Gems in Religion


There are many gems of significance in the history of religion. The Christian bible makes reference to these in the books of Exodus, Ezekiel and Revelations. The texts of Islam, Judaism and Buddhism also prominently feature gems.
In ancient times gems were often included in religious texts, symbolically or to reveal hidden meanings.  Many modern attributions and customs associated with gems come from old religious associations. For example, the diamond engagement ring is believed to symbolise enduring love in more modern times, but it was also considered to protect the bride-to-be from evil in times past.

Christian (Catholic) Gems

Rings worn by church leaders include; emerald in the Pope’s ring, sapphire in cardinals rings, and amethyst in bishops rings. Gems used in religious undertakings include; chrysoprase to bless the work of martyrs, emerald to bring strength of faith in adversity, peridot to bring miracles, and garnet to represent the blood of Christ. The great significance of gems in early religious texts may stem from the importance placed on them by the 12 Hebrew tribes; each assigned a symbolic gem.

The High Priest’s Breastplate

The High Priest’s breastplate, described in Exodus 28:15-20, is highly significant in a number of ways. It may also be the source for the significance given to the gems in the Zodiac. Aaron, the first High Priest of Jerusalem, was the original bearer of the High Priest’s breastplate, which bore 12 gems, each with the name of one of the 12 Hebrew tribes inscribed on it. These 12 gems were sardonyx, topaz, emerald, garnet, sapphire, diamond, zircon, agate, amethyst, beryl, onyx and jasper. The Jewish historian Josephus (37-95 AD) claimed the High Priest’s breastplate could predict victory in battle.

The New Jerusalem – Crystal City

The New Jerusalem was a vision of perfection where men and women had returned to God’s grace. The holy city is described in Revelations 21:18-21, with 12 gates guarded by 12 angels and 12 foundations corresponding to the 12 tribes of Israel. The walls are made of jasper, and the 12 gates are each made of a giant pearl. The gold-paved streets are described as translucent as glass. There are 12 foundations to the walls with the names of the 12 apostles engraved on them. The foundations are made of jasper, lapis lazuli, chalcedony, emerald, sardonyx, carnelian, peridot, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, zircon and amethyst.

Seven Heavens

The Seven Heavens of Islamic belief are said to be made of different precious crystals and metals, although these crystals and metals vary, according to the interpreter of the sacred texts. One interpretation is; the first heaven is made of pure silver, the second of pure gold or polished steel, and the third of pearl and precious stones. The fourth heaven is of white gold or the finest silver, the fifth of gold or silver, and the sixth is of garnet and ruby. The seventh heaven is not made of crystal but of divine light.

Buddhist Stones

Diamond is a popular stone in the different forms of Buddhism. It is said that Buddha was sitting on a diamond throne beneath a Bodhi tree when he attained enlightenment. Carnelian is believed to bring joy and peace, and jade is sacred to Buddha and Kwan Yin. An old Buddhist belief was that if you look inside a piece of quartz you can see Buddha riding an elephant inside a crystal. Other myths surrounding sacred gems include the tale of Buddha’s tears turning into rubies and that sapphire was the ‘stone of stones’ as it promotes devotion, happiness and spiritual enlightenment.

© Copyright Jan Reid-Lennox. All Rights Reserved.