Amazing articles on just about every subject...


Precious Stones - Ecclesiastical Shrines

( Originally Published 1880 )



SHRINES.—The treasures contained in the ancient Syrian temples were immense, ivory and precious stones included. That of Astarte, at Hierapolis, abounded with gold and jewels, precious stones of all colours, sardonyx, hyacinth, emerald, brought from Egypt, /Ethiopia, India, Media, Armenia, and Babylon. On the brow of the goddess shone a marvellous carbuncle. Lucullus took from Armenia magnificent gemmed vases which filled a car drawn by camels. At the triumph of this general was a golden statue of Mithridates of the height of six feet ; the shield of this king was covered with precious stones.

In former times shrines blazed with jewels, the propitiatory offerings of devotees, and the bequests of those who thus sought to smooth their way to heaven. Nothing was considered too precious to ornament the chapels dedicated to the Virgin and particular saints. The description of these riches by the old writers, and the inventories of church ornaments, especially at the time of the Reformation, show with what lavish profusion the shrines were endowed. I will briefly allude to a few instances in our own country and elsewhere. To begin with the shrine of the canonized Confessor at Westminster Abbey. The king was at first buried before the high altar, and then removed by Becket to a richer shrine in its neighbourhood, but after the rebuilding of the church by Henry III., that king had a sumptuous shrine made to receive the treasured remains. The tomb, which is composed of three tiers of pillars, was richly studded with stones of the most precious kind. There were numerous golden statues, such as an image of St. Edmund, king, wearing a crown set with two large sapphires, a ruby, and other jewels, etc. Among the relics connected with this shrine was the crystal-line vessel of our Saviour's blood, which had been sent by the Knights Templars from the Holy Land in 1247, as a present to Henry III., and was attested by Robert, Patriarch of Jerusalem, to have trickled from our Saviour's wounds at his Crucifixion. The famous stone, also, which was marked with the impression of the foot of Christ, as indented at His Ascension, and which had been brought to England by the Friars' Preachers, was another of the holy relics connected with the shrine, and had been given by Henry III., together with a thorn of Christ's crown, and various remains of saints, including an arm of St. Sylvester and a tooth of St. Athanasius ! Here, likewise, was preserved a large piece of our Saviour's cross, richly adorned with gold, silver, and precious stones, which had been brought from Wales by Edward I. in the year 1285 ; and also the skull of St. Benedict, which had been given by Edward III.

When these inestimable valuables were not exposed to the awe-struck gaze of the devotee at the shrine, they were lodged in a secure repository, the site of which is now occupied by the tomb of Henry V.

There were, doubtless, many precious jewels besides those enumerated below in the Patent Rolls list. The large cameos consisted of fifty-five.

To this shrine Edward I., after his return from Scotland, gave the regalia and the chair of state in which the kings of that country had been crowned at Scone. Alphonso, his third son, gave, also, the jewels and gold coronet of Llewellyn, Prince of Wales.

The shrine of the protomartyr at St. Alban's Abbey, although by no means so rich as the one raised by kingly munificence, was a splendid monument of the pious zeal of Symon, the nineteenth abbot, at the commencement of the twelfth century. His whole time, we are told, seems to have been spent in obtaining gold, silver, and precious stones, to adorn the shrine of the saint. This was in form somewhat resembling an altar-tomb, but rising, with a lofty canopy over it supported on pillars, and was in-tended to represent the saint lying in great state. The inside contained a coffin enclosing his bones, and this was inserted in another case which on the two sides was overlaid with figures cast in gold and silver, showing the chief acts of Alban's life, in raised and embossed work. At the head was placed a huge crucifixion, with a figure of Mary on one side, and St. John on the other, ornamented with a row of very splendid jewels. At the feet was an image of the Virgin, holding her Son to her bosom, seated on a throne ; the work of gold, highly embossed, and enriched with precious stones, and very costly brace-lets. The four pillars which supported the canopy were shaped like towers, and all of plate gold, sup-porting a canopy, the inside of which was covered with crystal stones.

Abbot Symon also dedicated to the church " a very large cup of gold," says Matthew Paris, " than which there was none more noble or beautiful in all England. It was made of the purest gold by that renowned goldsmith, Master Baldwin, adorned with flowers and foliages of the most delicate workmanship, and set round with precious stones in the most elegant manner." Besides this, he gave a vessel to contain the eucharist " of the finest gold enriched with precious stones of inestimable value."

