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Religious symbols in jewellery – controversy and objections in 2017

There are hundreds of religious symbols in the world and many of them can be gracing pieces of jewellery. The best known example in western culture is probably the cross but there are many other Christian symbols. In jewellery, these might include fishes, rosaries, and St Christopher’s medals. There are, of course, important symbols in most religions, many of which are commonly found in jewellery. Examples include the Buddha, mandalas, Wiccan pentacles, lotus symbols, and even some Celtic artwork.

Why wear religious symbols?

Choosing to wear religious symbols in any form can be a powerful way to show faith. It is a public display of belief and a physical representation of a person’s religion, and jewellery is a particularly popular way to wear religious symbols in everyday life. Unlike many other items of clothing, jewellery is close and personal, making it easy to maintain a physical link with a religious symbol. A powerful example of religious jewellery is the ring worn by a nun as an alternative to a wedding ring.

Jewellery can also be extremely discreet, so it is ideal for situations when it seems appropriate to be subtle. For example, a pendant with a cross or a St Christopher’s medal can easily be slipped under a shirt so that it’s completely invisible.

Of course, one of the main advantages of jewellery is that it’s pretty and fashionable. It is an easy way to incorporate religious belief into everyday life without too much inconvenience or disruption.

Christian jewellery

The controversy around religious jewellery

Wild religious jewellery might seem like a straightforwardly excellent idea it has attracted a great deal of controversy over time. The main question is whether religious jewellery can also be worn by non-religious people or if it should be restricted to followers of the faith it is associated with.

As a fashion statement, religious jewellery comes in and out of style. A famous example of religious jewellery worn for fashion reasons is the Christian symbolism used by a young Madonna. In most cases, this jewellery tends to be made of simple symbols like a cross, rather than more detailed elements such as images of Jesus, or biblical quotations. One exception to this is a trend from a few years ago, which saw a lot of teenage girls wearing bracelets inspired by rosaries. This was a far more obvious example than the wearing of simple cross shapes.

Many symbols from Eastern religions also appear frequently in jewellery. Some have been adopted by bohemian fashion lovers, or have become associated with yoga rather than religious practice. For western people, it can be easy to forget that a mandala or lotus is a religious symbol, but this does not necessarily remove the religious significance from a lotus bracelet.

Objections to religious jewellery

Some people object to religious jewellery in general, not just to its use by non-religious people. An issue which is particularly controversial is whether religious jewellery should be permitted in schools, where rules regarding jewellery tend to be quite strict.

In France, religious jewellery has actually been entirely banned in schools. A law passed in 2004 banned all religious dress and symbols in schools, not just jewellery. France has explained this as a method of preserving its secular traditions.

As yet, there is no such law in Britain, but some people are increasingly uncomfortable with religious jewellery. It is up to individual schools to set their own rules regarding the wearing of jewellery, and these rules can vary widely. It is a subject that is still very much under discussion. Should religious jewellery be exempt from the rules that stop students from wearing other items of jewellery? Could a teacher’s cross pendant have any sort of impact or effect on students? Or is religious jewellery just that – jewellery? It’s difficult to say one way or another.

Do you wear religious jewellery? Do you think that there should be rules about who can wear religious jewellery, and where?

02 Feb 2017

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