Sapphire – on the secret language of stones

For centuries, precious stones have been desired not only because of their beauty. It was believed that, if properly selected, they could cure a variety of ailments and diseases. Some of them became direct components of healing potions. Powdered pearls, which were believed to be created from God’s tears, shed at the moment of the original sin, were used as a remedy against impotence. Sapphire healed liver and kidneys by preventing the formation of gallstones. In the literature of the 18th century, even more drastic recommendations can be found – corals and emeralds carried in a leather bag made of cat skin were said to be an effective cure for fever.
Jewels closer to heaven
Over the centuries a kind of stone code has been created – appropriate planets, gods, as well as magical and medicinal properties. Sapphire, the colour of which resembled the most beautiful images of the sky, has occupied a special place in the pantheon of treasures extracted from the soil. In ancient Greece it was associated with Zeus, and the divine connotations of this stone were taken over by Christianity.
Sapphire in particular was associated with the holding of an important office – it was regarded as a stone of kings and rulers exercising both secular and spiritual power (it is no accident that sapphire encrustation can be found in the rings of Krakowian mayors).
Sapphire rings worn by abbots and Church dignitaries symbolised their contact with heaven. Over time, they became a symbol of episcopal consecration (another azure-coloured stone also used in jewellery was lapis lazuli). This stone was associated, in particular, with the cult of Madonna, and it was used to decorate objects of worship and reliquaries.
Amulets and inclusions
Health properties went hand in hand with the sapphire’s positive qualities (goodness, faithfulness, devotion), which passed to the owners of jewellery with sapphires. Olive mixed with sapphire reduced bone pain, it was drunk dissolved in wine and water!
For some, sapphires became a kind of amulet. A talisman of sapphires was worn by Charles the Great (between the stones there was a splinter from the Cross of Christ); today it is kept as a relic in the Cathedral of Reims. One of the most beautiful sapphires can be found in the royal crown of English monarchs (the sapphire of St. Edward, embedded in the cross over the diamond apple in the crown).
Magical properties were not the extent of the potential of these sky blue jewels. Gas bubbles present in the structure of aluminium oxide were especially valuable to magicians and wizards. Due to these bubbles, a sapphire could become an inclusion – an object inhabited by ghosts and bearing extraterrestrial powers.
Those who do not have the opportunity to admire the English crown jewels in person or to go back in time to an alchemical laboratory, where sapphire concoctions were created, are encouraged to see the jewels in the collection of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums and the ones which can be seen in reality. Some of the most beautiful sapphires decorate the head reliquary of St.  Stanislaus, kept in the Treasury of Wawel Cathedral; they can be seen every year during the procession which passes through the streets of Kraków.

Elaborated by Anna Berestecka (Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums),
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 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.