The most splendid shrine of which England could boast in olden times was that of Thomas à Becket, in Canterbury Cathedral, of which not a trace now remains. It was the object of countless pilgrimages ; a hundred thousand devotees visited it in one year ; men of every rank, even to the crowned head. Louis VII., of France, came there in 1179, in guise of a common pilgrim, and presented the famous precious stone, carbuncle, ruby, or diamond, called " the Regale of France," said to be as large as a bird's egg or a thumbnail, which Henry VIII. set, and wore as a thumb-ring. Erasmus, who visited the shrine, tells us, " A coffin of wood, which covered a coffin of gold, was drawn up by ropes and pullies, and then an invaluable treasure was discovered ; gold was the meanest thing to be seen there ; all shined and glittered with the rarest and most precious jewels, of an extraordinary bigness ; some were larger than the egg of a goose."

Stow says : " The timber work of this shrine, on the outside, was covered with plates of gold, damasked and embossed with wires of gold, garnished with brooches, images, chains, precious stones, and orient pearls ; spoils of which shrine (in gold and jewels of inestimable value) filled two great chests, one of which six or eight strong men could do no more than convey out of the church ; all of which were taken to the king's use."

When the pilgrims were assembled before the shrine, the prior, or some other great officer of the monastery, came forward, and with a white wand touched the several jewels, naming the giver of each.

A list of the precious stones is given in Nichols' " Erasmus," from the inventory of 1315. A golden likeness of the head of this saint was also exhibited, richly studded with jewels.

Erasmus, in his " Colloquy upon Pilgrimages," speaks of the famous shrine at Walsingham as " the seat of the gods, so bright and shining as it is all over with jewels, gold, and silver." *

Dugdale has preserved from olden days two lists of relic treasures in old St. Paul's, which fill about two pages and a half in folio, including an immense amount of precious stones, the relics being encased in reliquaries of gold and silver, studded with jewels. The pride and glory of St. Paul's was the shrine of St. Erkenwold. Here were wrought the most frequent miracles, and therefore the most lavish offerings were made. It consisted of a lofty, pyramidical structure, in the most exquisitely-decorated pointed style, with an altar-table in front, covered with jewels and articles of gold and silver. A citizen of London, Richard Preston, left his best jewel, a sapphire, to the shrine, there to remain, for curing every infirmity of the eyes. Another citizen gave a costly tablet, enriched with many precious stones and enamels.

The jewelled riches of Croyland Abbey were immense. Amongst them was a present from a King of France, a beautiful and costly sphere, constructed of various metals, according to the different planets, and adorned with such a mixture of precious stones as amazed the beholder.

Pope Leo IV. gave to the abbey an altar-cloth, woven with gold and spangled all over with pearls. It had on each side a circle bounded with gold, within which the name of the donor was inscribed in precious stones.

The shrine of St. Cuthbert, in Durham Cathedral, was, for five centuries, enriched with the offerings of pilgrims. It became a blaze of gold and jewellery of extraordinary splendour.

The commissioners of Henry VIII., when examining this shrine, discovered " many worthy and goodly jewels, but especially one precious stone, which, by the estimate of those then visitors and their skilful lapidaries, was of sufficient value to ransom a prince."

Bishop Arundel, of Ely (died February 1413-14), rebuilt the episcopal palace in Holborn, and presented to the church, among other gifts, a curious tablet of great value, full of the relics of the saints, set in large pearls, rubies, and sapphires. Arundel had purchased it of the Black Prince, Edward. It had once belonged to the King of Spain.

Henry de Blois (thirty-ninth Abbot of Glastonbury, 1126) gave to the abbey, among many rich gifts, a precious sapphire, bestowed on the church by St. David, long hid on account of the wars, none knowing the place until the abbot found it in a certain door of the church of St. Mary, and had it magnificently adorned with silver, gold, and precious stones.

In our own country, shrines, the objects of idolatrous worship, belong, happily, only to the past. The glorious light of the Reformation withered these superstitious practices. In 1537, Cromwell, the willing instrument of his royal master's will, commenced his war against them, and in the following year issued his famous admonition to the clergy Such feigned images as ye know in any of your cures to be so abused with pilgrimages, or offerings of anything made there-unto, ye shall, for avoiding of that most detestable offence of idolatry, forthwith take down, and without delay."

