MEDIEVAL PENDANTS, ROSARIES, AND POMANDERS

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The wearing of religious emblems in the form of pendants by the Christians of the Middle Ages was possibly, in the first place, the unconscious perpetuation of pagan superstition. The demand for a convenient mode of carrying a reliquary may account in some degree for the use of necklaces in early times.

Relics of the saints and of the Passion of our Lord were most eagerly sought after by medieval Christendom, and whenever a relic of unusual importance was obtained, all the resources of the art of the time were employed to give it a worthy setting.

The most famous of early pendent reliquaries was that worn by the Emperor Charlemagne, which contained relics from the Crown of Thorns and the True Cross, presented to him by Haroun al-Raschid. The reliquary was buried with him in 814, and found at the opening of his tomb at Aix-la-Chapelle in 1169.

In 1804 it was given to the Emperor Napoleon by the clergy of Aix, and was afterwards the property of Napoleon III, but it disappeared during the troubled times that terminated the Second Empire. The relics were enclosed under a large sapphire magnificently set in gold and precious stones.

Another historical relic of the early Middle Ages was the enameled gold cross suspended from a chain, which was stolen from the tomb of Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey in 1685 and given to James II.

It was only lost sight of in the early part of the nineteenth century. Portable reliquaries in former times were often made of two plates of rock crystal or other transparent stones hinged together so as to form a box. An exquisite example of this style of ornament, and one of the most remarkable medieval jewels, is the so-called reliquary of St. Louis in the British Museum.

It is of gold, set with two large bean-shaped amethysts which act as covers to an inner case with a lid, enclosing what purports to be a spike from the Crown of Thorns. The back of this receptacle, as well as the insides of the covers, is enriched with minute translucent enamels representing the Crucifixion and other scenes from the Passion and the life of Christ.

The jewel is said to have been given by St. Louis (who bought the Crown of Thorns from Baldwin, King of Jerusalem) to a king of Aragon, but the style of the work is somewhat later than the time of St. Louis, and dates from about the year 1310. It was formerly in the collection of Baron Pichon, and was presented to the British Museum by Mr. George Salting in 1902.

The pendent ornaments of the Middle Ages not only served as receptacles for relics, but also took the form of crosses, medallions, votive tablets, and monograms. Though these do not attain the same importance as the pendants of the Renaissance, their extraordinary variety is proved by the inventories of the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, while their beauty is attested by the few examples that have fortunately been preserved.

Small votive tablets, with hinged wings, were exceedingly popular as personal ornaments, judging by their frequent occurrence in the inventories under the title of tableau. They were suspended from the girdle or neck-chain. Some are painted with delicate translucent enamels, others, contain figures in high relief wrought in metal, or carvings in boxwood of minute dimensions. The last are generally Flemish, while the others, of which there are several splendid examples in the Victoria and Albert Museum, are mostly of French or of English workmanship.

A very remarkable silver-gilt pendant in the form of the Devil of temptation, with the forbidden fruit in one hand and a crozier, signifying power, in the other. It is Burgundian work of the second half of the fifteenth century, and is the property of Mrs. Percy Macquoid.

An interesting class of pendants is formed by a somewhat extensive series of silver and silver-gilt ornaments produced by German craftsmen of the fifteenth century. The National Museum at Munich, where several fine examples of this kind are preserved, possesses one of more than ordinary interest. It is of silver-gilt, about five inches in length, composed of elaborate Gothic tracery, in shape not unlike the tall Gothic tabernacles of South Germany, of which that by Adam Kraft in St. Lawrence’s Church’ at Nuremberg is perhaps the finest example.

A niche on each of its four sides contains the figure of a saint, and above, half hidden among the tracery, are four female figures. The jewel is surmounted by the Virgin and Child, and has three rings above for suspension and one below.

Other examples of South German goldsmith’s work of the fifteenth and early sixteenth century take the form of small pendent charms picturing some religious theme. The figure of a saint was naturally a favorite subject, since it was supposed to possess special prophylactic powers.

The variety of the subjects thus represented can be admirably judged from an important series of such pendants at South Kensington. In addition to these, which are mostly of cast silver, other pendants of the same period include silver plaques engraved, or in relief; and likewise fine cameos or reliefs of mother-of-pearl, and carvings in ivory and wood, set in coronets of silver-gilt.

Medieval neck-pendants were, as has been observed, known. In the inventory of Edward III in 1339 we find a pentacle composed of a large Scotch pearl and an image of Our Lady in enamel; and signified not only a necklace, but jewels hung at the neck.

Many pendants, generally provided with qua trefoil rings, come from South Germany and especially from Bohemia —there is a good collection of them in the cathedral treasury of Prague.” The majority are silver-gilt, and set with a plaque of mother-of-pearl or crystal, and are usually hollow, to contain relics.

Various pendants, containing small relics, verses from the Bible, the names of Christ or the Virgin written upon vellum or upon metal, and perhaps also ancient magic spells—all possessing the virtues of talismans, were worn by chains or cords round the neck, and in some instances very likely hidden under the upper garment.

The early Church, in many an edict, declared itself against this form of superstition, yet such pendants or phylacteries—a term applied to any amulet worn about the person against evil of all kinds —appear to have been extensively used.

Another and popular pendant from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century, which is frequently cited in inventories, but now rarely met with, takes the form of a small circular box or capsule bearing in front an Agims Dei in niello or repouss6, surrounded by a corded edging. Such boxes were intended for the preservation of a roundel of wax molded from the remains of the Paschal candle at Rome with an impression of the sacred Lamb, and blessed by the Pope for distribution to the faithful. The cases, of silver-gilt, have occasionally a covering of transparent horn on the back and front.

