THE EMOTIONAL VALUE OF JEWELLERY: “Offering jewellery to the ones who can not wear it: Burying the dead with jewellery, adorning icons with jewellery in contemporary Greece.”
A pitch by Loukia Richards for the JEWELLERY MATTERS International Symposium at Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, 16 November 2017.
Photo credit: Loukia Richards + Christoph Ziegler
“Cosmos means universe and jewellery in Greek, suggesting that something bigger is at stake.
In the Sanctuary of Aphrodite in the Acropolis of Athens, lovers still place roses, jewellery and stones at its square niches in the rock! (Picture #1)
Greek jewellery is still used to keep contact to the dead and negotiate with God for a better share of destiny.
Clay votives (Picture #2) found at the spiritual capital of the Greek-Roman world: Eleusina, town of the Mysteries.
They represent golden trophies which wealthy citizens dedicated to Gods to thank them for a victory granted;
the clay version was affordable and depicted the idea of an expensive sacrifice.
Picture #3. The 18th century silver votives express the same principle:
Give God something precious to you and ask for a favor.
A standard depiction of your request will spare God time and confusion!
Humanizing God makes spirituality compatible with daily practice and reason.
In modern Greece “miraculous icons” inside a church are decorated with identity jewellery:
wedding rings, crosses, engagement earrings, as well as silver or gold plaquets. (Picture #4)
The votives or the jewellery is placed in the icon, BEFORE the wish is granted.
Icons tell of a perfect world illuminated by the sun of justice.
You see in picture #7: Golden candle holders and a golden pendant adorn this “miraculous” Madonna icon consisting of a piece of amorphous wood framed by a golden repousse’ cover.
Worshippers kiss the icons, touch them and place them on the chest of their dead at the funeral.
Ask for a big favor requires identity jewellery.
The transfer of ownership unites the suppliant with the force now wearing her jewellery!
Picture #8 shows the icon of Kosmas and Damianos, doctors of the poor in their life time, adorned with jewellery of present day patients.
Icons emphasize Jesus’ human nature building a bridge between God and man easy to cross.
The donation of jewellery tells of a God that can make an exception for you when there is no way out — like the deus-ex-machina in Greek tragedy!
Greek spirituality is feasible.
Greek spirituality reflects a culture of public argument and reasonable doubt, an intellectual tradition that gave citizens a voice and God, overseeing them, a human face.
Textile bracelets and crosses made of 33 knots for the 33 years of Jesus’ life. (Picture #9)
Although Christianity does not favor sepulchral jewellery – for king or beggar are equal before God- the custom lives on.
Personal items such as a basket ball or a team flag, small icons and decorative objects are placed on the tomb, while identity jewellery is buried with the dead.
Celebrating dinner on the family tomb expresses the belief that death does not break the contact to the dear ones. (Picture #11)
The ancient faith on the co-existence of three worlds:
earth, heaven and the in-between symbolized by the ancient motif of the cross
lives on in contemporary Greece.
Those who die unmarried are crowned at their funeral with a wedding wreath immitating a lemon tree branch – symbol of fertility. (Picture #13)
Their funeral is their wedding to Hades.
The Greek square cross pendant worn by this lady – also a pre-Christian motif of spiritual uplifting – is the ultimate talisman in life and death.
Bones are kept in metall boxes often placed on the grave.
The Orthodox church prohibits cremation for the body awaits Jesus’ Second Coming to rise again.
Cemetery regulations oblige relatives to report jewellery they buried with the dead or
it will be confiscated after the exhumation.
Gangs robbing graves for the jewellery adorning the dead made headlines in Greece in the last two years.
Bones are usually stored in ossuaries.
After the exhumation, bones are washed with red wine, enwrapped in linen cloth, the eye holes filled with red carnations.
The ritual means: Returning to the womb.
The concept of death has not changed much since Homeric Age:
the short joy of life is followed by an anaemic eternity in the kingdom of shadows.
End-death/τέλος in Greek means completion or perfection.
It also means the end of a sport race, αγών in Greek (see the word: agony).
You see the ashes box and the golden oak tree wreath from the tomb of Philip of Macedonia at Vergina, Greece. (Picture #17)
The golden wreath crowned the victor of the life race at his funeral,
like athletes were crowned with wreaths after their victory in the sacred games.
The crowning of the dead means apotheosis – becoming God-like.
The baptism cross, the wedding ring, the engagement earrings
reflect rites of social integration in modern Greece
and are buried with the dead to preserve their identity in Hades.
Buried jewellery will pass over to the relative who will undertake the exhumation, three years after death.
Buried jewellery is considered apotropaic, for it went to Hades and returned!
A tooth with a golden crown taken from a relative’s scull after exhumation; it is used an an amulet.
Notice that the 33-knots-bracelet in the picture has to be worn till the wish is granted.
Last but not least: Picture #20 shows a stone jewellery mold from the archaic cemetery of Eleusina – Copper Age.
It was buried with the jewellery maker as a distinctive mark of his identity, including his profession, for all eternity.