In Roman Catholic countries abroad, however, pilgrimages are still sustained, and the shrines to the Virgin and popular saints are resplendent in costly offerings. These prevail more particularly in Italy, France, and Spain.

In Italy there are some magnificent specimens, in which enamelled work and jewels are introduced as pale or palliotti, altar fronts or coverings. Those of San Marco at Venice, of Sant' Ambrogio at Milan, of the Baptistery at Florence, and the Cathedral at Pistoia, are among the most remarkable. Many specimens of the same nature, together with votive offerings, cups, vessels, and the like, are still preserved in the sacristies of the churches.

A traveller describes the subterranean chapel under the dome of Milan Cathedral, dedicated to and enclosing the mortal remains of St. Charles Borromeo: " We descended by torchlight into a temple of an octagonal form, and of about fifteen feet diameter. The riches contained in this sepulchre seemed to exceed the ransom of kings, and although the comparison be not strictly applicable, I could not help thinking of the palaces I had read of in the ` Arabian Nights' or `Tales of the Genii.' Here are columns of the choicest marble, with gold capitals, crimson damask embroidered with gold, and wrought to the highest perfection, while round the sepulchre are a series of bassi relievi, in solid silver, representing the birth of the saint, etc. The corpse is embalmed in a gold and crystal coffin, and completely habited in sumptuous robes. Over the golden mitre on the head of the saint is suspended a crown of precious stones ; in his hands he holds his crozier, similarly enriched and costly ; while an emerald cross of immense value, and an antique figure about a foot high, of massive gold, both presents from crowned heads, formed only part of the riches contained in the coffin."

Political commotions, so frequent in France, have caused the dispersion of the costly jewels and rich works of art which formerly decorated the shrines in the magnificent cathedrals of that country. Some, however of these inestimable treasures have been recovered, and are, for the most part, in the Museum of Antiquities in Paris.

The sanctuary and treasury of St. Denis contained enormous riches in ecclesiastical ornaments ; the former was of solid gold, and was protected against robbers by the following inscription, thus translated : " If any impious person dares to despoil this altar, resplendent in gold, may he perish justly, and be damned like Judas, his companion." This malediction did not, however, prevent the Leaguers of 1590 from pillaging the shrines, and the Revolutionists of 1793, with the same predatory spirit, cleared away the treasures that were left. Some few relics, however, found their way to the Museum of Antiquities, comprising remarkable specimens of gold and jewel work ; such as the altar service pretended to have been used by St. Denis, his ring, and pastoral staff, covered with gold, pearls, and enamels. Of the works of the famous Suger, France still possesses the grand chalice and patena, the former ornamented with topazes and amethysts, weighing one hundred and forty ounces. The patena is of serpentine, with gold dolphins in the centre, and precious stones around.

The most remarkable works of the jeweller's art in connection with religious usages are more rare in France than in Germany or Italy ; as, for instance, the great chalice of Weingartein, in Suabia, made by Conrad de Husse ; the beautiful cross enriched with precious stones at Ratisbonne; the magnificent chalice at Mayence ; the chasse given by Frederick Barbarossa to Cologne Cathedral ; the chasse of the Three Kings in the same ; the golden altar in the chapel of the King at Munich ; the famous censer, in the form of a circular chapel, at the Vatican ; besides other rich objects in the churches of Italy.

Spain, as might be expected, was particularly rich in ecclesiastical ornaments of the jeweller's art, but wars and insurrections have despoiled the churches of their vast wealth. Still there are splendid relics remaining. Among the treasures in the Cathedral of Seville are the cross made of gold which Columbus brought from America, and presented to the king ; also two ostensorios of the fifteenth century, covered with precious stones and magnificent pearls ; wonderful vestments, heavy with embroidery and seed-pearls; the crown of Ferdinand; and a magnificent tabernacle altar-front, angels, and candlesticks, all in solid silver, beautiful in workmanship and design. The Royal Chapel at Seville contains the body of King Ferdinand, the conqueror of Seville, in a magnificent silver shrine, with his banner, crown, and sword ; a curious wooden statue of the Virgin, adorned by King Ferdinand with a crown of emeralds and a stomacher of diamonds, belonging to his mother Berangera, given on the condition that they should never be removed from the image. The Cathedral of Seville possessed immense treasures in jewels. A vast amount of gold and precious stones was deposited there by Catholics during the period in which all the wealth of a newly-discovered world by Columbus flowed into this city. The Church of the Escurial abounded in precious stones ; it has been asserted that a single press in the sacristy surpassed in riches the famous treasury of St. Mark at Venice.

