The Magic of Jewels and Charms
The Curious Lore of Precious Stones
By George Fedrick Kunz
On the Religious use of Various Stones
THE precious stone mentioned in the earliest biblical reference, Gen. ii, 12, and there translated onyx, is rendered chrysoprase in the Septuagint version, and is by others referred to the emerald on the ground that the land of
Havilah, where it is there said to occur, is thought to have been a part of what was later called Scythia, and as such would include the emerald region of the Urals. But the ancient emeralds are now known to have come largely from
Upper Egypt, and such vague conjectures are of little use in determining what stone was really meant in this most
ancient allusion. Professor Haupt has even suggested that we might translate the Hebrew word shoham used in this
passage by "pearl," since he conjectures that one of the four "rivers" surrounding the land of Havilah was the
For all attempted identifications of the stones mentioned in the Old Testament, we are principally dependent upon
the Greek version of the Seventy. As this was made in the Alexandrian period, not far from the time of
Theophrastus, whose work on gems we shall presently mention, the names at that time adopted by the Greek translators may be regarded as fairly correct equivalents of the Hebrew. The difficulty lies more in the translation
of the classical names into the English, and arises largely from the unscientific nomenclature of the ancients; the
same name being employed for stones that resemble each other to the eye, but which are now well distinguished
by chemical and physical differences formerly unknown.
There are some traces in the Bible of the use of precious stones as amulets. In Proverbs xvii, 8, we read that
''a gift is like a precious stone in the eyes of the owner; whithersoever he turneth he prospereth.'' This passage
is rendered somewhat differently in the Authorized Version, but the above translation is evidently more correct.
The stones of the breastplate were of course amulets in a certain sense, and possibly oracles also, and it is
therefore quite probable that the Hebrews shared in the belief common to all the peoples around them, although opposition of the orthodox to all magical practices prevented them from going into particulars in regard to such superstitious fancies.
In support of his theory that the Urim and Thummim of the Hebrew high-priest signified the stones of the
breastplate worn on the sacred ephod, and should be rendered "perfectly brilliant," Bellermann cites the passage
in Ezekiel (chap, xxviii, verse 14), where he writes of "fiery stones" in treating' of the royal splendors of the ruler
of the great commercial city of Tyre. As to the oracular utterances of the high-priest when, clad in the ephod and wearing the glittering breastplate, he sought for the counsel of the Almighty, this author rejects the idea that the
divine will was revealed by changes in the brilliancy of the stones, by casting of lots, or by a mysterious use of the ineffable name, the Tetragrammaton, J h w h (Jahweh), but believes that the answer to the questions was
communicated to the high-priest by an inner voice, an inspiration similar to that vouchsafed to the great prophets
A curious analogy to the use by Christians of fragments supposed to have come from the True Cross as amulets,
was the employment by the Talmudic Jews of chips from an
1 Johann Joachim Bellermann, "Die Urim und Thummim, die altesten Gemmen," Berlin, 1824, pp. 21, 22. For a
full account of the breastplate see the present writer's "The Curious Lore of Precious Stones," Philadelphia and
London, 1913, chap, viii, pp. 275-306.
idol or from something that had been offered to an idol, for the same purpose. It is needless to say that this was
severely condemned by the Eabbis.
It is interesting to note the statements of Arab historians that the mummy of Cheops, the Pharaoh of the Great Pyramid, was decorated with a pectoral of precious stones. As the regal and priestly functions were united in the monarch, we may have here the first form of the high-priest's breastplate.
The Arab historian Abd er-Eahman, writing in 829 a.d., states that Al Mamoun( 813-833), son of
Haroun-al-Raschid, entered the great pyramid and found the body of Cheops:
In a stone sarcophagus was a green stone statue of a man, like an emerald, containing a human body, covered with
a sheet of fine gold ornamented with a great quantity of precious stones; on the breast was a price-less sword, on
the head a ruby as large as a hen's egg, brilliant as a flame.
I have seen the statue which contained the body; it was near the palace of Fostat.
