Purity, nobility, religious significance - and all in one ring made in Sheffield. Star reporter Rachael Clegg speaks to silversmith Maria Hanson about her most important commission - the bishop’s ring
IT’S barely two centimetres wide. It’s not adorned with jewels, it doesn’t gleam and it doesn’t glisten.
Yet this modest piece of jewellery is one of the most important commissions Sheffield jeweller Maria Hanson has ever worked on.
This is, after all, the Bishop’s ring.
Commissioned by Sheffield Cathedral, the ring has taken three months to create and will be presented to the Venerable Peter Burrows when he has his consecration to become Bishop of Doncaster Designate.
The ring is not just for decorative purposes, it follows a ritual and tradition that date back as far as the sixth century AD. And, over the years, the appearance of the Bishop’s ring has varied from ostentatious to plain and simple.
“Peter wanted something that was minimalist and pure,” says Maria. “But I look at it now and it looks so simple but it took so much work.”
But its simplicity is beautiful. The ring is silver with tiny gold crosses overlaid onto its sides with an amethyst gem in the centre.
Maria is one of Sheffield’s most established silversmiths. She lectures at Sheffield Hallam and has been making jewellery and other silver objects for more than 20 years, though this was a particularly precious commission.
“It was nerve-wracking making it. It is a reasonably straight-forward ring but what struck me was the significance of the object.
“With a lot of my work and in my academic role I’ve looked at the relationship between object and ritual and there’s something rewarding about knowing that an object will be part of a ritual. It has a specific purpose for something religious.”
The ring was commissioned by Sheffield Cathedral’s Canon Precentor Simon Cowling, who said: “We approached Maria because she is a renowned jeweller based in Sheffield and we felt it was both appropriate and important that the ring was made here and of fine craftsmanship.”
The ring itself is imbued with religious symbolism. The crosses, of course, mark Christ’s crucifixion and the silver itself is seen as a pure material.
Maria said: “Silver is very significant. It is seen as noble metal that’s pure. Before the advent of disinfectant and detergents cups were often made out of silver because of its ability to kill germs.”
But Maria is more than familiar with precious metals and semi precious stones.
Throughout her career she’s had a range of prestigious commissions, including an 18 carat-gold and lapiz lazuli necklace for the Modern Collection Committee of Goldsmith’s Company.
She also made a stunning oxidised silver necklace with a cube-like pendant made of monofilament, commissioned for a private collection in Germany.
Maria has also had commissions from the Master and Mistress Cutler and, further afield, private collections in New York.
Yet all this is created in her Yorkshire Artspace studio - a haven of archaic metal work equipment, workbenches, presses, stakes - used for hammering the metal and bright desk lamps. It is a craftsman’s heaven.
But it’s a well-earned one.
Maria has been working as a silversmith since graduating from the Royal College of Art in 1991.
She became a freeman of the Goldsmith’s Company and the City of London in 2006 and in August 2007 became Freeman of the Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire.
And now Maria can put her feet up, knowing that the Bishop has been successfully installed in the Diocese of Sheffield wearing his new ring.
‘It’s important for me to have something that’s from Sheffield’
PETER Burrows’ consecration sees him take on the role as Doncaster’s new bishop. He has already relocated to the small village of Fishlake, just to the north of the town.
His consecration will involve the laying on of hands by the Archbishop of York John Sentamu.
Peter said: “I’m really positive about coming to Doncaster.”
He said when he saw his Bishop’s ring for the first time: “It’s beautiful. It is exactly what I wanted - it’s understated too, which is an important thing for me.
“It’s also significant that the ring is made in Sheffield and as Bishop of Doncaster I’m here to serve the whole Diocese of Sheffield. It’s important for me to have something that’s from Sheffield by a local artist.”
As for the amethyst gem, Peter says it part of a tradition with bishop’s rings that goes back centuries. “The wearing of a ring goes back to the original apostles, who would wear rings as a sign of office.”