In the sacristy of the Cathedral of Toledo is an exquisite tabernacle of gold brought from America by Columbus, incensories, chalices, crosses, and reliquaries, in gold and enamel, enriched with jewels. The robes, mantles, and ornaments of the statue of the Virgin are encrusted with pearls and jewels. This church eclipsed the Sainte Chapelle at Paris in the splendour of its shrines. Colmenar, who visited it in 1697, describes them as covered with precious stones. The treasury, containing fourteen or fifteen large cabinets, had an amount of wealth incalculable, including two gold mitres, studded thickly with pearls and precious stones, two bracelets, and a crown of the Virgin enriched with large diamonds and other gems, with a large quantity of pearls of immense size. The Virgin was seated on a rock which was covered with jewels, amongst which was a diamond as large as a pigeon's egg. The French, in 1809, completed the spoliation of these riches.

The Cathedral of Zaragoza has been more fortunate in the preservation of some portion of the riches of the jeweller's art. Here are still the most exquisite reliquaries in pearl, precious stones, and enamel ; magnificent necklaces ; ear-rings with gigantic pearls ; coronets of diamonds ; lockets ; pictures set in jewels ; in fact, everything which is most valuable and beautiful has been lavished on this shrine.

In the sacristy of the cathedral, called the " Seo," are a magnificent ostensorium, with an emerald and pearl cross ; another ornamented with diamonds, etc.

A collection of jewels, purchased from the treasury of the Virgen del Pilar, at zaragoza, exhibited at the South Kensington Museum, comprise some splendid specimens of early Spanish jewellery ; among them a gold pendant ornament, with a beautiful enamelled group of the Adoration of the Magi, set with diamonds ; a reliquary of rock crystal, mounted in gold enriched with enamel and pearls, containing two exquisite enamel groups of the Crucifixion and the Virgin and Child, presented by Louis XII I. of France to the treasury ; a magnificent specimen of cinque-cento work, consisting of a gold pendant in the form of a pelican and her young, enriched with a carbuncle and pearls ; two enamelled pendant ornaments of dogs, supported on scrolls, with pearls and finely-enamelled chains, enriched with precious stones ; three representations, in richly-enamelled gold, of the Virgen del Pilar, as the statue has appeared at different periods. They are set with rubies and emeralds. A costly pectoral ornament of gold, open-work scrolls, set all over with fine emeralds.

In the "Autobiography" of Miss Knight, lady companion to the Princess Charlotte, describing a ceremony at St. Peter's, at Rome, in 178o, she says that the statue of the saint was dressed in gold stuff, with a ring on its finger, rare jewels on its breast, and a tiara on its head.

Lady Herbert, in her "Impressions of Spain," describes the famous Lady of Atocha as a black image, but almost invisible from the gorgeous jewels and dresses with which it is adorned.

The ex-Queen Isabella, some little time before her flight from Spain, gave to " Our Lady of Atocha" a robe worth, it is said, £30,000. The image was in-visible for some time, as some one took a fancy to one of the many jewels which adorned this robe ; and the priests, seeing that her ladyship could not take care of herself, put her under lock and key.

[The King of Spain has decided on having an immense basilica raised over the remains of Queen Mercedes. A sum of z,000,000 reals will annually be deducted from the civil list for its construction, until the building is complete. The ex-Queen Isabella of Spain has furthered the project by handing over for the purpose the diamonds and jewels deposited in the Cathedral of Atocha, which belong, to her, and represent a sum of 15,000,000 reals, more than 3,000,000 francs. Such is the on dit of the newspapers.]

In the Church of St. Laurence, at Florence, is the mausoleum of the Medici family. The bodies of the princes are in a subterranean chapel. The splendour of this mausoleum consists in its being entirely en-crusted with the rarest and most beautiful marbles, wrought and inlaid in the highest perfection. The sarcophagi are formed of Egyptian and Oriental granite, with the green jasper of Corsica, and sur-mounted by cushions inlaid with precious stones, and interspersed by crowns and jewels. In the large and precious slabs of jasper, verd-antique, lapis-lazuli, Oriental alabaster, and Spanish coral, are introduced the armorial distinctions of the various cities of Tuscany, exquisitely wrought. The funereal urns are inlaid and enriched with mother-of-pearl, jaune-antique, porphyry, green jasper, etc.