Essentially the same account is given by Ebub Abd el-Holem, another Arab, who says:
One saw beneath the summit of the pyramid a chamber with a hollow prison, in which was a statue of stone
enclosing the body of a man, who had on the breast a pectoral of gold enriched by fine stones, and a sword of
inestimable price, on the head a carbuncle the size of an egg, brilliant as the sun, on which were characters no man
In the opinion of Mariette Bey these details are so circumstantial as to leave little doubt that the mummy of
Cheops was found by Mamoun, but he believes that the body was covered with a gilt wrapper ajid that the stones
were paste imitations. The ruby was probably the "urseus," the sacred asp, emblem of royalty, and the wonderful
sword may have been a sceptre or a poniard similar to those found in tombs of the eleventh dynasty and in that of Queen Aah-Hotep ; the statue of green serpentine often occurs in later
tombs. Should this view be correct, precious stones were imitated in glass at a very remote period.2
An exceedingly fine specimen of ancient Egyptian goldsmith's work, now in the Louvre Museum, Paris, is a
pendant terminating in a bull's head, each of the horns being tipped with a little ball. Above the double reins are
four rondelles, one of gold, two of a material still undetermined, and one of lapis lazuli; the different parts of the
pendant are connected by gold wire. Its most interesting and attractive feature, however, is a polished hexagonal amethyst, engraved on both faces. In each case the form of a priest is figured; in one he appears with his official
staff or wand, and in the other he is represented as bearing an incense-burner and offering the mineral and
vegetable sacrifices; an
Oriental pearl is set above the engraved amethyst. The religious and sacrificial significance of this ornament,
coupled with the costliness of the materials and the superior excellence of the workmanship, make it likely that we
have here an amulet or talisman made for some Egyptian of very high rank.2
St. Jerome (346?-420 a.d.), in his commentary on Isaiah (liv, 11, 12), alludes to the verses of Ezekiel describing the
glories of the King of Tyre and the precious stones with which he was adorned. Evidently Jerome believed that this
passage was to be taken symbolically, for he asks:
Who could have so little judgment and intelligence as to think that any Prince of Tyre whatever should be set in
the Paradise of God, and have his place among the Chernbim, or could fancy that he dwelt with the glowing
stones, which we should without doubt understand as the angels and the celestial virtues."
2 Wallace-Dunlop, "Glass in the Old World," London, n. d., p. G.
From "Jewellers' Circular Weekly," Nov. 12, 1913.
Sanctii Eusebii Hieronymi "Opera Omnia," ed. Migne, vol. iv, Parisiis, 1865, cols 543, 544.
It would be both curious and interesting if we could trace a connection between tbe significance of the names of
the Hebrew tribes and those of the breastplate gems assigned to the tribes. In ancient times names were much
more significant than they are to-day, and the tribal names in particular possessed for the Hebrews a symbolic
meaning, but this does not appear to have induced any marked tendency to connect- the colors or the symbolic meanings of the different stones with the fame, or with the characteristics or fortunes of the several tribes. On the
other hand, the foundation stones, as symbols of the Apostles, became a favorite theme with the early Christian
writers. Possibly the neglect of ancient Hebrew writers to perform a similar task in connection with the breastplate stones might still be made good, even at this late date, and an effort in this direction might result in giving a wider
range to the symbolic value of certain well-known gems.
The name Reuben signifies "Behold a Son," and this has been given a Messianic meaning by some commentators.
In Jacob's enigmatic blessing, "excellency of dignity" and "excellency of power" are attributed to- Reuben, but
this birthright is taken from him because of a heinous sin he has committed. Still we might see in the carnelian, the
gem of Reuben, a symbol of "dignity" and "power."
Simeon has been variously rendered "Hearing" or ''Hearkener. '' The blessing accuses him of an act of cruelty
in which he was aided by his brother Levi. To the peridot, or chrysolite, dedicated to Simeon, could be
appropriately assigned the meaning "good tidings."
The priestly functions of the tribe of Levi are expressed by the name itself which means "attached" or "joined,"
that is, to the altar. Hence in the emerald we should see the symbol of "dedication" or "ministration," in addition
other and better known meanings, such as ''hope," "faith, and "resurrection."
