Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

Many years ago, the "old scientist" had a post doctoral fellow who eventually went to Saudi Arabia as a professor of chemistry. He spent 12 years there but returned on many occasions to visit us. Once he came at Christmas and gave us this treasure as a gift.

A Native Indian copper box, hand made and beautifully carved with traditional designs by one Richard Jay Dieks of the Bella Coola tribe in Northern British Columbia. (Click on all the photos to see more detail.)

The lid lifts straight off and you can see that the corners are green with verdigris which is the common name for the green coating or patina formed when copper is exposed to air over time.

Here you can see the detail of the lid and the box itself is lined with a beautiful rich coloured suede.

Inside the box were these two objects which he had bought in the East: the one at the back, a piece of frankincense, the other myrrh. Thus the gold (well copper really but sort of gold coloured), frankincense and myrrh. The gifts which the Magi or Wise Men were said to have brought to lay at the feet of Christ. All of these items were rare, precious and expensive.

We all know what gold is and but what about frankincense?
Frankincense is tapped from the very scraggly but hardy Boswellia tree through slashing the bark and allowing the exuded resins to bleed out and harden. These hardened resins are called tears. There are numerous species and varieties of frankincense trees, each producing a slightly different type of resin.
It's highly fragrant when burned so used in incense as well as in perfume and aromatherapy. However I never found this frankincense to be very aromatic of itself.

But the myrrh (front) was incredibly fragrant for years, although much less so now. I keep them in separate bags inside the box and I would often open the myrrh and sniff it. And myrrh?

Myrrh is a reddish-brown resinous material, the dried sap of the tree Commiphora myrrha, native to Somalia and the eastern parts of Ethiopia.
In ancient times it was highly prized in perfumes and incense. In fact it was worth more than its weight in gold and cost five times more than frankincense.

It is very widely used, both internally and externally in Chinese medicine with many healing properties attributed to it, but in modern Western medicine it is used externally, especially in mouthwashes and toothpastes and in liniments and ointments.

I have always considered this one of the best Christmas gifts I have ever received although I don't suppose it's very valuable, but it was a truly thoughtful gift.

I want to apologize for not visiting my blog friends recently. Something occurred that has been keeping me very occupied timewise but I am hoping to be out and about to see you all soon. I have not forgotten you. Please don't give up on me.


Liz said...

What a lovely present! Thank you for the information about frankincense and myrrh. I had no idea they came from trees like that.

the teach said...

Very informative and interesting post, jmb! Beautiful box. I love it. :)

Matt M said...

I've been meaning to look up frankincense and myrrh for ages.

Now I know. :-)

Ellee Seymour said...

I use a mourishing face cream with frankincense, and it doesn't cost the earth.
I know you haven't forgotten us, hope you are ok.

Carver said...

What an interesting box and post. I hope everything is ok with you and your family. Take care, Carver

Tai said...

That's a most wonderful gift!

Gledwood said...

Do you know the British chef Heston Bluhmenthal? He is the only person in Britain with 3 Michelin stars... very expert cooking... did an Xmas show of cooking with gold, frankincense, myrrh... a spoon made outta myrrh resin.. fascinating!

Ian Lidster said...

Do you think Jesus was happy with those gifts, or did he want Action Figures instead?
Seriously, though, that was a really interesting posting, my friend. The box is lovely.

MedStudentWife said...

I am so always amazed at the items you show us, JMB.You have the nicest collection of things - with lots of associated happy memories.

Ian - too funny !!!

leslie said...

Such an interesting post, jmb. I never really knew what those things were so I thank you for educating me. By the way, I don't think I ever met the Bella Coola artist, but I taught school up there for a year about 12 years ago.

Janice Thomson said...

What a fabulous, fabulous gift for Christmas and so appropriate.
I have been past Bella Coola many times years ago on fishing trips.
Hope all is well with you Jmb.

Eurodog said...

What a super present jmb and what an interesting post. I never really knew about myrrh. I know they are small trees and saw them in the hyroglifics in the temple of Hatchepsout. Loaded unto barges from Ethiopia to Luxor. My trip took place more than 25 years ago and when I close my eyes I can still see those beautiful drawings of them.
Thank you, jmb. I hope all is well.

Linda said...

Oh I love Pacific Northwest Indian Art! That box is just the coolest!

Ellee Seymour said...

Have a good weekend jmb and don't let anything, or anyone, get you down.

Vic, the Cariboo Ponderer said...

A truly lovely piece. A interesting post as always

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

That is beautiful and I would treasure it too, if it were mine. thank you for the information - I never was sure about frankinsense and myrrh!

Ian said...

Thanks for the information about frankincense and myrrh. I've been meaning for years to find out where they came from. We had a candle a few years ago that contained both and the smell when burnt was wonderful.
It's a lovely box too, wonderful carvings.
I hope all is well with you and your family.

jmb said...

Hi Everyone,
I am so sorry that I have neglected answering comments on this post.
Glad you liked the info on frankincense and myrrh, don't need to tell anyone about gold.
Everything is fine with me and my family. Just had something important to deal with on a slightly removed level.

Thank you all for visiting and commenting.

Sienna said...

This is an absolute treasure, very unique and beautiful, I love it.

Thanks for the trouble of showing, (and telling us about it's history). I never knew about the frankincense and myrrh either!


Alfred Price said...

frankincense is amazing i buy mine from