In the Church of Loretto, in what is termed La Santa Casa, are figures of the Virgin and Child, in costly robes, and covered with a profusion of jewels ; on their heads are rich crowns. The infant Jesus displays a sumptuous ring on his finger, while the Virgin is resplendent, from the diadem on her brow to the hem of her robe, and .jewels of every description, asserted to be of inestimable value ; but a large number were swept away by the French, at the invasion. The treasury of this church was once of dazzling beauty and costliness. Lamps, censers, statues, chalices, vases of gold and silver, jewels; gems, robes, pictures, mosaics, the gifts and ex-voto offerings of nobles and crowned heads, here abounded. Of their splendour there are yet some remains.

The story of the holy House of Loretto is engraved on brass in several languages upon the walls of the church at Loretto. Among others, there are two tablets with the story in English, headed, " The wondrus flittinge of the kirk of our blest Lady of Laureto." It commences by stating that this kirk is the chamber of the House of the Blessed Virgin, in Nazareth, where our Saviour was born ; that after the Ascension, the Apostles hallowed and made it a kirk, and St. Luke "framed a pictur to her vary liknes thair zit to be seine ; " that it was " haunted with muckle devotione by the folke of the land whar it stud, till the people went after the erreur of Mahomet," etc.

M. de Coulanges mentions that at Loretto he saw a golden heart set with diamonds, presented by Queen Henrietta Maria. " En l'ouvrant on voyoit cette princesse à genoux, qui présentoit le coeur du roi à la Sainte Vierge, avec ces mots, quo charius, eo libentias."

Queen Christina of Sweden completed her renunciation of all the pomps and vanities of the world at Loretto, by laying down at the foot of the golden image her crown and sceptre, with jewels of great value.

In the monastery of the Vatopidi at Mount Athos is the girdle of the Virgin Mary, which appears to be of leather, so far as one can see through the glass case in which it is kept, and is ornamented with diamonds and numerous rows of rudely worked and very ancient pearls. So far is the fame of its miraculous powers throughout the AEgean, that frequently when a city is afflicted with pestilence, it is sent for to restore health to the inhabitants.

In the monastery of Xeropotamu, or the " Torrent," on Mount Athos, is a fragment of the true cross, consisting of one long piece of dark wood and two cross pieces, one above the other, the upper one, which is the shorter of the two, being intended for the superscription. Though not exactly a crucifix, it has a small figure of our Lord on the middle of it in ivory or bone ; from the great abhorrence in which anything approaching an image is held in the Greek Church, even this would probably not have been spared, had it not been a reputed present from the Empress Pulcheria. Near the foot is a representation in gold plate of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, with an inscription in ancient Greek characters ; but what is most remarkable about it is the wonderful size of the uncut diamonds and emeralds with which it is set. This is in all probability the same piece of the true cross which is mentioned in a golden bull of the Emperor Romanus Lecapenus (A.D. 924) as having been taken from the queen's treasury, and presented by him to this monastery after his recovery from a severe illness, on which occasion it was conducted thither with great pomp and ceremonial.

In the monastery of Sphigmenu, at Mount Athos, there is another cross, inferior in other respects, but not less valuable for its ancient diamonds, and the two together form a pair which it would be difficult to match elsewhere.

It has lately been pointed out that the great rarity of large diamonds in ancient works of art, even in Byzantine times, when we should have expected that the gorgeousness of the Court and the communication with Asia would have introduced them, is to be accounted for, not by the scarcity of the gem itself at that period, but by the prohibition which was imposed by the Indian sovereigns against the exportation from that country of any above a certain size. [King on the " Natural History of Precious Stones.")

In the monastery of Docheiareiu, or the " Steward's Monastery," at Mount Athos, there are two splendid crosses : one a single cross, magnificently set in gilt filigree work adorned with gems, the spaces between the limbs being also filled up with the same kind of ornamentation, so that it assumes, roughly speaking, a diamond shape ; the other is a double cross, like that at Xeropotamu, and has beautiful metal flower-work wreathed all about it.