For the tribe of Judah we have the ruby, and here the meaning of the name, ''praised, '' fits in well with the
dignity of the rare and glowing ruby. This noble gem has always been a favorite adornment for royal crowns and
from Judah sprang the royalty of Israel. The blessing given to this tribe declares that "the sceptre shall not depart
from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come."
This is often taken to signify the consummation of the Kingdom of Israel in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Issachar, signifying "reward," or "the rewarded," sug- gests as symbolic meanings of the tribal stone lapis lazuli,
"success" and "fruition." This stone, the sapphire of the ancients, was typical of heaven, probably owing to the
appearance of the specimens most highly valued in olden times, those in which a number of golden spots are
scattered over the blue surface of the stone, which thus figure both the blue of heaven and the hosts of the stars.
The tribal name Zebulon signifies "exaltation," and to this tribe is assigned a dwelling-place by the sea bordering
on the domains of the rich Phenician seaport, Sidon. We could thus see in the gem of Zebulon, the onyx, a symbol
of dominion and authority. This could serve to offset some of the old superstitions regarding the onyx, which was
sometimes charged with bringing discord and dissension.
Of the tribe Joseph, we are told that it was to be increased, and this meaning is contained in the name itself,
which is rendered: ''May God add. '' To Joseph were promised "blessings of heaven above," and "blessings of the
deep that lieth under." The sapphire, probably the tribal stone of Joseph, was known in ancient times by the name
hyacinth and was a stone of good omen, bringing increase
of health and wealth; therefore its significance as a tribal gem does not differ essentially from the traditional one.
Benjamin signifies "son of the right hand," hence this name denotes strength and power. This meaning accords
well with what is said in Jacob's blessing: "Benjamin shall raven as a wolf" in the morning he shall devour the prey
and at night he shall divide the spoil." The banded agate symbolizing this tribe would have the meaning "strength"
and "mastery"; indeed, according to other sources the agate was reputed to bring victory to the wearer.
Dan is the "judge" among the tribes, according to the meaning of the name. In Jacob's blessing Dan is said to be
''a serpent by the way,'' and "an adder in the path.'' These metaphors, which may not strike us as commendatory
of the tribe, probably indicated the craft and courage of the tribesmen in attacking and defeating their foes, and
enriching themselves with the spoils of war. The amethyst, as the tribal stone of Dan, could thus signify both "judgment" and "craft."
To the tribe of Gad was given the beryl, and the fact that spheres made from this stone were believed to be best
adapted for use in crystal-gazing makes it an especially appropriate gem for the tribe of "good fortune," this being
the most probable signification of the name ''Gad,'' although in the Bible the interpretation "a troop," is given.
The beryl would therefore signify "good luck" and perhaps also "cooperation."
The twelfth and last tribe, Asher, has the jasper for its gem. This would also gain an auspicious significance from
its association with Asher, which means "happy." To the other meanings assigned to jasper might be added that of
"happiness." As we have elsewhere remarked, there seems good reason to suppose that jade was frequently designated
jasper in ancient times, and this stone was everywhere believed to possess wonderful magic powers.
The jasper * as an emblem of strength and fortitude is noted by St. Jerome in his commentary on Isaiah (liv, 11,
12), where he writes that the bulwarks or walls of the Holy City were strengthened by jasper. These bulwarks
served "to overthrow and refute every proud attack against the knowledge of God, and to subject falsehood to
truth. Whoever, therefore, is most convincing in debate and best fortified with texts of Holy Scripture is a bulwark
of the Church.5 Jerome also alludes to the variety of jasper called grammatias, because of the peculiar markings,
suggesting letters of the alphabet. This was believed to possess great talismanic virtue, especially in putting to
flight phantoms and apparitions, since the markings were thought to signify some potent spell, written on the stone
by nature's hand. Of another kind of jasper, "white as snow or seafoam,"6 and having reddish stains, we are told
that it symbolizes the spiritual graces, which preserve those endowed with them from vain terrors; and the learned Father quotes as descriptive of this stone the words of Solomon's Song (v, 10): "My beloved is white and ruddy. 7
Writing of the sapphire (lapis lazuli), one of the foundation stones of the Holy City, St. Jerome likens it to heaven
and to the air above us, adding, somewhat fancifully, that we might apply to the sapphire the words of Socrates in
the ''Clouds'' of Aristophane: "I walk upon air and look down upon the Sun." Turning then to Holy Scripture,
