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Emeralds & Religion

The Presence Of Emeralds In Religion

God Vishnu emeralds in religion
The Indian God Vishnu has many connections to the emerald gemstone.

Emeralds have long been incorporated into the beliefs and religions of people around the world.  This is particularly evident in the legends associated with emeralds in South America and ancient Egypt.

Aside from the continents of South America and Africa, emeralds are frequently mentioned in sacred texts of the Indian subcontinent.  According to Fernie (1907), the symbolic necklace of Vishnu contained emerald, which represented the Earth and the magnetic center of human passions.

From Tagore’s famous Mani Mala (1881), we learn that the ancient Hindu Puranas describe a wonderful gem-studded city called Devaraka, which was inhabited by Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Vishnu:

The city was high—it was ornamented with gems; and it was furnished with cupolas of rubies and diamonds, with emerald pillars, and with courtyards of rubies. It contained endless temples. It had crossroads decked with sapphires, and highways blazing with gems. It blazed like the meridian sun in summer.

According to Kern (1884, in Kuntz 1915), the Saddharma Pundarîka, one of the nine most sacred books of the Buddhists, gives the following description of a celestial stupra, a shrine for a celestial being:

prophet Muhammad emerald colored cloak
The prophet Muhammad depicted in his emerald colored cloak.

“It [the stupra] consisted of seven precious substances: gold, silver, lapis lazuli, musaragalva, emerald, red coral, and Karketana stone.  This stupra of precious substances once formed, the gods of paradise strewed and covered it with mandârava and great mandâra flowers.”

The Romans associated emerald with various planets including Mars, the god of war; Venus, the goddess of love; and Mercury, the god of trade, commerce, sleep, and dreams.

Muslim culture has long revered the color green as the holy color of Islam.  Islamic tradition includes several references to emeralds.  The Prophet Muhammad’s cloak was an emerald green color.  Six of the seven heavens are made of precious stones and minerals, the first emerald; the second, white silver; the third, large white pearls; the fourth, ruby; the fifth, red gold; and the sixth, jacinth.  The last and highest heaven is made of brilliant light.

A common characteristic of ancient Islamic art is the use of Arabic script for ornamentation.  We have many examples of Arabic calligraphy engraved on emeralds.  Large emerald crystals from Colombia were used for engraving quotations from the Koran along with lovely floral motifs and arabesques.

mogul emerald carvings
The Mogul is a carved and inscribed 217.8-carat emerald. The front is carved with a floral motif and the back is inscribed with an Islamic prayer and the date 1695 A.D.

In the Christian tradition, an emerald symbolizes the resurrection, or a birth, into a new and purer life.  When applied to Christ himself, emerald symbolizes his qualities of kindness and goodness.  Emeralds are mentioned several times in the Bible.   Emerald is included among the stones of Israel’s twelve tribes, the foundations of New Jerusalem, the high priest’s breastplate, and the twelve Apostles.

According to Kuntz (1913), Andreas, Bishop of Caesarea wrote in the 10th century:

The emerald, which is of a green color, is nourished with oil, that its transparency and beauty may not change; we conceive this stone to signify John the Evangelist. He, indeed, soothed the souls dejected by sin with a divine oil, and by the grace of his excellent doctrine lends constant strength to our faith.

Spanish gold emerald brooch
This gold and emerald brooch with emeralds from Colombia may have once been worn by Spanish clergy. It now resides in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Emerald is also included in the twelve apocalyptic gems described by Rabanus Maurus, Archbishop of Mainz, in the late 8th century.  It purportedly expresses the “strength of faith in adversity.”  In rabbinical legend, four precious stones, including an emerald, were given by God to King Solomon, giving him power over all creation.

Members of the Christian clergy frequently wore finger rings as a sign of their office.  Although sapphires were a favorite, the ecclesiastical rings of the Middle Ages featured other colored stones, such as emerald, which had significance for the Church.  The emerald rings worn by the clergy were said to signify the Resurrection and the virtue of hope.

With obvious significance in religions, emeralds continues to represent important elements in Emeralds and Health.

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