Saturday, May 31, 2014

Gifts of Grandeur: A Silver and Bone Amulet, c. 1750

Amulet of Silver, Bone and Shell
1750, Germany
The Victoria & Albert Museum

In the days when the same person cut your hair, pulled your teeth and performed surgery, it was pretty much a given that you’d want something on your person to protect you from dangerous illness.  Anything could be a death sentence before modern medicine.  Fevers, splinters, toothaches, and, especially childbirth, all could mean an early end to a life. 

So, amulets were created  by superstitious persons to protect them from…well, everything, but especially the all-encompassing, “evil eye.”  Amulets were often made from organic materials which were thought to have protective powers, stones, jet or horn.  Now, we should point out that the Catholic and Anglican churches frowned on such practices.  Still, did you think that they’d approve? Come on.

Here we see a German amulet of later creation that most.  It dates to the mid Eighteenth Century.  It is comprised of a ring hung with three individual amulets--a bone fist (Neidfeige), with a thumb protruding between the first and second fingers; an operculum shell in a silver setting (Schneckendeckel) which was meant to  generic promote fertility; and a small filigree case (Walburgisbüchse) with the letters S, W and B incorporated into the pattern. The case was meant to hold oil which was called “Walburgis oil.”  Why?   St Walburga was a British missionary to Germany in the 8th century. When she died, her body was buried at Eichstätt, where a liquid (Walburgis oil) was collected from her bones. Yum.  This oil was considered highly effective against all kinds of infection and wounds.

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