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Ch. 11: Sacred Jewels

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The same custom of dedicating uncommonly fine speci­mens of precious stones to the honour of the Deity, or his saints, was carried down far into the Middle Ages. In the Palio or chased gold frontal of the high-altar of S. Ambrosio. Milan, is inserted a long oval topaz inscribed which can only be interpreted as the votive offering of Eiada, some Lombard contributor to its construction in the ninth century. Under Lychnis I have noticed the far-famed karfunkel, so long believed by report to have lighted up the shrine of S. Elizabeth of Marburg. Leofric, the tenth abbot of St. Alban's, Matthew Paris tells us in his Life, in order to relieve the poor during a great famine, sold all the plate belonging to his church, except " certain noble engraved gems now vulgarly called carnei, for which he could find no purchasers." And the Patent Bolls give a detailed list of the carnei collected by Henry III. for the embellishment of the shrine he was project­ing for Edward the Confessor. They were over eighty in number; amongst which fifty-five are particularized as " large," and one especially " in a gold setting with a chain to it," is valued at 200Z., an incredible sum if brought to the present standard, which requires it to be multiplied at least twenty-fold. Besides these, several precious stones, of large size, especially sapphires, appear in this list, as set in the breasts or held in the hands of the numerous statuettes in gold, where "Peter trampling upon Nero" figured in company with sainted Saxon kings, which embel­lished this incredibly rich production of the artist-gold­smiths of the thirteenth century.
But the richest assemblage of gems, both intrinsically valuable, and priceless as works of art, was that formerly enriching the abbey of St. Denys. Many of them had come down from the Carlovingian kings, some were presents from the early Byzantine emperors, others trophies of the
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