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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)

Event Archive

IMEMS/IMH Lecture: Transmissible Virtues: Crystals in Medieval Lapidaries and Medical Recipe Books

5th November 2019, 17:30 to 18:30, lecture theatre CG83 in Chemistry , Marisa Galvez, Stanford University

While medieval exegesis ascribed virtues to gemstones that gave them various medicinal powers, crystal-based remedies in lapidaries and medical recipe books illuminate how its healing powers derived from its contradictory qualities as a stone, for instance the belief that crystal was permanent ice, a solid with liquid elements. When considering the long cultural history of crystal, these texts show creative uses of the stone as both remedy and theological virtue: virtue (Anglo-norman verteu) understood in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries as a word that could mean moral excellence, but also the spiritual force of an event, physical strength, an act of divine power, a miracle, a wonder, and a magical power especially in reference to a precious stone. As I will argue, the remedy for lactation problems that draws from lapidary symbolism but is based on a specific physical state of pulverized crystal, could also perhaps influence the transmission of crystal’s virtues in other religious contexts: for instance as a physical presence on a body such as confession. In crystal-based remedies the physical form and presence of crystal—its concrete form and usage as a remedy—could potentially inform its symbolism, and vice versa. These remedies present crystal as a material or substance that can be mixed, diffused, and transmitted from one body to another. They articulate a phenomenology of crystal’s powers that occurs through different physical states of the gemstone, and by extension relate to artworks and literature that reflect changing spiritual states through the use of crystal.

5:30pm to 6:30pm, Lecture - lecture theatre CG83 in Chemistry

6.30-7.30 Wine reception - Scarborough Café