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Hidden Pearl

By Sebastian Brock

It is sometimes asked, “Where does the term ‘hidden pearl’ come from? What does it signify? And why, specifically, a pearl?” An answer to such questions is best given in two parts, starting with the last, “Why a pearl?”

In the ancient Middle East, pearls came mainly from the Gulf and were highly prized; since not all oysters contain pearls, there arose various theories about how a pearl that did turn up inside the bivalve of an oyster had originated. Speculation gave rise to various theories, two of which were current in the early centuries of the Christian era. According to one theory, a pearl was “born” when a drop of dew fell on an oyster’s opened bivalve when it periodically came up to the surface. This theory was already known to the Latin author Pliny in his work on Natural History, toward the end of the first century A.D., and this was the explanation favored in the Medieval West, where symbolism surrounding the pearl flourished, above all in poetry.

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