A History of Sapphires in Culture: Pope Innocent III

Throughout time, sapphires have been revered for their beauty, their strength and durability, and the perceived powers of wellness and protection. In a celebration of the special cultural relevance of sapphires, we have gathered together some of our favorite stories to share of historical sapphires through all cultures. Part IV continues with Pope Innocent III.

Pope Innocent III’s Gifts to the Kings of England – Beginning 13th Century


Pope Innocent III was Pope from 1198 until his death in 1216.  He is primarily remembered for reasserting and extending the prestige and power of the papacy.  He is also known for giving four rings containing precious gemstones to Richard the Lionhearted, King of England (d. 1199).  According to Kuntz (1917):

“With the rings, the pope sent a letter from St. Peter’s in Rome, dated May 28, 1198, in which he wrote that the four stones were symbolical.  The verdant hue of the emerald signified how we should believe; the celestial purity of the sapphire, how we should hope; the warm color of the garnet, how we should love; and the clear transparency of the topaz, how we should act.”

According to some sources, Innocent III also gifted four gemstone rings to Richard’s successor, King John of England, at the end of their long power feud.  Apparently after many years of squabbling, the two reached an acceptable compromise: power was yielded to the former and tribute or service money granted to the latter.

As part of the truce, Pope Innocent III forwarded a gift of four gemstone rings, each containing a single emerald, sapphire, ruby, or opal.  Although the rings do not survive, the letter that accompanied the gift does.  In it, the Pope instructed the King to allow the inherent “virtues” of the stones to guide him in his daily life, as they represented faith, hope, charity, and good works, respectively.