I grew up in the Church, and have been a Christian for 10 years now. I’ve read the classic Revelations 21 “What heaven will be like” text multiple times now, I’ve studied it at a retreat, I’ve read it in my personal time, I’ve shared it with friends. You would think I would be able to confidently describe to you how Heaven should look like. For some reason, despite having read about how heaven would be a “city [of] pure gold”, I always thought to myself that Heaven was White. A pure blank White. Pretty much similar to the scene after Harry dies and meets Dumbledore in the after-life.
(I hope I am not committing blasphemy by uploading a picture from Harry Potter in a Lord of The Rings class)
Perhaps when I think of Heaven, I get an image of purity and cleanliness, and hence a slate of white, maybe with some glass. When I think of resurrected new bodies, I guess I never thought there would be a change in physical appearance. I assumed that there would merely be a change in the condition of our flesh i.e. not sinful anymore. I wonder what has motivated this imagery of Heaven. Perhaps I have unconsciously been influenced by Minimalist art and thinking, and moved away from the opulence of clutter. Admittedly, rather than attraction, I have an aversion to all things gold and shiny. Having studied abroad in Rome last fall, I remember my feeling of discomfort and unease as I walked through the bright gold and jewel-studded halls of St Peter’s Basilica.
(A picture from the inside of St Peter's Basilica, which I took when I was in Rome)
Perhaps it is my Protestant background that has fed this aversion - I abhor the idea of church and clergymen exploiting poor peasants to gain shiny trinklets for themselves. I confess that the sheer corruption and the abuse of power of the church during the dark Middle Ages has left me very afraid of jewels. I associate them with ostentatiousness, showiness and pride. Kings and aristocrats pursued these with dragon-lust and wore them to express their power and social status. When we were showed a picture of a reliquary crusted with gems, I found it excessive and unnecessary. I think of Paul’s letter to Timothy warning the women in his church to “adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire.” Pure and white is the way to go.
Yet, in many ways, the discussion of Wednesday, as well as Tolkien’s tale of “The Simarillion” has provoked and challenged my assumptions about jewels, and given me a new perspective on how Medieval Christians have viewed and perhaps also how I should view them. Jewels are more than just sparkly objects, and their value is not only extrinsic but rather have intrinsic worth. Marbode of Rennes’ “Medical Prose Lapidary” lists the medicinal properties of the twelve precious gems listed out in Revelations 21. Jasper is “Resistant against lightning” and Chalcedony “cures lunatics”, Emerald protects people from “epilepsy” and Amethyst washed in water causes a barren woman to fruitful, and the list goes on. More than just symbolic or representative, Marbode and many early medieval Christians seem to believe that jewels have intrinsic and internal healing properties. Such thinking originates not only from classical and traditional folklore, but also from the Bible itself. In Exodus 28, the Lord commands Aaron, the appointed high priest, to make a breastpiece lined with 12 precious gems. He is to wear this breastpiece when he goes into the Holy Place. Hence, these gems were assumed to serve as a form of protection, allowing someone to meet God without getting struck down. Moreover, medieval Christians believed that the resurrected bodies of saints would be encrusted with gems. After all, these gems are permanent and lasting in property, similar to the “incorruptible” and “imperishable” resurrected bodies. The origins of precious stones are in Paradise, the garden and rivers of Eden and hence an unmarred resurrected body must surely incorporate such beauty and glory. Like the prophet Zechariah predicted, “like the jewels of a crown, [God’s people] shall shine on his land.”
Tolkien’s The Simarillion, a tale named after the Simarils (3 Great Jewels”), also gives us some insight and a commentary on the intrinsic value of jewels. They seem to have an extrinsic value, appear as “crystal of diamonds”, and “more strong than adamant” and obviously they are shiny and pretty to look at. Yet, Tolkien’s Simarils have a precious intrinsic value. They carry and preserve the imperishable light from the Trees of Valinor. They have an inner fire, and was not only a passive storer of light, but an active living thing which “rejoiced in light, received it and gave it back in hues more marvelous than before.” Tolkien explicitly writes, “the crystal was to the Simarils but as it is the body to the Children of Iluvatar.” This recalls medieval Christian thought that resurrected bodies would be encrusted with precious stones. Moreover, in Tolkien’s “Tale of the Sun and Moon”, the shiny jewels of the skies, the Sun and the Moon, are not merely objects but living things. The Sun is a ship of light borne from the fruit of Laurelin, one of the trees of Valinor while the Moon is also a ship, containing the flower of Telperion, the other tree. This perpetuates the idea that jewels are not merely sparkly and shiny objects for admiration, but living things with life and light within them.