Jerome notes the well-known passage in Ezekiel (i, 26) where the
4 Sometimes believed to be rock crystal.
5 Sancti Eusebii Hieronymi " Opera Omnia," ed. Migne, vol. iv, Parisiis, 1865, col. 544.
6 A stained or colored massive quartz.
7 Sancti Eusebii Hieronymi " Opera Omnia," ed. Migne, vol. iv, Parisiis, 1805, col. 545.
Throne of God is said to have 8 "the appearance of a sapphire stone," and finds in this text a proof that blue
denoted the glory of God.* The ingenuity of the ancient commentators in finding hidden meanings in the simplest
things is well shown by the assertion of Thomas de Cantimpre that St. John placed the emerald fourth in the list of foundation stones, because the four evangelists are constant in their praise of chastity.9
Certain gems and stones have a definite relation and appropriateness to the various religious holidays and
festivals. Notable among these is the rhodonite, a silicate of magnesia, named from the Greek word rhodon,
"a rose," because of its beautiful rose-pink hue. This is found more especially in the Ural Mountains, and in Massachusetts, but in a number of other places as well. In the Ural Mountains one single mass was so immense
that ninety horses were needed to move the 22-ton weight a distance of thirty miles to the Imperial Lapidary
Works at Ekaterineburg; here the material was cut up into smaller masses to be finally worked up in the Imperial Lapidary Works at Peterhof into a sarcophagus and tomb for the Emperor Nicholas I.
This stone is a great favorite in Russia, and is frequently cut into egg-shaped ornaments, either in the form of a
simple egg, or of one with a halo and a moonstone effect at one end.
It may well be termed the "Easter Stone." For those un- able to afford such an egg-shaped piece of rhodonite, a
yellow fibrous gypsum or satinspar cut into a similar form may be substituted. Jade cut in the same way is also
sometimes favored, as well as many varieties of rock-crystal.
In marked contrast with the joyful festival of Easter stands the most solemn day of the Christian year, Good
8 Ibid. col. 544.
9 Konrad von Megenberg's version, "Bucb der Natur," ed. by Dr. Franz Pfeiffer, Stuttgart, 1861, p. 459
Friday, and for this day also we have a singularly appropriate stone, the variety of jasper known as the bloodstone.
Here the red markings can be regarded as symbolical of the blood of Our Lord, shed for the salvation of mankind
in the supreme sacrifice of the Passion. When the head of the Christ is cut in this stone it is often possible to utilize
the red spots to figure the drops of blood flowing from the wounds inflicted by the Crown of Thorns.
With the glad tidings of Christmas Day is intimately associated the memory of the Star of Bethlehem, which
served as a beacon light to guide the three wise men of the East to the humble manger wherein reposed the
newly-born Saviour of the World. Hence for this great Christian festival no gem can equal the star-sapphire,
combining as it does the pure sapphire-hue, always looked upon as symbolic of the highest moral, spiritual, and
religious sentiments, and the mysterious moving star, which, shifting its apparent place with the slightest movement
of the stone, seems endowed with a wonderful independent life, just as the phenomenal star of Bethlehem, unlike
the fised and change-less stars of the firmament, glided through the heavenly expanse, by a miraculous motion,
due indeed to some supernatural law, but differing in kind and degree from all the usual, every-day aspects of
The symbolism of precious stones presented in so many different ways by the early ecclesiastical writers appears
in the prayer offered by the Archbishop of Canterbury at the coronation of the kings and queens of England.