In the possession of Hollingworth Magniac, Esq., is a celebrated jewelled " reliquary," formerly in the treasury of the Cathedral of Basle, and obtained at the sale of the church property in 1834. It is in the form of a sandalled foot, in silver parcel gilt, set with pearls, etc., and is of Swiss work, 1470. The length is nine and a quarter inches, height five and a half inches. The foot is in silver, well and minutely modelled in beaten work, the toes most beautifully executed in the naturalistic style of Martin Schongauer, or the artists of the Van Eyck school ; the sandal forms a covering for the greater part of the foot, leaving the toes only exposed ; it is diapered all over with small gilded applied rosettes in relief, and bound round by several straps, set with large jewels and glass pastes. In front, on the instep, is a raised circular medallion, containing a pane of glass, intended for the inspection of the relic formerly contained within, which was a foot of one of the Innocents, given to the church by St. Colombanus, and the work of one Oswald, probably a goldsmith of the city of Basle. Above the raised circular medallion is a large rosette in high relief of elegant foliage in gold, set with pearls. On each side of the ankle, also, the sandal is decorated with a large circular applied medallion, formed by a beautiful translucent cloissoné enamel of green, red, and white tints, and gold filets, arranged in a floriated pattern, surrounded by zones of filagree work, and thickly set with seed-pearls. Around the top, where the ankle is cut, the margin is surrounded by a band of jewels, crested with a raised open-work crown of strawberry leaves ; this encloses a circular medallion carving, in mother-in-pearl (placed horizontally on the summit), representing the Presentation in the Temple. Access to the interior of the foot is obtained in the sole of the sandal by a hinged door, which is ornamented on both sides, by inscriptions, varied with scroll ornaments, engraved or chiselled in low relief, in large church text characters. On the exterior the inscription is as follows :" In . tegmen . pes . de . innocentibus. Sanctus . Columbanus . dedit " ; and inside, " Osvaldus . fecit . hoc . opus . de . voluntate. Dei . 1470. iar." This remarkable reliquary is engraved in Shaw's " Decorative Arts of the Middle Ages," etc.

In the possession of the Right Honourable W. E. Gladstone is a curious large circular jewel or reliquary of gold, set with diamonds, the outer case beautifully enamelled with arabesque scrolls in blue, red, and white on yellow ground ; it has a glass cover which opens on a hinge ; within the case are four cavities containing groups in enamel of Adam in Paradise ; Adam and Eve ; the expulsion from Eden ; and Cain slaying Abel, with backgrounds of trees and herbage ; open-work centre ornament. Size, four inches in diameter, with a loop for suspension.

One of the most magnificent shrines ever known was the old Constantinople Cathedral (now the Imperial Mosque St. Sophia), which was dedicated to the Eternal Wisdom, i.e., to the Second Divine Person, associated, even by Solomon, with Jehovah in the creation of the world. This temple was erected in A.D. 325, and, after having been ravaged twice by fire, was restored by the Emperor Justinian in 568, after the plan, says tradition, of an angel who came to that monarch in a dream.

The angel is stated to have appeared a second time as a eunuch, in a brilliant white dress, on a Saturday, to a boy who was guarding the tools of the masons, and ordered him to bring the workmen immediately, in order to hasten the building. As the boy refused, the gleaming eunuch swore by the Wisdom, i.e., by the Word of God, that he would not depart until the boy returned, and that he, in the meantime, would watch over the building. When the boy was led before the emperor, and could not find the eunuch who had appeared to him, the emperor perceived that it had been an angel ; and in order that he might for ever keep his word as guardian of the temple, he sent away the boy, laden with presents, to pass the rest of his life in the Cyclades, and resolved, according to the word of the angel, to dedicate the church to the Word of God, and Divine Wisdom. Again the angel appeared, a third time, as a eunuch, in a brilliant white garb, when the building was finished as far as the cupola, but when there was not sufficient money to finish it, he led the mules of the treasury into a subterranean vault, and laded them with eighty hundredweight of gold, which they brought to the emperor, who immediately recognized the wonderful hand of the angel in this unexpected caravan of gold. Thus did an angel give the plan, the name, and the funds for the construction of this wonder of the Middle Ages.

Nor did the angel end here, for a dispute arising between the emperor and the architect, whether the light should fall through one or two open arched windows, the angelic visitor appeared to the emperor, clad in imperial purple and red shoes, and instructed him that the light should fall upon the altar through three windows, in honour of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The altar was to be more costly than gold, and consequently it was composed of every species of precious materials, matted together with gold and silver, with crusted pearls and jewels, and its cavity, which was called the sea, was then set with the most costly precious stones.

