Holy Sale: Pope Paul VI’s Jewelry Up for Auction on eBay

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AP / Logan Wallace

Alan Perry, owner of jewelry store Perry's Emporium, displays the papal jewelry he will be selling for a customer in Wilmington, NC, Wednesday, April 6, 2011.

It’s the real deal, confirms the Vatican.

Symbols of Roman Catholic authority don’t normally turn up for sale on the Internet, but a lavishly jeweled cross and ring previously owned by Paul VI is up for grabs on eBay.

(More on TIME.com: See Paul VI’s TIME cover)

The jewels are being handled by a North Carolina jewelry store, Perry’s Emporium, on behalf of a widow in Wilmington, NC whose husband bought the jewels back in the 1970s.

The eBay post advertises the ring as a 12.75-carat diamond solitaire cut, surrounded by smaller diamonds. The cross has twelve main diamonds over 60-carats in total diamond weight and is encrusted with hundreds of smaller diamonds and emeralds.

NewsFeed knows what you’re thinking: How on earth did papal jewels end up in coastal North Carolina? According to documents from the United Nations obtained by the Associated Press, Paul VI donated the ring and cross to the UN during a 1965 visit. He requested they be auctioned and the proceeds used to relieve human suffering. Chicago jeweler Harry Levinson bought the set in 1967 for $64,000 and the money was split between four UN agencies. And after that, the jewels changed hands several times. At one point they were even owned by renowned daredevil Evel Knievel.

Now they’re in the hands of store owner Alan Perry, and he plans to put the pair on public display April 14 through Holy Week, with armed security nearby, watching closely.

Paul VI reigned at the Vatican from June 21, 1963 until August 6, 1978. He implemented most of the changes that came from the historic Second Vatican Council, which opened up Catholicism and brought new enthusiasm to their engagement of the contemporary world. Ironically, he was also the pope who positioned the church against all types of artificial birth control. Part of the strategy for Paul VI was de-emphasizing symbols of Catholic triumphalism like the pectoral cross.

Paul IV also donated his papal tiara, a three-tiered symbol of the pope’s authority, to the Catholic Church in America. The tiara is currently on display at the Basilica of the National Shrine, and no pope has been crowned with a tiara since.

“The business of giving away objects of value that also symbolized power, it showed how Pope Paul spoke out a great deal for the poor and the Third World,” said Rev. Thomas Worcester, a Jesuit priest and history professor at the College of the Holy Cross. “He really created a new style of the papacy.”

Have a million or so lying around? The bidding starts at $850,000. (Via AP)

(More on TIME.com: See pictures of Pope Benedict XVI)