The symbolism of the precious stones in church artistic goldsmithing (part 1)

Due to its hardness and density, stone is an ideal feature of the material world, a symbol of reliability and stability. However, as in Christianity not only man, but also matter is the object of God's plan of salvation and transformation, so the Christian symbolism of the stone carries a spiritual character and reflects the processes of spiritual creation and transformation.

The basic symbolic meaning of the stone is obtained when it is understood as an element of the building created according to the Divine plan, as an element of the temple of God, and in the broader sense of the Church of Christ. In that case, the stone takes on the analogy of the human personality, as an element of unification with In the Bible, we can find three basic terms related to stone, through architectural symbolism: "foundation stone", "cornerstone" and "living stones". In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ, addressing the apostle Simon (Peter), said: "And I tell you that you are Peter (stone), and on that rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18). The Lord Himself called the Apostle "the cornerstone." This also applies to the other Apostles, which is evident from the text of Revelation: "And the wall of the City had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb." (Revelation. Christ Himself called Himself the cornerstone (Matthew 21.42, Mark 12.10, Luke 20.17), referring to the words of the psalm: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner" (Psalm 118.22). The term "cornerstone" is often used " confuses, or consciously confuses with the term "cornerstone", which is particularly characteristic of Western Christianity. In this way, we arrive at the replacement of Christ himself with the apostle Peter, who, according to such an interpretation, appears as the vicar (vicarius) of Christ, transferring his position to Roman popes, thus becoming a part of Catholic dogma. We ourselves know that the capstone in a building can be several, in the extreme case four, and the corner, capstone can be only one. It is that capstone, which prevents the others from collapsing , and it can only be at the top of the building. More precisely, Christ is the Head of the Church. The best example of a "cornerstone" in church goldsmithing and jewelry, as a symbol of Christ, is the precious stone in the intersection of the arms of the cross, at the point where the four corners meet. Accordingly, precious stones at the end The two arms of the cross represent the "foundation stones" and may represent the four Angels or the four corners of the world. The same can be said for objects that are round or oval in shape, where the gemstone is located in the center.

We find the term "living stones" in the Apostle Peter. St. Peter calls Christ the "cornerstone, precious stone", so the term "living stones" can refer to all Christians who create a spiritual home of themselves (Acts 2:4-5). Apostle Paul calls Christians "fellow citizens of the saints" and that they are "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, where Jesus Christ himself is the cornerstone" (Eph. 2 19-20). These examples show us how the order and hierarchy of the Church of Christ is presented through architectural concepts. Accordingly, the compositions of many Christian jewelry items were executed in accordance with temple symbolism.du with temple symbolism.du with temple symbolism.

The concept of "living stones" contains the idea of the transformation of both man and the material world. This idea can be conveyed in art through the processing of ordinary stone, especially in representations of sacred scenes. An example of such work are carved icons in steatite, widespread in Byzantium in the 11th and 12th centuries, and on Russian icons made of soft types of stone. Finally, the notion of transfiguration explains the contrast that exists between ordinary and precious stones.

Precious stones, due to their natural rarity, have always been shrouded in mystery among various peoples. It was attributed magical and healing properties. Reflections of ancient legends and myths can also be found in Christianity. However, in the Church, precious stones most often symbolize spiritual values. The main criterion is the color of the stone. The color of the stone, not the type, is associated with sacral properties, so many stones got their name from the color they wear. For this reason, it is not always easy to connect the ancient and modern names of precious stones, because some different minerals of similar properties or colors were called by one name, and the same precious stones of different colors were called by different names.

When choosing a stone for a goldsmith's work, its spiritual symbolism was primarily taken into account, and the very color, size and luster gave importance to the very symbol that wanted to be presented. Stones of larger dimensions were used for cutting sacred scenes and figures. Such jewels were especially valued and were used as the main element on panagias and other shrines, while stones of smaller sizes were used to decorate other liturgical objects, symbolizing the "living stones" from which the Church of God is built. The form of the gem was not of crucial importance, and the processing of such stones was reduced only to the discovery of color and luster with a tendency to preserve the natural form. The crystal structure was not revealed by the cutting (faceting) technique, but by simple polishing, which gave the stone an inner shine. With such processing, the stones became "alive" in the literal sense of the word. In this way, the spiritual transformation of matter was achieved. Stones of different natural forms were organically integrated into the composition of the object, retaining their individuality and contributing to the higher spiritual content of the canonical form of the work itself. Such works, with variations in external form, possessed an inimitable, living beauty. This approach to gem processing reflects the church's principle of "congregation", which is only possible through the complete freedom of every believing Christian, who, like a "living stone", retains his own individuality and at the same time builds the Church of God with the saints and the Lord.

The opposite principle prevails in secular goldsmithing, where the illusion of freedom is achieved, while in fact the search is for uniformity and identity of the external characteristics of certain groups of gems that are part of a jewelry item. This approach, nowadays, is being pushed by manufacturers of artificial crystals, because artificial stones are more suitable for such artificial projects.

In church art until the 17th century, the technique of cutting (faceting) was rarely applied. The reason for this is not lack of knowledge of appropriate technological procedures. The technique of cutting diamonds has been known in Europe since the 15th century. The attempt to find a symbolic justification for cutting stones - revealing the inner spiritual content, was not accepted in the ancient Church. What's more, gems processed in this way were used, as objects of occult rituals, by sorcerers and alchemists, because the optical effects achieved by skillful cutting left a strong impression on the people of that time. It was unacceptable for the Christian Church. Even virtue displayed for praise was considered a sin. However, starting from the end of the 17th century, cut gems are increasingly found on objects of church art, as a reflection of social and economic progress.