Pearl
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Source: Bibliothèque Nationale de France, 2004 (Bestiaire de Moyen Âge) Copyright 2004 Copyright 2004 Bibliothèque Nationale de France Manuscript description Bibliothèque Nationale de France, lat. 14429, Folio 117v


 

Pearl

Latin name: Margarita

Other names: Conchus, Mermecolion, Perla, Unio, Union

Pearls are produced by a stone called an oyster

 

 
General Attributes

The stone called oyster produces pearls. At dawn the oyster opens and takes in the rays of the stars, the moon and the sun, and also swallows dew, and from these come the pearl. The agate stone is attracted to pearls and so can be used to find them. Once the king pearl has been captured, the lesser pearls are easy to catch. Drinking a mixture of pearl and dew will cure any disease, but cannot reverse death. Pearls can be found in abundance near the island of Taprobane (Ceylon/Sri Lanka).


Allegory/Moral

The pearl represents Mary, who received the words of God (the "heavenly dew"). Philippe de Thaon says that the shell of the oyster, which opens and closes without a break, signifies Mary, who conceived and gave birth in like manner.


Sources (chronological order)

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 9, 54-59): Pearls are the offspring of shells similar to oysters; at the breeding season, the shells gape open and become filled with a dew from the sky that makes them pregnant. The quality of the pearl depends on the quality of the dew received, and on the state of the sky: a clear sky produces a clear pearl, but a cloudy sky produces a pale pearl. If the shells are well fed, the pearls grow, but if there is lightning or thunder the shells close up in fear, and so shrink from lack of food. Pearls yellow with age and "doze off with wrinkles," their youthful vigor lost. If the shell sees a hand it shuts up to protect the pearl; if the hand enters the shell before it can shut, the hand is cut off by the sharp edge of the shell. Some say that clusters of shells have a leader, a large, old shell, one that knows how to take precautions. Pearl-divers capture this leader, leaving the others easy to catch. Pearls are found chiefly in the Indian Ocean, particularly around the islands of Taprobane [Ceylon] and Stoidis, but some are also found in the seas around Arabia and near Britain.

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 6:49): The pearl is born from the shellfish called oceloe. At night these animals come near shore and conceive a pearl from the heavenly (caelesti) dew, hence their name.


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