THE MYSTERY OF PRECIOUS STONES

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ONE of the most curious and interesting facts in connection with the jewelry the Middle Ages is the peculiar respect which seems to have been paid to precious stones. ” In a scientific age,” says Mr. Paton, ” it is difficult to apprehend and sympathize with the state of mind which endowed natural objects with the properties of charms and fetishes.

Before it was the habit to trace phenomena to natural causes, faith in occult powers was strong, and credulity exercised a marked influence on the habits and actions of the people. Precious stones, on account of the mystery and romance attaching to most things of Eastern origin, had long attracted to themselves a superstitious reverence; so that their choice and arrangement, which appear to us merely arbitrary nowadays, had in the Middle Ages a distinct meaning consecrated by traditions dating back from very ancient times.

Every stone, like those which enriched the breastplate of the High Priest, and those which in St. John’s vision formed the foundations of the Heavenly Jerusalem, was supposed to possess special powers and virtues. Abundant proof of this is exhibited in the medieval inventories, where the beauty or rarity of a stone counted for infinitely less in the estimation of its value than the reputed talisman virtue, such as the toad stone, for example, was supposed to possess.

The medieval literature of precious stones wherein is expounded their medicinal virtues or their supernatural powers in baffling evil spirits, is based on a classical poem of about the fourth century a.d., entitled Lithica, which claims to be a statement of their magic properties made by the seer Theodamas to the poet Orpheus.

Similar belief in the virtues of precious stones was still in existence in the sixteenth century, and finds an exponent in Camillus Leonardus, physician to Cassar Borgia, in his work entitled Spectdum Lapidum, published at Venice in 1502.

Even as late as the following century the use of precious stones as charms was more than half sanctioned by the learned, and in his Natural History Bacon lays it down as credible that ” precious stones may work by consent upon the spirits of men to comfort and exhilarate them.”

The learned lawyer and philosopher, indeed, was not in this much superior to the plain and simple folk who still imagined that every precious stone had some mystic value communicable to the wearer. About the same time De Boot, or Boethius, the learned physician to the Emperor Rudolf II, published his famous Lapidary, which Mr. C. W. King recommends as a work worthy of especial study for the properties of stones, and mentions how it “draws a distinction that curiously illustrates the struggle then going on between traditional superstition and common sense.”‘

With the advance of Christianity the representation The foremost interpreter of their mysteries in the Middle Ages was Marbode, Bishop of Rennes {1095-1123), in his De Lapidibus Pretiosis Enchiridion. – King, Precious stones, Treatises on precious stones frequently find a place in sixteenth-century Herbals, and are often accompanied by very spirited woodcuts representing the working of precious stones and the process of adapting them to personal ornaments, together with designs of actual articles of jewelry in which they are set. Two of the finest books of the kind are—an Ortus Sanitafis (Strasburg, circa 1497), and a Kreuterbnch printed at Frankfort in 1536. 100

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Author: connielimon2014

Bead Jewelry Artisan, mother of one daughter and grandmother of two grandsons, daughter of Korean War Veteran.

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