Trying to find a reference in Gregory of Nyssa (in the Danielou anthology) I came across a section I had never noticed before ‘The Pomegranate’. For Gregory the pomegranate “offers us the combined pleasure of every kind of fruit”.
Pomegranates are important to me. Some years ago I was staying with a Jewish friend and she asked about my prayers. As is my custom I celebrated Mass in the morning, but didn’t have any candles, she brought in the little travelling Shabbat candle holder in the picture below of my travelling Mass kit, in the shape of a pomegranate and which opens up to hold two night lights.
I haven’t lived there for 39 years but when Derbyshire folk ask me “Where do you belong?” Meaning ‘Where do you come from?’ I always want to say Chesterfield. It is where I was born and lived until I was twelve and where my brother, grandparents and great grandparents are buried.
Chesterfield, in Derbyshire, is probably best known for the spire of the parish church with its familiar twist:
Pomegranates are a good emblem for a priestly stole, Exodus 28: 33-34 states that images of the pomegranate should be woven into the hem of the high priest’s robe. 1 Kings 17: 13-22 describes pomegranates carved into the pillars in Solomon’s court. The shape of Solomon’s crown is said to have been based on the shape of the Pomegranate. Deuteronomy 8:8 associates the fruit with the special produce of the promised land. Finally it is the Song of Songs (4:3) and its mention of the pomegranate that Gregory of Nyssa was commenting on.
Pomegranates also form a significant part in Greek myth, with Persephone eating seeds to determine the length of time she will spend in the underworld.
In Christian art the pomegranate is often associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary as in this detail from Botticelli’s Madonna of the Pomegranate, in the Uffizi:
With its multitude of seeds (in Greek it was once known as pan-sperma) there is no surprise at the power of the pomegranate. The fruit has inspired poets as well as artists. one recent poem by poet Imtiaz Dharker is a favourite of mine, here is an extract:
How to Cut A Pomegranate
This is a magic fruit,
so when you split it open, be prepared
for the jewels of the world to tumble out,
more precious than garnets,
more lustrous than rubies,
lit as if from inside.
Each jewel contains a living seed.
Separate one crystal.
Hold it up to catch the light.
Inside is a whole universe.
No common jewel can give you this.’
The juice spurted out, bright crimson,
and stained my fingers, then my mouth.
I didn’t mind. The juice tasted of gardens
I had never seen, voluptuous
with myrtle, lemon, jasmine,
and alive with parrots’ wings.
The pomegranate reminded me
that somewhere I had another home.
I shall be travelling to New Zealand soon and will have my Pomegranate Mass kit with me. As I offer Mass day by day, in the land of the long white cloud, it will remind me of home, of Chesterfield, of Solomon, high priests and friends, Jewish and otherwise, and of our garden, where the Pomegranate tree is just beginning to thrive: