Jewels, Hair and Accessories of the Middle Ages
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Lapidary- a text that investigates and chronicles the physical, magical and medicinal property of a stone.

Pliny the Elder’s Natural History was admired in the Middle Ages for its compendium of minerals and metals.

Marbodus, Bishop of Rennes, wrote one of the most famous lapidaries, Liper Lapidum Book of Stones, in 1067-81.

In this book he describes the believed properties of some jewels:

sapphires- best worn by kings

rubies-promote health, dispel bad luck and lust

emeralds- increased wealth

turquoise-  to guard against poison, and falling while riding

diamond- gives protection from nightmares, and courage

toadstone- believed to come from the head of a toad, but actually was a fossilized fish tooth, believed to be a talisman of earthly happiness

From around the 12th century, astrological engravings on stones were supposed to be especially good talismans.

Rodini gives a good summary of the contradiction between the Roman Catholic church and the magical properties given to jewels:

“And yet traditional, even pagan,understandings of a divinely organized, cosmically directed universe were still very much alive. Human character was classified according to the perceived qualities of the planets, the human body was connected to the patterns of the stars, and the materials of the earth were seen as essentially linked to the celestial realm. This explanatory system included gems and precious metals, and the writing of lapidaries (texts dedicated to investigating the properties and powers of different stones) went back to antiquity and continued throughthe Middle Ages. While the Church opposed belief in the magical or talismanic potential of minerals,it did not contradict faith in their medicinal properties or in theirsymbolic association with religious values (sapphires as emblems of hope for example) Indeed, late-medieval universities promoted a relatively formal, codified study of medicinal stones, and a significant tradition survived during the Renaissance of assigning spiritual power and value to gems and other minerals. Accordingly, another motive for the wearing of jewelry was protective, either in a magical or a medicinal sense.” (Rodini pg.25)

This bishop’s ring (English, 13th century)  showcases the belief in religious values of stones:

This elaborate bishop's ring has the typical combination of a gold setting with a single, large stone, in this case malachite. The gold is decorated with openwork eagles, animal heads, and floral elements. The malachite is probably meant to resemble "toadstone," a green stone said to be found on the head of a toad and believed to have healing qualities. These rings had to be large as bishops normally wore them over gloves on the third finger of the right hand.

The Language of Stones
Author(s): Elizabeth Rodini
Source: Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, Vol. 25, No. 2, Renaissance Jewelry in the
Alsdorf Collection (2000), pp. 16-28+10
Campbell, Marian.  Medieval Jewelry in Europe 1100-1500. London:V &A Publishing.,2009. 33

The following two extracts are translated from ‘Les Lapidaires Français du Moyen Âge,’ by Leopold Pannier, Paris, 1882.


The sapphire is beautiful, and worthy to shine on the fingers of a king. In color it resembles the sky when it is pure and free from clouds. No precious stone has greater virtue or beauty. One kind of sapphire is found among the pebbles in the country of Libya; but that which comes from the land of the Turk is more precious. It is called the gem of gems, and is of great value to men and women. It gives comfort to the heart and renders the limbs strong and sound. It takes away envy and perfidy and can set the prisoner at liberty. He who carries it about him will never have fear. It pacifies those who are angry, and by means of it one can see into the unknown. It is very valuable in medicine. It cools those who are feverish and who on account of pain are covered with perspiration. When powdered and dissolved in milk it is good for ulcers. It cures headache and diseases of the eyes and tongue. He who wears it must live chastely and honorably; so shall he never feel the distress of poverty.


Coral grows like a tree in the sea, and at first its color is green. When it reaches the air it becomes hard and red. It is half a foot in length. He who carries it will never be afraid of lightning or tempest. The field in which it is placed will be very fertile, and rendered safe from hail or any other kind of storm. It drives away evil spirits, and gives a good beginning to all undertakings and brings them to a good end. ”

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