Iron Crown of Lombardy

Iron Crown of Lombardy
Iron Crown of Lombardy, kept in the Cathedral of Monza.

The Iron Crown of Lombardy (Corona Ferrea) is both a reliquary and one of the most ancient royal insignia of Europe. The crown became one of the symbols of the Kingdom of Lombards and later of the medieval Kingdom of Italy. It is kept in the Cathedral of Monza, in the suburbs of Milan.



The Iron Crown is so called from a narrow band of iron about one centimeter (two-fifths of an inch) within it, said to be beaten out of one of the nails used at the crucifixion. The outer circlet of the crown is of six segments of beaten gold partly enameled, joined together by hinges and set with twenty-two gemstones[1] that stand out in relief, in the form of crosses and flowers. Its small size and hinged construction have suggested to some that it was originally a large armlet or perhaps a votive crown; for others, the small size of the present crown was caused by a readjustment after the loss of two segments, as described in historical documents.


Iron Crown of Lombardy

According to tradition, the nail was first given to Emperor Constantine by his mother Helena, who had discovered the True Cross. Sources speak of several nails dispensed by Helena and Constantine: Helena cast one into the sea to calm a storm, while another was incorporated into Constantine's helmet, another fitted to the head of a statue of the Emperor,[2] and a fourth melted down and molded into a bit for Constantine's horse. Some scholars posit that there were, in fact, many Holy Nails being circulated at the time. Almost thirty European countries lay claim to a holy nail.[3] Constantinople seems to have made liberal use of them: "Empress Helena, who seems to have spent much of her reign locating holy relics, once cast a nail from the Holy Cross into the sea to calm a storm. Another was fitted to the head of a statue of the Emperor Constantine, while a third was incorporated into his helmet."[4]

When the nail was incorporated into a crown and how it fell into the hands of the Lombard kings, the Migration Period Germanic conquerors of northern Italy, is unclear, though legends involve Theodelinda, the queen of Lombards who resided at Monza in the late 6th century.

Since almost thirty European countries lay claim to fragments of the holy nails, historian Philip Blom holds that "Constantine also understood the value of these objects in diplomacy"; Several were sent off to various dignitaries, one of whom was Princess Theodelinda. "She used her nail as part of her crown, the famous Iron Crown of Lombardy [4] Roman legend connects the crown with Pope Gregory the Great for her part in converting the Lombards to Christianity.[2] She later donated the crown to the Italian church at Monza in 628, where it was preserved.

In some accounts it was used in Charlemagne's coronation as King of the Lombards; others, however, hold that the crown was only forged in the 9th century, years after Charlemagne, and consider all the supposed former history as legends. There is no contemporary account of the initiation ritual actually used to make Charlemagne the King of the Lombards; thus it is possible that no crown was used in this ceremony. Contemporary or nearly contemporary accounts of the initiations of the earlier kings of the Lombards stress the importance of the king's taking in hand of a holy lance[5] and there is no reason not to assume that the taking in hand of such a lance would not have been the central act in Charlemagne's inauguration as the King of the Lombards as well.

In 1996, ANTARES (Australian National Tandem for Applied Research) tested the samples of the beeswax and clay mixture used to hold the gemstones of the Iron Crown in their settings and concluded that the Iron Crown was made between 700 and 780.[citation needed]

Lord Twining cites a hypothesis by Reinhold N. Elze that Gisela, the daughter of the Emperor Louis the Pious and married to Count Eberhard of Fruili, may have originally possessed the crown and left it to her son Berengar I on her death in 874. Berengar was the only major benefactor of the church at Monza at this time and also gave the Cathedral of St. John in Monza a cross made in the same style as the Iron Crown, which is still preserved in the church's treasury. Twining also notes that the Imperial Museum at St. Petersburg includes in its collection two medieval crowns found at Kazan in 1730 made in the same style and of the same size as the Iron Crown. Twining notes that while these crowns and the Iron Crown are too small to be worn around an adult human head, they could be worn on the top of the head if affixed to a veil and this would account for the small holes on the rim of the Iron Crown.[6] Twining also mentions a relief plaque in the cathedral which appears to represent the coronation of Otto IV at Monza in 1209 as it was described by Morigias in 1345 and stresses the point that although four votive crowns are shown hanging above the altar, the crown which the archbishop is placing on the king's head bears no resemblance to the Iron Crown.[7] The Encyclopædia Britannica states that the first reliable record of the use of the Iron Crown in the coronation of a King of Italy is that of the coronation of Henry VII in 1312.[8]

