key to the City
***We are also happy to announce this week that the short biographies of our former bishops and archbishops (which used to be hosted on ARCAT's now defunct website) have been migrated to the Archdiocese of Toronto's site. You can read more about Archbishop Walsh here.***