An example of this kind, of fifteenth-century German workmanship, is in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The wax it contains bears the name of Pope Urban VI. An original stamp of bronze, of Italian origin, dating from the fourteenth century, which was used for making these wax impressions, is preserved in the British Museum along with other molds for casting medals and small articles of jewelry.

In addition to the precious and semi-precious stones already mentioned, other objects, accounted specially efficacious for certain purposes, were worn. The peres de eagle, also called cetites, supposed to be found in the nest of the eagle, were particularly valuable during childbirth. Glossopetrcu, the fossilised teeth of certain kinds of shark, which passed as serpents’ teeth, were much used, as well as primitive arrowheads. They were hung round the neck of infants in the belief that they assisted dentition and kept off frights.

Of great value also was the bezoar stone, which, like glossopetrse, at one time occupied a prominent place in pharmacopoeia. Coral, which has always been popular, is first mentioned in English wills and inventories in the fourteenth century. It was used for rosaries, and, above all, as a charm—a ring of gold or silver being attached to its stalk.

The Romans tied little branches of it round their children’ necks to ward off the evil eye; and the infant Savior in many an early Italian picture is represented wearing a piece of coral in a similar manner.

A fear of poison, common for centuries in royal courts, was responsible for the custom of testing meats and drinks by methods founded upon certain ancient and groundless beliefs. In order to neutralize or detect the presence of poison, certain objects were placed in contact with food or were dipped into liquids.

The touching-pieces or proofs employed for the purpose, and considered especially efficacious against poison, were toadstones, glossopetr, serpentine, jasper, agate, and particularly the unicorn’s horn. What was foisted upon the credulous public as the horn of the fabled animal was in reality the horn or tusk of a fish—the narwhal or sea-unicorn of the northern seas.

Being an object of very great value, the horn was only occasionally kept entire, like the one preserved to this day at New College, Oxford. It was more usually cut into pieces and used as “proofs.” An angry unicorn in his full career Charge with too swift foot a jeweler That watched him for the treasure of his brow, And ere he could get shelter of a tree, Nail him with his rich antler to the earth.- These and other objects, when worn upon the person, as was generally the practice, were mounted at one end, or surrounded by a claw-like band of silver. A relic of this superstition still exists in the coral baubles hung with bells, with which infants are aided in cutting their teeth.

Another object which occupied an important position in the Middle Ages and often received special attention at the hands of the goldsmith was the rosary. It was suspended occasionally from the neck, but was more often worn upon the wrist, at the girdle, or attached to a finger ring, and was formed of a string of beads of various sizes and materials representing Aves, Paternosters, and Glorias: each bead receiving the name of the prayer it represented.

The rosary, as at the present day, was divided into decades of Aves, each decade being preceded by a Paternoster and followed by a Gloria. The materials of which they were composed are well illustrated in the inventory of the jewels belonging to Adam Ledyard, a London jeweler in 1381. It includes: ” The makers of these beads were termed pater-nosterers; and Paternoster Row and Ave Maria Lane were so called from the ” turners of beads “who resided there.

In Paris, as early as the thirteenth century, the commerce in rosaries was a most flourishing one, and it was customary there to divide the makers or dealers in these articles into three categories—pater-nosterers of bone and horn, of coral and mother-of-pearl, and of amber and jet.

In England the rosary makers do not seem to have been so specialized. The larger beads were sometimes of gold, silver, and silver-gilt, of openwork, beautifully chased and engraved, and of boxwood and ivory exquisitely carved . The ornaments or trinkets attached to the rosary, were commonly in the form of a crucifix, while the small German charms were mostly employed for the same purpose.

Of the spherical-shaped gauds or nuts pendent to the rosary, called in French grains de chapelet and known in Germany as Betuusse, many fine examples exist in boxwood. They have often an openwork case which opens with a hinge, and displays two hemispheres filled with a number of carved figures of minute proportions. Among the many forms assumed by medieval pendants were those of fruits—generally apples or pears.

These fruit-shaped pendants, containing either figures or relics, were exceedingly popular. They were carried in the purse or attached to the rosary or to the girdle, or in the case of men, were hung from the neck by a cord or chain ; and were constructed so as to be opened during devotions. One of the most remarkable examples is in the Waddesdon Bequest at the British Museum.

The use of perfumes prevailed at all periods of the Middle Ages. They were enclosed in various receptacles, and especially in those shaped like a pear or apple. These pendent scent cases or pomanders, worn like other pendants of the same form, were in general use throughout the whole of the period extending from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century.

Pomander in early inventories is often indicating its derivation from ponmie d’ambre, a perfume apple or ball; the word ponime being used for any object resembling an apple in shape, and used for perfume. the well-known odoriferous substance, so called from its resemblance to gray amber. It was the most highly prized of all perfumes in medieval times, and though its use is now almost entirely confined to perfumery, it formerly also occupied no inconsiderable place in pharmacy.

Primarily the pomander seems often to have designated a ball composed of various highly scented substances, which served the purpose both of counteracting the smells which must have been particularly general and offensive in olden days, and also of protecting against infection. It was enclosed in a rich metal case, opening across the center, and perforated so as to allow the scent to escape. The title “pomander” —originally meaning simply a scent or perfume ball— was given to the case which contained it. In many instances, the perfumes, instead of being mixed together into a ball, were placed in the pomander case each in a separate compartment, the lids of which are found inscribed with the names of the contents. These compartments, varying in number from four to as many as sixteen, are formed like segments of an orange. They are hinged below, and united at the top by a screw or pin, which being removed, allows the segments to open out.

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Author: fairydew1

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