Finally, Twining cites a study by Ludovico Antonio Muratori which documents the various degrees of the ecclesiastical authorities alternately authorizing and suppressing the veneration of the Iron Crown until in 1688 the matter was subjected to be studied by the Congregation of Rites in Rome, which in 1715 diplomatically concluded its official examination by permitting Iron Crown to be exposed for public veneration and carried in processions, but leaving the essential point of the identity of the iron ring of the Iron Crown with one of the nails of Christ's crucifixion undecided. However, subsequently Archbishop Visconti of Milan gave his own decision that "the iron ring in the Monza crown should be considered as one of the Nails of the Holy Cross and as an original relic."[9] Twining notes that the clergy of Monza assert that despite the centuries that the Iron Crown has been exposed to public veneration, there is not a speck of rust on the essential inner iron ring.[10] Lipinsky in his examination of the Iron Crown in 1985 noted that this iron ring also shows no magnetic attraction.[11]

Thirty-four coronations with the Iron Crown were counted by the historian Bartolomeo Zucchi from the 9th to the 17th century, but the coronations surely documented in history are:[citation needed]

Since the 10th century, the Roman-German Kings would travel to Rome to be crowned Holy Roman Emperors. On their way, they traditionally stopped in Lombardy to be crowned with the Iron Crown as Kings of Italy. The traditional site of the coronation was Pavia, the old Lombard capital, but starting with Conrad II in 1026 later on coronations were also performed at Milan. In 1530, Charles V received the Iron Crown simultaneously with his Imperial coronation at Bologna.

Cathedral of Monza

On May 26, 1805, Napoleon Bonaparte had himself crowned King of Italy at Milan, with suitable splendour and magnificence. Seated upon a superb throne, he was invested with the usual insignia of royalty by the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, and ascending the altar, he took the iron crown, and placing it on his head, exclaimed, being part of the ceremony used at the enthronement of the Lombard kings, Dieu me la donne, gare à qui la touche – "God gives it to me, beware whoever touches it".

On the occasion, Napoleon founded the Order of the Iron Crown, on June 15, 1805. After Napoleon's fall and the annexation of Lombardy to Austria, the order was re-instituted by the Austrian Emperor Francis I on January 1, 1816.

The last to be crowned with the Iron Crown was Emperor Ferdinand I in his role as King of Lombardy and Venetia.[12] This occurred in Milan on September 6, 1838.

After the war between Austria and Italy, when the Austrians had to withdraw from Lombardy in 1859, the Iron Crown was moved to Vienna, where it remained until 1866 when it was given back to Italy after the Third Italian War of Independence.

Coronation Rite for the Kings of Italy

From the 9th to the 18th century, the Kings of Italy were also the Holy Roman Emperors, so many of them received the Iron Crown of Lombardy at Pavia, the formal capital of the Kingdom.

The earliest form of this coronation ritual closely follows that of for the imperial coronation in the Gemunden codex[13] and makes no mention of an anointing.[14]

The Coronation of Henry VII and Margaret[15] at Milan in 1311---As the king enters the choir the prayer, "Almighty, everlasting God of heaven and earth,..." is said and then the Oath is put to the king in interrogatory form. This is followed by the bishops' petition that he respect the rights and privileges of the Church and the king's reply.[16] The Recognition follows, the people answering, Kyrie eleison. The Litany of the Saints is sung, concluded by three prayers, "We invoke you...," "God who the people...," and "On this day..." The consecratory prayer then said, "Almighty, everlasting God, Creator and Governor of the world,..."[17] While the antiphon"Favorer of the Just..." or "Zadok the Priest...," is sung while the king is anointed on shoulders, after which is said the prayer, "God the Son of God..."[18]

