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A recent viral video that shows pilgrims attempting to kiss Pope Francis’ ring has people asking: why does the pope wear a ring, and why do people kiss it?

Since at least the the late Middle Ages, it’s been Catholic tradition to kneel and kiss the ring of a bishop or pope out of respect for the office. In Italian, the greeting is called baciamano, which literally means “hand-kiss” even though the Faithful kiss the Ring of the Fisherman worn by the pope.

The Ring of the Fisherman, also known as the Piscatory Ring and Anulus piscatoris in Latin, is an official part of papal regalia that used to feature a relief of Saint Peter fishing from a boat, the symbolism derived from the tradition that the apostles were fisher’s of men.

Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” – Mark 1:17

The earliest mention of the Ring of the Fisherman is found in a letter written in 1265 A.D. by Pope Clement IV to his nephew. The ring was first used for sealing all private papal correspondence. In the 15th century, the practice changed to sealing papal briefs instead.

Pope Leo XIII’s Anulus piscatoris

A ring is cast for the papal inauguration and is slipped on ring finger of the new pope’s right hand by the Cardinal-camerlengo. Upon a papal death, the ring used to be ceremonially destroyed with a hammer in the presence of other cardinals to prevent any forged documents from being issued during the interregnum. Today, two deep cuts carved into the Ring of the Fisherman shaped like a Cross mark the end of that pope’s reign.

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