Friday 2 May 2014

Record of the Week: "the famous cameo ring"

Today marks one month since the death of Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus M. Pearse Lacey.  In lieu of a Month's Mind Mass, we offer a story about his episcopal ring:

Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Lacey photographed wearing his episcopal ring
at the 50th anniversary celebration of Transfiguration of Our Lord Parish, Etobicoke, July 2009.
Bishop Lacey was pastor of the parish when it opened.
Photo courtesy of Emanuel Pires for the Archdiocese of Toronto

A Roman Catholic bishop receives an episcopal ring when he is consecrated.  They are typically large, gold, stone-set rings. 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.

Following the funeral of Most. Rev. Lacey, his family ensured that his ring was transferred to the Archdiocese by way of the Archives. When we received the ring, we were surprised to see that it was a cameo piece made of carved shell. Cameos often depict bust-length portraits of women - in this case, the Madonna. Sea snail shell is a relatively soft material and the finer details of the relief carving have been worn smooth over time. The coat of arms of the Holy See is also etched into the gold of the band. Another surprise was the inscription, which reads, "Arch'bp N. McNeil to Bp. J. T. Kidd."

Bishop Lacey's episcopal ring, a shell cameo depicting Our Lady.  The gold setting has the Vatican coat of arms carved on either side of the face and an inscription underneath that reads, "Arch'bp N. McNeil to Bp. J. T. Kidd."
Archbishop McNeil probably gave this to Bishop Kidd to mark his consecration in 1925.
Acc. 2014-002

Most Rev. Neil McNeil was Archbishop of Toronto from 1912 to 1934.
Msgr. John Thomas Kidd was the Rector at St. Augustine’s Seminary from 1913 until 1925, when he was appointed Bishop of Calgary. Archbishop McNeil was one of the co-consecrators at Bishop Kidd's episcopal ordination, so that is probably when he gave him this ring.

We looked to see if we had any photos of Bishop Kidd wearing the cameo ring. The best we could find was this photo of Kidd's consecration at St. Michael's Cathedral.  If you squint a bit and use your imagination, you can make out the white cameo face on the ring finger of his right hand.

"Taken on occasion of the ceremony of consecration of Right Rev. John T. Kidd, D.D., L.L.D, Bishop of Calgary,
Toronto, May 6th 1925." Centre detail from a panoramic photograph.
Front row: Archbishop of Toronto Neil McNeil, Bishop of Calgary John Kidd, Apostolic Delegate to Canada
Archbishop Pietro di Maria, Archbishop of Ottawa Joseph-Médard Émard
Photographs Special Collection PH35K/09P
Close-up detail of the Madonna cameo ring on Bishop Kidd's finger
Photographs Special Collection PH35K/09P

After Calgary, Kidd was appointed Bishop of London, Ontario. Following Bishop Kidd’s death in 1950, his successor, Bishop Cody, was instructed by the executors to bring “the famous cameo ring” back to Cardinal McGuigan in Toronto. We were pleasantly surprised to find a letter documenting this in our archives:

A letter from Bp. John Cody of London to Msgr. Francis Allen, Chancellor, stating that the he will be returning the ring to Toronto.
McGuigan Fonds, MG TA01.57

So how did Bishop Lacey end up with the ring?  According to his family, when he was appointed bishop, Lacey was given the option of choosing a ring from the archdiocesan collection.  Because of his Marian devotion, Bishop Lacey selected the Madonna ring.

It is wonderful to now have this ring at ARCAT, to hold in trust for the Archbishop of Toronto.  It was especially delightful to discover traces of its history in our other records.  Now, if only we knew how it came to be known as "the famous cameo ring"...


  1. Considering the crossed keys and Papal Tiara emblems, this was undoubtedly a ring given at some point to a Pope in Rome and then given to a bishop for Toronto. What you have to find out is which Bishop of Toronto was consecrated by the Pope in Rome.