The king is given a ring with the, "Receive the ring of royal dignity...", followed by the prayer, "God with whom is all power...". The sword is given with the words, "Receive this sword...", followed by the prayer, "God whose providence..." The king is crowned[19] with the words, "Receive this royal crown...", followed by the prayer, "God of Continuity..."[20] The Scepter is given with the words, "Receive the scepter of royal power...", followed by the prayer, "Lord, fount of all goodness..." and finally the verge is given the king with the words, "Receive the rod of virtue and dignity..." followed by six blessing.[21] The king is then enthroned, after which the Orb is given the king with the words, beginning, "Receive this gold apple which signifies monarchy over all the kingdom,..." The king replies, "Let it be done," to the charge, "Be upright, O king,..." and the Te Deum is sung.

The queen's coronation begins with the prayer, "Almighty, everlasting God, fount and origin..." and is then followed by the consecratory prayer, "God who alone..." and the queen is then anointed on her shoulders with the form, "In the are anointed with this oil,...", followed by the prayer, "The grace of the Holy Spirit..."

The queen then receive a ring with the word, "Receive the ring the sign of faith in the holy Trinity...", followed by the prayer, "Lord, the fount of all goodness,..."[22] the queen is crowned with the words, "Receive the crown of glory...", followed by the prayers, "By our unworthy ministry..." and "Almighty, everlasting God, infuse the spirit..."[23]

The Mass said at this coronation was that of the Ambrosian Missa pro imperatore ('the Mass for the Emperor').

Cultural references

A surprising image of the Iron Crown figures in Chaper 37 "Sunset" of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. The brief chapter is devoted to Captain Ahab's soliloquy. Among his delusions of persecution and of grandeur, he imagines himself crowned with the Iron Crown of Lombardy.

The Italian film La corona di ferro (1941), directed by Alessandro Blasetti, tells a fantastic story about the arrival of the crown in Italy.


  • Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 1898.
  • Philipp Blom, To Have and To Hold: An Intimate History of Collectors and Collecting, 2002.
  • Buccellatin, Graziella, and Holly Snapp, eds. The Iron Crown and Imperial Europe. (Milan: Mondadori) 3 vols. and plates 1995. A monumental study with contributions by Annamaria Ambrosioni, Peter Burke, Carlo Paganini, Reinhard Elze, Roberto Cassanelli, Felipe Ruiz Martin, Alberto Tenenti, Alain Pillepich, Henrike Mraz and Giorgio Rumi. Text in English and Italian.
  • Valeriana Maspero, La corona ferrea. La storia del più antico e celebre simbolo del potere in Europa, Vittone Editore, Monza, 2003. (Italian).


