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A Brief History in Religious Jewelry



Jewelry is a broad term that describes any ornamental adornment on the body. It includes toe rings to tiaras and everything in between. Jewelry has been used in every culture throughout history and in many different ways. While in our culture today jewelry serves mostly an aesthetic purpose, jewelry can serve other functions as well. Jewelry is used to represent social or official rank, age, marital status, and tribal affinity. In addition, jewelry serves as emblems of religious, social, and political affiliation. In fact, one of the very first uses of jewelry was to show religious affiliation. The following are the main cultures that began the use of religious jewelry and the common symbols and uses of their jewelry.

Egyptian Religious Jewelry

Religious jewelry in Ancient Egypt was very symbolic. Some common symbols in Ancient Egyptian religious jewelry include the scarab (beetle), lotus, serpent, falcon, and the eye. The scarab is a symbol for good luck and resurrection while the Eye of the Horus represents healing. A common symbol of the time called the Ankh is meant to represent eternal life. Religious jewelry was extravagant, consisting of gold and semi-precious stones and were worn by men and women alike. When the Roman Era arrived, Egyptian religious jewelry was made of cheaper materials and more Christian symbols were used. When Islam arrived in Egypt men were forbidden to wear gold jewelry. At this time silver jewelry became more popular in religious jewelry in Egypt. Religious jewelry is still widely used in Egypt, but does not have the same extravagance as the Ancient Egyptian religious jewelry.

Roman Christianity and Religious Jewelry

Art and architecture thrived when St. Constantine Christianized the Roman Empire. At this time several popular symbols were created that are still used in Christian art and jewelry. These symbols include the cross, the rosary, and the Christian fish charm. The cross is a symbol of Gods love and a reminder of Christs suffering. Rosary beads are prayer beads that began in the Roman Christian world but are now used predominately by the Catholic Church (officially accepted by the Catholic Church during the rosary approbation in 1520). Rosary beads are also used in the Islam and Buddhist faith. The Christian fish charm came about when early Christians would make an acronym with the Greek word for fish, ichthys, Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter (Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior). This symbol attracted less attention to the persecuted Christians. The Christian charm remains very popular today.

Native American Jewelry

Native American religious jewelry was a symbol for nature, played a role in religious ceremonies, and represented status. Natural materials were used in their jewelry including feathers along with minerals such as turquoise and metals like silver. These natural materials were a reminder of the Earth around them. During healing ceremonies and harvest rituals, the people would take care to wear specific kinds of religious jewelry that were the right color, made of the right materials, and representing the right symbol for that event. The jewelry that is worn by a person is representative of the different stages of life an individual has entered into. In several tribes adolescents are initiated into adulthood when they receive the spiritual totem consisting of shells, beads, or symbols from nature. Native American religious jewelry was also given to women after there first menses and to newly married couples. Religious jewelry has played a significant role in Native American culture.

Because our culture today uses jewelry mostly for decorative purposes we often forget the roots of jewelry and how, to some cultures, it can have a deeper spiritual meaning. Recognizing the importance of this religious jewelry in other cultures allows us to see the greater symbolic uses that jewelry can be used for.

Kaitlin Carruth is a client account specialist with - More Visitors. More Buyers. More Revenue. To learn more about religious jewelry, visit Harris Michael Jewelry.


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