While the king kneels upon a footstool, the archbishop takes St. Edward's Crown and lays it upon the altar;
whereupon he pronounces the following words:
0, God, the crown of the faithful, who cm the heads of Thy saints placed crowns of glory, bless and sanctify this
crown, that as the same is adorned
with divers precious stones, so this Thy servant, wearing it, may be replenished of Thy grace, with the manifold
gifts of all precious virtues, through the King eternal, Thy Son our Lord. Amen.10
In a tractate "Of the Crown of the Virgin," ascribed to Saint Ildefonso (607-669), the writer describes this
wondrous gold crown as adorned with twelve precious stones, six splendid stars, and six beautiful and fragrant
flowers, thus uniting the fairest treasures of earth and sky in honor of the Queen of Heaven.11
The gems, stars and flowers are given in the following order: Topaz, Sirius, sard, lily, chalcedony, Arcturus,
sapphire, crocus, agate, the evening star, jasper, the rose, carbuncle, the Sun, emerald, the violet, amethyst, the
Moon, chrysolite, sun-flower, chrysoprase, Orion, beryl, camomile.
"That thus," the writer concludes, "with precious stones, radiant luminaries, and fair flowers, a splendid crown
may be ennobled, beautified and adorned, and may be the more willingly and gladly accepted by Our Lady.''
In a private collection in Smyrna there is a black hematite engraved somewhat in the style of an Abraxas gem;
and certainly not Christian. On it is represented a galloping horseman, beneath whose steed is a crouching man;
above the rider's head appears a star. The reverse bears the inscription: ''seal of God.''
In contrast with this is an intaglio carnelian of the Munich Royal Collection, with the figures of the Virgin Mary
and the Infant Jesus, and the Greek words ''the image of the Holy Mary.''
This is one of the best examples of Byzantine work in gem-cutting.12
10 "The Complete Ceremonies and Procedures Observed at the Coronation of the Kings and Queens of England, London, n. d., p. 28.
11 " Sanctorum Hildefonsi, Leodegarii, Juliani, " Opera Omnia,'' ed. Migne, Parisiis, 1882, coll. 283-318.
12 "Adolf Furtwangler, "Die Antiken Gemmen," Berlin, 1900; vol. i, Plate LXVII, Nos. 5, 2; described in vol. ii,
One of the very curious cases of the employment of a purely secular Roman gem for ecclesiastical uses is offered
by the exceedingly beautiful convex blue aquamarine en- graved with the head of Julia, daughter of Titus, a fine
work of the Augustan Age, now in the French Cabinet des Medailles in Paris. This was donated in the ninth century
by the Carolingian emperor, Charles the Bald, to the Treasury of St. Denis, after it had been given a setting of
pearls and precious stones. In St. Denis it was placed at the apex of a reliquary, which became known as the
Oratorium of Charlemagne, and the head of the vain and worldly princess is said to have been venerated by the
pious monks and priests as that of the Virgin Mary. As a work of portrait art this gem is one of the finest examples
from classic times.13
The strange decadence and the conventionalized but profoundly earnest quality of Early Christian art is shown in
an intaglio gem of the Eoyal Numismatic Museum in Munich. This is a dark-hued sardonyx of two layers, and
the engraving depicts a bearded Christ, enthroned and accompanied by the twelve apostles, six on either side,
four of them beardless while the remainder are represented with beards; they are all gazing reverently upon the
central figure, behind whose head appear the arms of the cross and above them the letters
Another somewhat similar Early Christian gem is a cameo cut in a sardonyx of three layers, the groundwork being
a brownish-black, and the figures of a light-bluish hue, the upper parts yellowish-brown. Here also we have an
enshrined Christ; above his head two angels hold a diadem. This is of superior workmanship to the intaglio gem
just described.15 There is a sardonyx cameo showing a rude figure of the Prophet
13 Ibid., vol. i, Plate LXVIII, fig. 8; described in vol. ii, p. 307.
14 Op. cit., vol. i, Plate LXVII, in No. 7 ; described in vol. ii, p. 307.
15 Op. cit., vol. i, Plate LXVII, No. 3 ; described in vol. ii, p. 307.
Daniel, a lion on either side of him, and inscribed with, his name in Greek letters. This is of Byzantine
The reliquarium of Wittekind, now in the Kunstgewerbe Museum at Berlin, is considered to be probably the most important specimen of early Frankish goldsmith-work that has been preserved, and is richly set with precious
stones, some of these being ancient gems. This is one of a number of cases where engraved stones of Pagan times
were used in the adornment of ornamental objects destined for Chris- tian religious use. The upper edge shows a
row of entwined animal figures, and the front side has medallions with primitive bird forms in cloisonne enamel;
on the reverse side are very rudely executed repousse figures of saints.
