Because of its wine-like hue, early Greek legends associated amethyst with Bacchus, the god of wine. The stone was believed to prevent intoxication and addictions in general – in ancient Greek language amethystos means not drunk. Different legends made amethyst into a stone that helped its wearer to remain calm, clear-headed and sharp in battle, and in business affairs. More than anything, amethyst became a symbol of fidelity and temperance. Even Leonardo Da Vinci found that the stone protected him from evil thoughts and stimulated his intellect. Considering the above, it is quite clear why it was one of the favourite stones of the royals – it helped the leaders focus when making important decisions. And the clergy men liked amethyst as it enabled restraint, thus helping them keep their vows of celibacy.
Amethysts, mined in Brazil, became very fashionable and expensive during 18th century France and England. However, in 19th century the amethyst deposits were also discovered in Ural mountains of Russia making the stone affordable. The amethyst is a Pisces zodiac stone and birthstone for the month of February. It is also known as the stone of St. Valentine.
The February-born shall find,
Sincerity and peace of mind,
Freedom from passion and from care,
If they an amethyst will wear.
(Gregorian birthstone poem.)
Initially, Valentine´s Day was a Christian holiday celebrated to remember a priest named Valentine of Rome. He was martyred on February 14th in 269, and made into a Saint Valentine in 496. The stories indicate that Valentine was put in jail, because he organised marriages for soldiers not allowed to marry, and practiced Christianity when it was forbidden. The Roman Emperor Claudius II had outlawed marriage between young couples, for he thought that unwed young men made better soldiers as they had no ties to a wife and children. Valentine defied the government’s ban and married couples in secret, believing that marriage was a gift from God.
In the Roman Empire the image of cupid was a legal symbol representing love. It is said that St Valentine wore a purple amethyst ring with an engraved cupid so that Roman soldiers could recognise him, and ask for his marriage services. This is probably why Valentine’s Day became so popular day for marriage proposals as it traces back to the forbidden marriages facilitated by Valentine.
Leon Bazile Perrault Cupid's Arrow St. Valentine, Terni, Italy
However, the widespread celebration of Valentine´s Day as a romantic day did not take place until the 17th century. From then on cards and tokens of affection were exchanged on this day. Before, during the Middle Ages, February 14 was known as the beginning of bird’s mating season, but this slowly added to the idea the Valentine’s Day should be a day of romance. The first link between romantic love and Valentine’s Day was made when the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer wrote “Parliament of Foules” (ca 1375). This poem, which received a lot of attention, referred to birds finding their mate on February 14th.
St Valentine, Cupid, and forbidden romance all helped polishing amethyst into a stone of pure love, faithful lovers, and fidelity. It became a “couple´s stone” with ability to manifest soulful and deep emotional connection between lovers. And, in case the connection was somehow lost, the stone would be helpful in bringing the lost love back.
And if all this is not enough, this pretty stone was also credited for its ability to increase faith and wisdom, diligence in prayer and religious practices, assistance in prophecy, protection from poisonous substances and sorcery, discernment and suppression of evil thoughts and evil forces, guidance for travellers, indications of deterioration in health, seeing and interpreting prophetic dreams and visions concerning future events. Did I mention that amethyst is thought to attract good fortune?
Crown princess Victoria of Sweden wearing the Napoleonic Amethyst Tiara
Which stone would be worthy of the Queen of Heaven? Few hints. It was the favourite stone of Cleopatra. It is a stone associated with legends, royalty, love, power, and unfortunately much violence and war. Legend says that it was one of the four stones given by God to Solomon giving him extraordinary powers. It is the epitome of green as it´s the greenest of the green stones – there is the Emerald Isle of Ireland, the Emerald City of Seattle, and the Emerald Buddha of Thailand, a sacred religious icon that is actually made of green jadeite.
One of the finest and historically significant pieces of jewellery adorned with emeralds is the Crown of the Andes. It is made of 20-carat gold and 450 genuine Columbian emeralds. Christie´s expert Christopher Hartop thinks the crown evolved over time, and different elements and parts of the crown point to styles of different centuries. The largest emerald in the crown, weighing 24 carats, is known as the Atahualpa Emerald. It is reputed to have been among the stones seized by the Spanish from the Inca ruler Atahualpa in 1532. The estimated value of the crown is $3m-$5m.
The history of the crown is not only interesting, but surprising to the point of unbelievable as it has remained intact to this day throughout its many adventures and owners. The crown was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2015.