Above the altar, which has been described, rose, in the form of a tower, the tabernacle, on which rested a golden cupola, ornamented with golden lilies, between which was a golden cross weighing seventy-five pounds, adorned with precious stones. The pulpit was surmounted by a golden dais, with a gold cross weighing one hundred pounds, and glittering with carbuncles and pearls. Precious metals and costly jewels everywhere—no wonder that, on the opening of the temple, the emperor exclaimed, with outstretched arms, from the pulpit, " God be praised, who hath esteemed me worthy to complete such a work ! Solomon, I have surpassed thee ! "

The richest shrine in the world must undoubtedly be that in the famous ISLAND OF SRIVANGAM, in the great temple of which are jewels and treasures of in-estimable value. A brief account of them is given in the Athenceum (Oct. 23rd, 1875).

This collection chiefly consists of ornaments for the adornment of the god, the Kristnar Avatar of Vishnu, on especial occasions. There are armlets, and. necklaces, and breastplates, and crowns, all set with gems—diamond, and ruby, and emerald, topaz, and opal, and sapphire, and pearl. One necklace, of emeralds, rubies, and diamonds, with pearl pendants, is computed to be worth six lakhs of rupees (60,000 lbs). The god has several umbrellas, with covers of pearl network, and one of these bears, according to estimation, one hundred and twenty-five thousand small, but extremely clear, coloured pearls. Amongst the treasures are huge vessels of purest gold, under the weight of which the attendants who show them to the few that are allowed to inspect the temple treasures, stagger as they bring them into the show-chamber. The mace of the god is a mass of gold, sheathed, for the greater part, by large flat diamonds. It is impossible to estimate the intrinsic value of the Srivangam gems. They are badly cut, and some of the largest emeralds, rubies, and diamonds, are scarcely cut at all. Yet, some, wretchedly cut as they are, emit a surprising lustre. There are several hundreds of huge pear-shaped pearls, but these again are bored through the centre ; and this, although it may enhance the value of the gems in the Hindoo's eyes, naturally lessens their value in the estimation of an European jeweller. The Srivangam pagoda received a valuable gift of a portion of these jewels, a few years ago, from a peculiarly holy ascetic. This man, a Brahmin, vowed that for ten years he would not eat a morsel of food or drink a drop of water on any day that he did not receive for the god a donation of a hundred rupees (ten pounds). He was at first nearly starved to death, but such a devotee was not to be lost to the faith. The pious rallied round him, and at the end of the stipulated term, he presented the temple with a magnificent necklace of emeralds, rubies, and other ornaments, worth in all £25,000.

Another remarkable Indian shrine is the Taj, Agra, built by the Emperor Shah Jehan, as a mausoleum for the Empress Mumtazi Mahal, or Taj-Bibi, who died in giving birth to the Princess Jehanara. It was commenced in 1630, and completed in 1647. Twenty thousand workmen were employed during these seventeen years. Each province of the empire contributed precious stones for its adornment ; the jasper came from Punjaub, the carnelian from Broach, the turquoise from Tibet, the agates from Yemen, lapis-lazuli from Ceylon, coral from Arabia, garnets from Bundelcund, diamonds from Punnah, rock-crystal from Mulwa, onyx from Persia, chalcedonies from Asia Minor, sapphires from Colombo. The total cost of this work was about two millions.

In one of his expeditions into Hindostan, Mahmud the Gaznevide, one of the greatest of the Turkish princes, levelled many hundred temples or pagodas to the ground. The pagoda of Sumnat, situated on the promontory of Guzzarat, contained an idol which the Brahmins who attended on it declared would overwhelm the impious stranger who should approach the holy precincts. Mahmud derided this superstition ; fifty thousand worshippers of the idol were killed by the Moslems, the sanctuary was profaned, and the conqueror aimed a blow of his iron mace at the head of the false god. The trembling Brahmins are said to have offered ten millions sterling for its ransom, but Mahmud repeated his blows, and a treasure of pearls and rubies concealed in the statue fell out, and explained the devout prodigality of the Brahmins.

At the International Exhibition of 1872, in the Indian annexe, was shown the Guicowar's chudder, an Indian ornament intended for the decoration of the tomb of Mahomet. It consists of a mass of seed-pearls and precious stones, countless in number, at least as far as the pearls are concerned. Of these latter, forming the groundwork, there are many thousands.



Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com