  1. ^ Seven garnets, four rock crystals four green glass pastes and seven sapphires.
  2. ^ a b Philipp Blom, To Have and to Hold: An Intimate History of Collectors and Collecting, p. 146f.
  3. ^ Philipp Blom, To Have and to Hold: An Intimate History of Collectors and Collecting, p. 146
  4. ^ a b Philipp Blom, To Have and to Hold: An Intimate History of Collectors and Collecting, p. 147
  5. ^ This lance was symbolic of the Germanic god Wodan's weapon, a spear and represented the pagan Lombard kings' dynastic claims to being descendants of Wōdan.
  6. ^ Twining, Lord Edward Francis, A History of the Crown Jewels of Europe, B.T. Batsford Ltd., London, England, 1960. p. 421.
  7. ^ Twining, Lord Edward Francis, A History of the Crown Jewels of Europe, B.T. Batsford Ltd., London, England, 1960. p. 424.
  8. ^ All other sources give the year of Henry VII's coronation as King of Italy as 1311; 1312 being the year of his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor.
  9. ^ Ibid.
  10. ^ Ibid.
  11. ^ Le gemme della Corona Ferrea
  12. ^ On this occasion, the Iron Crown itself rested on four corbel S-shaped brackets rising from the rim of the actual circlet that surrounded the Emperor Ferdinand's head and the Iron Crown, in turn, supported four S-shaped half arches supporting a diminutive orb and cross at the top.
  13. ^ Cf. The Roman Ritual.
  14. ^ If an anointing did take place the king was probably anointed during the prayer, "God, the Son of God...", which was later said immediately after the anointing.
  15. ^ Woolley has 'Catherina' as the queen consort of Henry VII, but every other source has 'Margaret of Brabant,
  16. ^ A French element
  17. ^ The same as in the English and French coronation rites (even retaining a reference to the Saxons from the English text).
  18. ^ Translations of this and the previous consecration prayer may be found at Coronation of the Hungarian monarch.
  19. ^ According to the Encyclopædia Britannica this is the first documented instance of the use of the Iron Crown in the coronation of a King of Italy.
  20. ^ It is unclear as to what point in the coronation of a King of Italy, the king would utter the words, "God gives it to me, beware whoever touches it." There is no reference to this traditional utterance in the sources on which this account is based.
  21. ^ Two of them from the English and French coronation rites and the rest from the English Ordo of Egbert
  22. ^ Also found in the French coronation rite for a queen, from which it probably was taken.
  23. ^ Coronation Rites by Reginard Maxwell Woolley, B.D. (Cambridge: at the University Press, 1915), pp. 116-117.

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Iron Crown of Lombardy — ▪ holy relic       originally an armlet or perhaps a votive crown, as suggested by its small size, that was presented to the Cathedral of Monza, where it is preserved as a holy relic. No firm record exists of its use for coronations before that… …   Universalium

  • Iron Crown — can refer to:*Iron Crown Enterprises, a roleplaying game publisher *Iron Crown of Lombardy, also used for the Napoleonic kingdom of Italy *Iron Crown (ship), an Australian merchant vessel sunk by a Japanese submarine during World war II. *the… …   Wikipedia

  • Iron Crown — noun The crown of Lombardy, so named from a thin band of iron said to be made from one of the nails of the Cross • • • Main Entry: ↑iron …   Useful english dictionary

  • Order of the Iron Crown — This article is about an order of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy. For the Austrian order, see Order of the Iron Crown (Austria). Imperial Order of the Iron Crown Imperial Ordine della Corona Ferrea (French) Im …   Wikipedia

  • Order of the Iron Crown (Austria) — Imperial Order of the Iron Crown Imperial Ordine della Corona Ferrea Kaiserliche Orden Krone der Eisernen Second class badge and first class breast star …   Wikipedia

  • Crown of Bavaria — Crown of Bavaria. The Crown of the King of Bavaria was ordered and designed 1804 1807 for Maximilian I after Napoleon had raised Bavaria to kingdom status. It was commissioned to the French goldsmith Jean Baptiste de Lasne, who d …   Wikipedia

  • Crown of Scotland — (Heraldry). The Crown of Scotland is the crown used at the coronation of the monarchs of Scotland. Remade in its current form for King James V of Scotland in 1540, the crown is part of the Honours of Scotland, the oldest set of …   Wikipedia

  • Crown of Zvonimir — The Crown of Zvonimir was bestowed on King Dmitar Zvonimir of Croatia in 1076 by the papal legate. Zvonimir ruled Croatia until 1089 after which the crown was used in the coronation of his successor Stjepan II and presumably by the numerous… …   Wikipedia

  • Crown of Christian V — The crown of King Christian V of Denmark was the crown used at the coronation of all of Denmark s absolutist kings, see Absolute monarchy. While the reign of such monarchs ended in 1840, the crown is still used during a Danish king s castrum… …   Wikipedia

  • Crown of Augustus II the Strong — Crown of Augustus II the Strong, 1930s The Crown of Augustus II was intended for his coronation as a King of Poland.[1] The crown was made in 1697 by Freiburg s goldsmith Johann Friedrich Klemm.[1] …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”