The Iron Crown of Lombardy (Italian: Corona Ferrea; Latin: Corona Ferrea Langobardiae) is both a reliquary and one of the oldest royal insignias of Christendom.
It was made in the Early Middle Ages, consisting of a circlet of gold fitted around a central silver band, which according to legend was made of iron and beaten out of a nail of the True Cross.
The crown became one of the symbols of the Kingdom of the Lombards and later of the medieval Kingdom of Italy. It is kept in the Cathedral of Monza, outside Milan.
The Iron Crown is so called because it was believed to contain a one centimetre-wide band of iron within it, said to be beaten out of a nail used at the crucifixion of Jesus. The outer circlet of the crown is made of six segments of beaten gold, partly enameled, joined together by hinges. It is set with twenty-two gemstones 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. According to other opinions, however, the small size is due to a readjustment after the loss of two segments, as described in historical documents.
According to tradition, the nail was first given to Emperor Constantine I by his mother St. Helena, who had discovered the True Cross. Helena supposedly cast one nail into the sea to calm a storm, another was incorporated into a diadem and then mounted into Constantine’s helmet, another was fitted to the head of a statue of the Emperor, and a fourth was melted down and molded into a bit for Constantine’s horse. Since alleged pieces of the holy nails can be found in almost thirty European countries, Blom (2002) stated 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.
It is unclear when the nail was incorporated into a crown and how it fell into the hands of the Lombard kings. Legends involve Theodelinda, the queen of the Lombards, who resided at Monza in the late 6th century, converting the Lombards to Christianity. Theodelinda supposedly donated the crown to the Italian church at Monza in 628, where it was preserved.
According to another tradition reported by the historian Valeriana Maspero, the helm and the bit of Constantine were brought to Milan by Emperor Theodosius I, who resided there, and were exposed at his funeral, as described by St. Ambrose in his funeral oration De obituu Theosdosii. Then, as the bit remained in Milan (where it is currently preserved in the cathedral), the helm with the diadem was transferred to Constantinople, until Theoderic the Great, who had previously threatened Constantinople itself, claimed it as part of its right of the king of Italy. The Byzantines then sent him the diadem, holding the helmet (which was exposed in the cathedral of St. Sophia until the lot of 1204). King Theoderic then adopted the diadem gemmis insignitum, quas pretiosior ferro innexa(s)crucis redemptoris divinae gemma connecteretas (St. Ambrose De obituu Theosdosii) as his crown. This is the Iron Crown, passed by the Goths to the Lombards when they invaded Italy.
In some accounts,Charlemagne‘s coronation as King of the Lombards. Contemporary or nearly contemporary accounts of the initiations of the earlier kings of the Lombards stress the importance of the king’s tholding the holy lance.
the crown was used in
The crown was certainly in use for the coronation of the kings of Italy by the 14th century, and presumably since at least the 11th. Old research dates the crown to the 8th or early 9th century. But according to a recent study, the crown in its current state is the result of two different works made between the 4-5th and the 9th century. This seems to validate the legends about the origin of the crown, that date it back to the Lombard era and the coronation of their kings.
Lord Twining cites a hypothesis by Reinhold N. Elze that Gisela, the daughter of the Emperor Louis the Pious who married Duke Eberhard of Friuli, may have originally possessed the crown and left it to her son Berengar I of Italy 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 they were affixed to a veil, and this would account for the small holes on the rim of the Iron Crown. 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.
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 the Iron Crown to be exposed for public veneration and carried in processions, but leaving the essential point of whether the iron ring came from 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.” 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. Lipinsky, in his examination of the Iron Crown in 1985, noted that the inner ring does not attract a magnet. Analysis of the inner ring in 1993 revealed that the ring is made of silver.
Thirty-four coronations with the Iron Crown were counted by the historian Bartolomeo Zucchi from the 9th to the 17th century (beginning with Charlemagne). 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. Later coronations in which the crown was used include:
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. However, starting with Conrad II in 1026, coronations were also performed at Milan. In 1530, Charles V received the Iron Crown simultaneously with his Imperial coronation at Bologna.
On May 26, 1805, Napoleon Bonaparte had himself crowned King of Italy at Milan, with suitable splendour and magnificence. Seated upon a 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. 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 the imperial coronation in the Gemunden codex and makes no mention of an anointing.
The Coronation of Henry VII and Margaret 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. 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,…” 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…”
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 with the words, “Receive this royal crown…”, followed by the prayer, “God of Continuity…” 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 blessings. 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 name…you are anointed with this oil,…”, followed by the prayer, “The grace of the Holy Spirit…”
The queen then receives 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,…” 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…”
The Mass said at this coronation was that of the Ambrosian Missa pro imperatore (‘the Mass for the Emperor’).
In 1993, the crown was subjected to extensive scientific analysis performed by the University of Milan. In particular, X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis and Radiocarbon dating were performed.
As reported by Professor M. Milazzo (M.Milazzo P.Sardella analisi XRF quantitativa nelle applicazioni archeometriche), The XRF analysis performed on the metal of the crown revealed that all the foils, rosettes and bezels were made with the same alloy, made of 84–85% gold, 5–7% silver, and 8–10% copper, suggesting a contemporary construction of the main part of the crown, while the fillets external to the enamel plates and the hinge pins were made of 90–91% gold and 9–10% silver, suggesting one or more subsequent reworking.
Three of the 24 vitreous enamel plates are even visually different from the others, in colour and construction, and were traditionally considered to be later restorations. The XRF analysis confirmed that they were made with a different technique, with their glass being made of potassium salt, while the others, instead, are made of sodium salt (sodium is not directly detectable by the XRF analysis). More surprising findings came up however by the radiocarbon dating of fragments of beeswax used to fix the enamel plates to the gold foils of the crown. The ones taken under the “strange” plates were dated from around 500 AD, and the ones under the “normal” plates from around 800 AD. That is consistent with the tradition of a more antique crown, further decorated during the reign of Theoderic (with the addition of the enamels), and that was extensively restored during the reign of Charlemagne.
The “iron nail” was found to be 99% silver, meaning the crown contains no iron. However, a note from the Roman Ceremonial of 1159 provides that the Iron Crown is so called quod laminam quondam habet in summitate, stating that the iron was once laid over the crown (probably as an arc, as in other crowns of the era), not into it. Speculations have been made that the silver circle was added by the goldsmith Antellotto Bracciforte, who restored the crown in 1345 to reinforce it given that the (presumed) stealing of two plates had weakened the hinges. (Currently, in one of the crown’s junctions, two of the plates are not joined by the hinge which is too damaged but are held only by the inner silver ring). In 1352, for the first time, a document (the inventory of the treasury of the Cathedral of Monza) describes the crown as being small.
The gems in the crown are seven red garnets, seven blue corundums (sapphires), four violet amethysts, and four gems made of glass.
A surprising image of the Iron Crown figures in Chapter 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.