Thursday, February 27, 2014

Heart CTs and Luckenbooth Brooches

The heart symbol made itself known in the late Middle ages.
     Some have speculated that the rounded, bilateral curves represented the human body or a fig leaf (maybe ivy too) or seeds of the silphium plant (an herbal contraceptive). The shape also resembled an anatomical heart with its ventricles and vessels imparting the bilateral curves at the top.
     Nonetheless, hearts began to appear more frequently in both religious and romantic art.
Saint Augustine with flaming
heart representing the power
of divine love.  This 17th image
is from Wikimedia.
     The heart had several meanings in the religious sphere; in particular, it was a symbol for the love that God had for mankind. It also reflected the opposite flow: mankind's offering of the self to God.
     But the heart became popular among the romantics. The shape was recognized as a symbol of love for one another. By the 15th century, the heart symbol was commonplace. It was used in secular art, playing cards, and jewelry. A few merchants produced heart-shaped tokens for the marketplace.
     In Scotland, a particular heart-shaped brooch -- known as a luckenbooth brooch -- became popular in the 18th century. The name is from the luckenbooths of Edinburgh where such items were sold. It was a love token, often given as a betrothal or wedding gift. This jewelry was also pinned to an infant's clothing for protection. The luckenbooth brooch was sometimes referred to as a "witch-brooch" to be used to protect children from evil.
     It is no wonder that the Presbyterian elders found heart-shaped communion tokens alarming. Such tokens were associated with the superstitions and occult traditions of the past. The shape was too attractive and reeked of idolatry. The Kirk was strict on such matters, as the churches had been long stripped clean of any object that could be associated with idolatry -- hence, images of saints, angels, and the like were removed.
     Of course, we can never know of the conversations that took place regarding the heart-shaped CTs. But, we can imagine -- and there is much circumstantial evidence to suggest -- that they were not continued because the shape had been profaned by the secular culture.
     CTs were meant for one purpose only -- that is, to be used for admittance to the communion service. The token had to look the part. It had to be staid. It had to be easily handled and passed to the elder standing at the gate. A square, rectangle, or round accomplished this smartly. A CT that resembled those used to profess romantic love was just too fleshy. And the temptation to contemplate a heart-shaped CT in this way was nothing less than profanity.
      For collectors interested in telling this story of rule-governed probity in the early Kirk, a heart CT is an important part of the collection.

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