This work is assigned to the latter part of the eighth century A.D., and is conjectured to have been a gift from Charlemagne to the Saxon King Wittekind, on the occasion of the latter's conversion to Christianity in the year
807. It was long preserved in Wittekind's foundation at Enger near Herford, to which he had bequeathed his
treasures; in 1414 it was re- moved for safe-keeping to the Johanniskirche at Herford, where it remained until
1888, when it came into the possession of the Berlin Kunstgewerbe Museum. This precious example of the
earliest German work has the form of a small portable satchel, in which could be placed those sacred relics the
owner might wish to bear around with him because of the protection they were assumed to afford.16
One of the most notable and valuable objects in the famous Guelph treasure that has recently been brought back
to the city of Brunswick as a result of the marriage of the Duke of Cumberland's son, Ernest Augustus, with the
daughter of Emperor William II, is an elaborately designed
15 Op. cit., vol. i, Plate LXVII, No. 1; described in vol. ii, p. 307.
16 Handbueh der Koniglichen Museum zu Berlin, Kunstgewerbe Museum, by Julius Lessing, Berlin, 1892, p. 14.
cross, a very fine specimen of the goldsmith's art of the twelfth century. This with the other treasures was taken
by the Duke of Cumberland to Vienna for safe-keeping, at the time he gave up, in 1884, his title as Duke of
Brunswick, rather than acknowledge Prussian supremacy. The cross, which has the form of a so-called
"crutch-cross," with rectangular projecting plates at the ends of the arms, was designed to serve as a reliquary,
the relic shrine being in a cruciform capsule behind a small, round-edged golden cross set in the midst of the cross proper. The precious relics reposing here were said to be bones of John the Baptist, St. Peter, St. Mark the
Evangelist, and St. Sebastian.
On the reverse side of the cross are set four large and beautiful sapphires and in the centre is a remarkably
While nothing definite is known as to the goldsmith who executed this work, its style and general character suggest
the conjecture that it may have been produced by the artist who made the ' ' Crown of Charlemagne ''in Vienna,
really a crown executed for Conrad III, King of the Germans (1093-1152), the first Hohenstaufen, and also several regal ornaments for the latter's consort. Queen Gisela. In addition to the jewelled decoration of its reverse, the
front of the cross is set with many pearls, and the form of these settings is one of the chief arguments adduced in
favor of attributing it to the maker of the so-called " Crown of Charlemagne.'' 16
An ecclesiastical jewel of great beauty and remarkable historic interest is known as the Cross of Zaccaria. It was
secured in 1308 by Ticino Zaccaria at the capture of the ancient Greek colonial city Phocaea, in Asia Minor, and
was donated to the Cathedral of San Lorenzo in Genoa. This
16 The Jewellers' Circular, Wednesday, December 16, 1914, vol. Ixix, No. 20, p. 43.
cross is of silver gilt, measuring 64 cm. in heigkt and 40 cm. in width, and within it behind a crystal is set a piece of
the Holy Cross. It is profusely adorned with precious and semi-precious stones, there being 57 good-sized rubies,
emeralds, sapphires, camelians, malachites and amethysts, besides 44 smaller stones and 299 of still lesser size.
The jewel is now preserved in the Palazzo Bianco, Genoa.
The greatest treasure in the Cathedral of Chartres was the "Sacred Shrine." It was made of cedar- wood covered
with gold plates and was adorned with an immense number of precious stones including diamonds, rubies, emeralds,
sapphires, jacinths, agates, turquoises, opals, topazes, onyxes, chrysolites, amethysts, garnets, girasols,
sardonyxes, asterias, chalcedonies, heliotropes, etc. These had been presented by many different donors during
a long period of time. In front of this shrine was a cross composed entirely of precious stones, comprising 56 rubies
and garnets, 18 sapphires, 22 pearls, 8 emeralds, 8 onyxes and 4 jacinths.