The Crown of the Andes was made in 17th century in the city of Popayan, Columbia. It was made during the course of six years by 24 Spanish goldsmiths who used Spanish and Indian techniques. It was intended for a more than life-size statue of the Virgin Mary of the Popayan cathedral. According to a legend, there was a devastating smallpox epidemic around 1590 in nearby coastal regions of Popayan. The people of Popayan were scared and prayed to the Virgin Mary for help. Luckily their prayers were answered, and the epidemic avoided the city. The believers were sure that they had the Blessed Mother to thank for stopping the disease entering their city. However, there were also more rational explanations suggesting that the city remained untouched due its isolation at top of the mountains, 5700 feet (1737 m) above sea level.
A group of local noblemen, belonging to the believers clan, commissioned the crown as a sign of gratitude. Their goal was to make a crown more beautiful and valuable than any reigning monarch´s crown on earth, so that it would be worthy of the Queen of Heaven. The Coronation of the Virgin in the cathedral took place in 1599.
The crown, along with other ecclesiastical treasures of Popayan, was seen only once a year during the processions organised to celebrate Holy Week. Stories indicate that the crown was stolen twice (first by British pirates, and second time by revolutionary Simon Bolivar). Luckily the Popayans got the crown back both times. In order to keep the crown safe, the local noblemen organised a group called the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception whose duty was to protect these treasures. The treasures were divided between them, and hid separately. It is said that the crown was dismantled into six parts and divided between several guardians. And this is the way it survived into the 20th century.
In 1914 Pope Pius X granted permission for the sale of the crown, but it wasn't until 1936 that the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception found a buyer – an American businessman Warren J. Piper. Since that time it has remained in the United States. When the crown arrived at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in December 2015, the structure of the crown had suffered due to centuries of ceremonial use, and decades of exhibition. There had also been quite a bit of reckless rental activities. For instance, the crown of the Blessed Mother had been rented out for dinner parties. I can´t help but wonder, what the original protectors of the crown, the members of the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception, would have thought of that.
Below: Crown of the Andes featuring as a centerpiece of a dinner, Recess Club in Cleveland, 1936.
In 1983, an earthquake struck Popayan. About 85 per cent of the the city was damaged and more than two hundred people were killed. The domes of the cathedral collapsed. After the earthquake, it appeared that the city's ecclesiastical treasures had survived, since the old Confraternity had hidden the treasures well. Or perhaps, it was the Queen of Heaven who had protected the treasures again.
Besides being beautiful, the Himalayan jewellery could also reveal its owner´s regional origins, their sex, societal position, religious beliefs and values. Tibetans believed most jewellery of precious metal to be luck bringing, and many pieces were also considered to have a strong protective attributes. In southern Tibet it was bad luck if a woman did not at any time wear their big and heavy hair ornaments (patruk in Tibetan). Because of this superstition, up until the middle of last century, women used to sleep on the floor as their extravagant hair decorations made it impossible to sleep in bed.
Tibetans also had a superstition that not piercing ears could cause one to be born as an animal, such as a donkey, in next life. In order to minimize the risks of this happening, men, who usually just wore one earring in their left ear, began piercing the other ear to adorn it with a small polished turqouise earring.
One of the most popular pieces of jewellery in Tibet is the decorative ga´us, i.e. a case or container for relics and amulets. The ga´us containing amulets (i.e. ten in Tibetan) are worn by all even nowadays – by rich and poor, men, women, children, and on occasion even by animals. The ga´us were worn by Buddhists as well as the Bon religion followers, and they were used as a protection from the nature spirits of water, mountains, and land. In order to protect against a possible attack from an unknown side, one person could wear several ga´us, in the front, back, and side. Even though, these spirits were considered to be peaceful, they could become angered as a result of pollution or disturbances of their habitat. The amulets used were Buddhist deities, rolls of prayers or something that had been in contact or worn by a revered religious figure. In order for an amulet to be active, it had to be blessed and activated by a lama.
The style of the ga´us differs depending on its origin. Compared to the pieces worn by men, the ga´us of women were more decorative and serving as a piece of jewellery. Ga´us were often decorated with deities and various auspicious symbols, and protective figures. The shape of, and the way the symbols are used on jewellery as well as how they are detailed, provide hints as to where a particular ga´u originates from. For instance, the auspicious symbols on eastern Tibetan ga´us are more detailed, three dimensional, and can even be different in form, compared to similar pieces from other areas. For example, the rectangular type of ga´u sutumba was popular in the border areas of south and west Tibet and Indian Himalayan districts. The oval shaped ga´u kerima was popular in southern border areas of Tibet, and also in Sikkim and Bhutan. On all ga´us the stylized dorje-vajra ornament hangs at the bottom.
Shrine type ga´us with auspicious symbols, protecting monsters, and deities
Examples of ga´us available in Silkroad Treasures e-shop:
ABOUT THIS BLOG
Welcome! :) My name is Monika. I am interested in crystals, different cultures, and good stories. As a linguist I have always been fascinated with semiotics and symbols, and how people of different cultures interpret them.