In room 17 – known as the Peter II room, in honour of the count of Savoy who commissioned a large construction project at Chillon Castle in the second half of the 13th century – there is an exhibition display cabinet. The cabinet houses a magnificent object pointing to the finesse and skill of medieval artisans: a ring set with an engraved sapphire. Visitors are always astounded by its sheer size.
Were the Savoys trying to compensate for something?
This is a replica of the ring of Saint Maurice, one of the emblems of the House of Savoy. The counts passed it down from the mid-13th century, symbolising the transfer of power – a bit like with the scarf in the Vaud colours worn by elected or sworn officials during official ceremonies. Although admittedly, somewhat more glamorous.
The ring on display at Chillon is not the original jewel, nor is it a facsimile. In fact, this piece of artistry was lost in the 18th century during the French Revolution.
Before making its return to Savoy, the ring was said to have belonged to the Abbey of Saint Maurice in Valais, which was an important sanctuary in medieval Europe. This is where the relics of Saint Maurice of Agaune were said to reside. Saint Maurice was an Egyptian soldier in the Roman army who became a martyr during the persecution of the Christians carried out in the early 4th century.
The counts of Savoy very quickly formed a close relationship with the Abbey, becoming its protectors in the late 12th century. Legend has it that it was Peter II (1263-1268) who managed to have the ring bequeathed to him. In reality, the last will and testament of Count Amadeus IV (Peter II’s older brother), written in 1252, suggests that the ring was already in the dynasty’s possession at this point. This still does not rule out the ring already having been in Savoy possession beforehand, but there is no evidence of this.
It is plausible that the ring could have been passed from the clergy to the Savoy family, but this is not a proven historical moment either. For this Alpine dynasty, associating themselves with this religious establishment was a way of boosting their prestige, especially given how the jewel was previously said to have belonged to the kings of the Second Kingdom of Burgundy (10th-11th centuries). There was a real, mini royal family feel to it.
What would you have done to tell the world how important you were?