This 550-year-old death's head ring says, "Behold the End"

This gold death's head ring from the late 16th Century has a white enamel skull and is encircled by a command to "BEHOLD THE END." Around the edge, it says, "DYE TO LIVE."

From English Godly Art of Dying Manuals, c. 1590-1625, by Jenny Mayhew

In a rare moment of humanist enthusiasm, Ward praises Socrates' ability to 'fasten his eyes' on a single object for hours without weariness, and claims that such focused concentration, if applied to mortality, could 'bring a man to immortalitie' to (p. 52). The trained spiritual eye can or transform or actualise the immortal godliness of the beholder, he implies. As proof of this mystical effect, Ward cites the example of a young rake or 'Prodigall' who utterly reformed himself by contemplating a death's-head ring for an hour daily over seven sequential days (p. 52). With this example, Ward evidently approves the contemporary habit of giving and wearing memento mori rings, which feature a skull and motto, to aid meditation on death. Aligning the devotional tasks of seeing and rehearsing for death, he seems to recommend that readers contemplate with sacramental regularity tangible object bearing the skull motif, using its 'face' as other Christians might use Christ's face, as an icon that can change the onlooker. Death's power to transform the beholder is suggested on memento mori objects by the juxtaposition of healthy human figures (a baby, or rosy-cheeked woman) with the skeletons to which they will inevitably be reduced. Faith in Death reiterates this warning of death's destructive power and advertises the regenerative power of true vision, which can 'bring a man to immortalite' through a semi-ritualised and magical way of looking.

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[Thumbnail image: 80's Child/]