When this was first placed in the cathedral is not known, but it was there in 1353, as it is noted in an inventory
made at that time. An uncut diamond weighing about 45 carats, and constituting one of the adornments of the
shrine in 1682, was said to have been the gift of a marshal of France; another ornament, an oval agate engraved
with the Virgin and Child, may now be seen in the Louvre where it forms part of the Sauvageot Collection.17
That all trace has been lost of an emerald engraved with the head of Christ and given to Pope Innocent VIII by
Sultan Bajazet II about the year 1488, is greatly to be deplored, even though there be no truth in the legend or
report that it had been engraved in the time of Christ by the order of Tiberius Caesar. The evidence of two medals
with Latin legends and of certain old paintings with English inscrip-
17 F. de M61y, " Le Tresor de Chartres 1314-1793," Paris, 1886, pp. 16-21, 30.
tions of the sixteenth century seems to prove the existence of the gem in the Vatican treasury about the time
specified, and it has been conjectured, with some probability, that the emerald had been engraved by a Byzantine
artist at some time before 1453, when Constantinople fell into the hands of the Turks, and that this gem formed
part of the booty they then secured. A print, often copied photographically and otherwise, purporting to be a representation of this emerald portrait of Christ, has no evidential value, and has either been freely worked up
from the details of the spurious letter of Lentulus to Tiberius, giving a personal description of the Saviour, or still
more probably from a Rafaelesque type of Christ's head.18
The beads of rosaries, when blessed by the Supreme Pontiff, or by one of the dignitaries of the Church, are
considered to be endowed with a certain special virtue in favor of the individual for whom the blessing is imparted.
However, should this person loan the beads to another with the intention of making him a partaker of this special blessing, or indulgencing, they lose their virtue. It is prescribed that these beads should be made of stone, glass,
or some other durable material not easily broken, in order that the effects of the blessing should not be lost, or
perhaps that the object so blessed should be less liable to injury. Various precious stones as well as pearls are
used for this purpose, there being generally groups of ten small spheres, each group separated from the other by
a larger sphere, the ten smaller beads serving to numerate the paternosters while the large bead is passed through
the fingers when a credo has been recited.
A legend very popular in the Middle Ages has been conjectured to be the source of the word "rosary" as applied
18 See C. W. King, "Early Christian Numismatics," London, 1873, pp. 95-112; "The Emerald Vernicle of the
to a chaplet of beads for counting prayers. This legend tells of a pious youth, who on each and every day wove a
garland of roses for the statue of the Virgin in the parish church. His religious zeal soon induced him to become a
monk, and as the restrictions and duties of monastic life forced him to discontinue his floral offerings, he was much
troubled in conscience, and was only relieved when the abbot told him that by reciting 150 aves at the close of
each day, he would please the Virgin as much as by the gift of flowers.
The prayers were faithfully said and they eventually became the occasion of a miraclt. One evening, as the young
monk was traversing a dense forest, it suddenly occurred to him that he had forgotten to recite his aves. He knelt
down quickly and began to pray; all at once he saw a radiant and beautiful figure standing before him, and he immediately recognized in it the Blessed Virgin. Graciously she bent over him and drew from his lips one rose after
the other, until fifty roses of supernatural beauty lay upon the ground.
Of these she then made a garland and placed it upon the head of her faithful servant. 19
The first literary allusion to rosaries in India is in a Jain treatise written about the beginning of our era. The
Prakrit name here employed, ganettiya, is equivalent to the Sanscrit ganayitrika, or "counter," and it is
enumerated among the ten utensils of a Brahman ascetic. The other nine are the tridanda-stick, the water jar, the Bramanical thread, the earthen vessel named karotika, the bundle of straw used as a seat, the clout, the
six-knotted wood, the hook, and the finger-ring. It is said that no mention of rosaries has been found in Indian
19 Thurston, "History of the Rosary in all Countries," Journal of the Society of Arts, vol. 1, p. 271; London, 1902.
20 Leumann, "Rosaries Mentioned in Indian Literature;" in Trans, of the Ninth Cong, of Orient; (1892), London, 1893, pp. 883-889.