Yet, Tolkien does not merely describe the Simarils, but also expounds on what these great jewels do to the people that come into contact with them. He tells of how Melkor “lusted” for the Simarils, that even the “memory” of it radiance produced a “gnawing fire” in his heart. The inner fire of the Simarils caused a fire in the hearts of those who lusted after it. “Fiercest burned the new flame of desire” in Feanor, the creator the Simarils. He had a “greedy” love for his creation, and was selfish about letting others behold its glory. He even started to forget that “the light within them was not his own”. The lust after these Simarils caused war and strive amongst the elves, Feanor threatened his half-brother with a sword at his breast, while his sons Maglor and Maedhros in trying to regain the Simarils, slayed many of their own kind. The dragon-lust was not only in dragons, but also these pure hearted elves. The incorruptible jewels corrupted the hearts of those who longed to possess them.
How then does one resolve the tension thus created? Tolkien’s legendarium suggest that these jewels are meant to be pure and glorious and full of light, and yet the battle for possession of these jewels is bloody and full of strife. Bringing it back to the question of the place of Jewels on Earth – I still have an aversion to jewels, particularly when hoarded and collected by men. And yet, this aversion is no longer purely instinctual, for Tolkien’s work and our class discussion on jewels has been enlightening on my thought process. I hope I am not being presumptuous when I say that while they may have had the right heart, medieval Christians got it wrong when they crusted the relics with jewels. Jewels are meant for heaven, they should not be treasured on Earth. Though they may very well have intrinsic value, and though they shine in splendor and beauty, pursuing them on Earth stirs up lust and desire in the hearts of men. Jewels belong to heaven, for there it will be truly glorious, free from corruption. When hoarded in the hands of men on Earth, it will be like the jewel in the hands of Maedhros and Maglor – “burning with a pain unbearable”, and it will give torment, anguish and despair. Just like how the Simarils eventually found its way to the airs of heaven, the earth and the waters, jewels are not meant for man’s hands. Maglor’s comment when he saw the Simaril in the Sky, is revealing, “let us be glad; for its glory is seen now by many, and is yet secure from evil.”
What will heaven look like? On further reflection, I admit I am wrong; it probably would not only be white. Like Revelations 21 predicts, it will be a city of gold, endowed and crusted with all kinds of precious gems and jewels. And perhaps I do not need an unhealthy aversion towards shiny and sparkly things, for in heaven it will be glorious. And yet in Heaven, more glorious than incorruptible and beautiful light-giving jewels, will be The Jewel of all Jewels – Jesus Christ himself:
New glory and joy then forth did fall,
All sang to praise that fair Jewel.
The strain could strike through earth to hell
That the Virtues of heaven in joy endite.
With His host to laud the Lamb as well
Indeed I found a great delight.
Delight the Lamb to behold the eyes
Then moved my mind with wonder more:
The best was He, blithest, most dear to prize
Of whom I e’er heard tears of yore;
Perhaps when we get to heaven, there will be no need to admire the jewel-crusted walls in this city of gold, or the light that it gives off. For in this place, there is neither sun nor moon, for the glory of God gives it light, and the lamp is the Lamb, the pearl immaculate. And when we see him, it won't even matter if Heaven is white.
 1 Timothy 1:9
 1 Corinthians 15: 42
 Gold and bedellium and onyx are mentioned. See Genesis 1:10-12.
 Zechariah 9:16. For more information on Marbode's lapidary, see: Marbode of Rennes, "Lapidary of 12 Stones in Verse," "Medical Prose Lapidary," and "Christian Symbolic Lapidary in Prose," in Marbode of Renees'(1035-1123) ed. John M. Riddle, Sudhoffs Archiv Zeitschrift fur Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Heft 20 (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1977), 119-129.
 J.R.R Tolkien, The Simarillion, ed. Christopher Tolkien (New York: Del Rey, 1985), 67.
 Ibid, 254.
 J.R.R Tolkien, "Pearl" in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl and Sir Orfeo (New York: Del Rey, 1980), 120.