What Happens To The Pope's Ring When He Dies?

The ceremonial formalities that a pope — and those who surround him — must abide by on a daily basis only intensify when he dies. Not only is there a meticulous process the Vatican must follow upon the death of the pope, but there's a formal process of papal succession to be set in motion. That's all done by the camerlengo, a senior cardinal who serves as the papal chamberlain. He is responsible for the administration of the Vatican and the greater Roman Catholic Church during the interregnum until the College of Cardinals chooses a new pope.

The camerlengo's first duty is to verify the death of the pope. According to tradition, the camerlengo does this by calling the pope's baptismal name three times, presumably without an answer. Simultaneously, he taps the pope's head with a silver hammer. Once the camerlengo is satisfied, he declares, "The pope is truly dead," according to Deutsche Welle. The camerlengo then authorizes the death certificate, and locks and seals the papal apartment, posting a guard outside so nobody can disturb the residence.

The pope's ring is destroyed when he dies

According to tradition, the pope's gold ring – known as the Ring of the Fisherman — is smashed with the same silver hammer used to confirm his death by the camerlengo, according to the BBC. "Objects strictly tied to the ministry of St. Peter must be destroyed," per the Vatican, UPI reported when Pope Benedict XVI stepped down in 2013. The gold ring, which bears an image of St. Peter and the current pope's name, is used as a papal seal, and the Vatican requires the destruction of the papal ring to avoid forgery.

The pope's ring "is a sign of authority of a particular pope and so that's why it's so important that the ring itself is destroyed once a papacy ends, so that no one can assert that authority except within whom it has been invested," Robert Dennis, an historian from Queen's University who specializes in Catholicism and the Vatican, told CBC News

The church may be making an adjustment, however. The BBC reported that when Benedict XVI stepped down from the papacy in 2013, his ring was marked with a cross so that it could otherwise be kept intact, possibly for display in a museum.

(Deadline reports that Discovery+ will stream a documentary on Pope Francis, titled Francesco, beginning March 28.)