Researchers uncover secret of gold ring found lying on coffin of last member of Rožmberk clan

The 'gimmel ring'

The final resting place of the Rožmberk clan, one of the richest and mightiest noble families in the land, was veiled in mystery for over 400 years. When researchers lowered a probe into the Rožmberk crypt in the Cistercian Monastery in Vyšší Brod they mapped the remains of the entire clan. What remained a mystery was the gold ring lying on the coffin of Petr Vok –the last male member of the house.

A view of the pewter chest in the Rožmberk tomb | Photo: Josef Vandělík,  Naše historie

The might and influence of the Rožmberk clan, known also by the German name of Rosenberg, did not wane for 300 years. Their power, second only to the king’s, was such that, according to popular legend, the members of the clan were not buried lying in coffins but sitting on golden chairs around a table. It was also said that anyone who dares to disturb the noble family vault would be cursed and would die within a year.

The last member of the house, Petr Vok, died in 1611 and was buried alongside his wife in the Cistercian monastery in Vyssi Brod. For years the tomb was believed to be theirs alone, but a probe lowered into the grave showed that it was much larger and deeper than originally thought, and was without doubt the final resting place of the entire clan.

Photo: Josef Vandělík,  Naše historie

The crypt beneath the monastery remains sealed and untouched to this day but cutting-edge technology, including a geological radar, has enabled researchers to produce a full layout of the grounds and its forgotten interiors, providing a 3-D computer model, even of Petr Vok himself.

What modern technology failed to resolve was the presence of a gold ring, lying on Petr Vok’s coffin. There was speculation as to whether it could have belonged to his wife Kateřina of Ludenice, who died ten years before him, or whether it was placed on the coffin by someone else later.

Now researchers say they have the answer together with a 3-D computer model of the ring, which is set with green stones –and at first glance looks unfinished.

Vyšší Brod monastery  | Photo: Jiří Šindelář,  Martin Frouz,  Naše historie

According to geophysicist, Jiří Šindelář there is a good reason for this.

“The crown of the ring is not symmetrical and shows us only half the symbol-the other half is in a second ring –a twin ring, also known as a gimmel ring which was popular in the 16th century. It is only when the twin rings come together that you see the complete symbol.”

The ring, found lying on Petr Vok’s coffin, fell there from the hand of his wife Kateřina, when the side of her coffin, placed slightly above his, decomposed. By some strange coincidence, the twin ring fell almost exactly on the place where Petr Vok’s hand, with the second twin ring, lies.

The research team has documented its work in a book called “The Rožmberk Tomb – Story of the Search” and experts are working on a perfect replica of the gimmel rings created from authentic materials. They will be on display at the Vyšší Brod monastery in May of next year.

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