Gemstones of early Christianity are surrounded by colorful stories and traditions that add to the richness of the gems we love. Many of the stories are obscure but offer an opportunity to rediscover some nearly forgotten legends.
The significance of these valuable gemstones of the Bible originated in the Old Testament through the history of the Israelites. Many of the gems were indigenous to the region. From the Book of Exodus, there was a specific list of 12 gems in the breastplate of the High Priest, foreshadowing the same symbols in the Book of Revelation.
One of the most poignant stories for the Easter season concerns bloodstone. According to the story, when Jesus hung on the cross, his blood dripped on the deep green jasper below his feet, staining it with telltale deep red spots. By the late second and early third centuries, scenes of the crucifixion, some- times with a written inscription, were carved into bloodstone amulets. The practice continued for centuries. While widespread martyrdom wasn’t prevalent during the Middle Ages, bloodstone was often referred to as the “martyr’s stone,” where medieval Christians etched scenes of either the crucifixion or martyrs within the stone.
Amethyst found significance in the early church with royal purple symbolizing the kingship of Christ. As a result, it was often found in the rings of the bishops. Amethyst is the symbol of St. Matthias, who replaced Judas as reported in the Book of Acts and is also the patron saint of carpenters, tailors, and people suffering from smallpox. There are often rosaries with amethyst beads made in the name of St. Matthias.
In Hebrew, the word for amethyst, which is “ahlamah,” means “dream stone,” indicating its use to encourage sound sleep. In the Old Testament, amethyst was one of the 12 precious stones in the High Priest’s breastplate, and this symbolism continues to the Book of Revelation where it is one of the 12 foundational stones of the Holy City.
Another stone often associated with royalty, emeralds found their way into a large number of myths and legends related to early Christians. One rather odd story claims that an emerald in a shape of a bowl dislodged from Satan’s crown. In one version, this was the bowl Christ used during the Last Supper, which later became the much sought-after Holy Grail in the legend of King Arthur. Another story claims the bowl was used by Joseph of Arimathea to catch Christ’s blood from the cross.
Around 37 to 68 A.D., legend notes that Nero, the eccentric, and frankly, downright mad, emperor of Rome reportedly watched gladiatorial games, which often involved using Christians for sport, through a concave emerald. Of course, since it is impossible to identify stones during that time, it’s a distinct possibility it might have been another transparent green stone such as olivine. But the story is still intriguing.
In the “Parable of the Pearl of Great Price,” told in the Book of Matthew, the story talks about a merchant who was looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he sold everything to purchase it. This story correlates with the importance of obtaining the Kingdom of Heaven. Pearls are often used to this day to illustrate the concept.
This story about stone stories previously appeared in Rock & Gem magazine. Click here to subscribe. Story by Amy Grisak.