Religion in Museums

When museums and religion collide

The Ring of Power in an English museum?

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The ring that led Bilbo and Frodo Baggins and their friends into such complicated adventures in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings has (perhaps…) surfaced in a museum in southern England.

About 1785 a gold ring was found on the site of the Roman city of Silchester, near Reading. It was a very large ring, 12g of gold, ornamented with a spiky head wearing a diadem, and a Latin inscription reading ‘Senecianus live well in God.’ The ring ended up in the private museum of the Chute family at The Vyne, a nearby country house. Today that house is opened to the public by the National Trust.

The other half of the story is the excavation carried out by Sir Mortimer and Tessa Wheeler at the Roman temple of Nodens at Lydney in Gloucestershire in the late 1920s. (The site also has remains of Roman iron workings, holes in the ground perhaps giving rise to ‘hobbit holes’.) During the excavation an inscribed curse was discovered, accusing a certain Senicianus of stealing a ring.

On the excavation team was the professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, J R R Tolkein, called in to advise on the name Nodens. He put two and two together, and it seems very possible that the ring stayed in his mind, to influence the story of The Hobbit he was writing for his children.

The ring is now the subject of a new National Trust exhibition at The Vyne – an exhibition that has attracted a great deal more publicity that do most country house promotional efforts.

Crispin Paine
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