Sunday, August 24, 2008

Through medieval eyes

pretty pictures, part 4

I made this set of green beads as another gift recently, and it presented some interesting opportunities. As is common in today's society, not all of my friends are Christian, and in fact the woman I made this for is Pagan. But since she's a re-enactor, I wanted the beads to look acceptably medieval-Christian. The colors she requested were green, white and black, and as I often do, I used a nicely non-sectarian silk tassel for the pendant at the end.


The green heart is a personal symbol (again from Venetian Bead Shop), and as I was contemplating what else I might add, I thought of the little flat silver charm you see attached.

It's been sitting in my box of charms for several years, since I bought it along with the similar one I used on a little six-decade set of coral beads. Both of these little square charms are fine silver from India, stamped with (presumably) figures from Indian legends. I immediately claimed the first one for one of my own projects.

This six-decade rosary was one of my fairly early ideas. I had found a nice string of small pink beads that were reasonably priced, real coral and not dyed (which is uncommon). The marker beads were part of an eBay purchase: they were sold as rock crystal, but the price was very reasonable, so I wasn't too disappointed when I got them and discovered they were glass, as shown by the round air bubbles in one or two of them. (Rock crystal may have flaws, but not visible, perfectly round bubbles.)

Coral 6 decades

Besides being an example of beads with six decades, I made this project as an example of the sorts of miscellaneous charms and accessories that might have been hung on a medieval rosary. The cross is Ethiopian, which is admittedly rather an improbable stretch for what a medieval European might have had available. I rummaged through my charm box and found a hand with "palm reading" lines on it, which I thought made a plausible "good luck charm," as does the crescent moon. The little silver pendant with a stone in the center is a carnelian, which actually was a good-luck charm in the Middle Ages. The round medal is a very worn Sacred Heart medal -- somewhat post-medieval in form, but as I said in an earlier post in this series, the devotion itself was known in the Middle Ages.

I liked the little square charm from India, because if I try to look at it through the eyes of a medieval European, my immediate identification is that it's Saint George... or perhaps Saint Martin of Tours, except that he seems to be wearing some sort of helmet and no cloak. He's clearly on horseback, and there is a diagonal line starting in the upper left corner that could be a spear or a lance, although if you look closely you see that he's not actually holding it.


People who have studied the religious thought of the Middle Ages more deeply than I have may certainly correct me here, but my own guess is that a medieval person, seeing such a thing, would try to fit it into a conceptual framework that he or she knew, and that means it would be identified as a saint, or perhaps a knight -- some sort of familiar image.

The pendant I still had sitting in my box was more problematic. With my modern eyes, I can see that it's possibly intended to be one of the round-breasted women characters from Indian legend, but it's much harder for me to fit that image into a plausible medieval-Christian context.


It's a bit of a stretch, but I wonder whether a medieval person might see this as one of the virgin martyrs who was stripped and tortured -- Saint Agatha, perhaps?

On the other hand, as a "goddess" image, it's now found an appreciative home.