A silver-gilt Goa stone holder and stand, 17th Century.

From at least the 13th Century, natural gall-stones mixed with animal hair found in the stomachs of ruminant animals and known as ‘Bezoar stones’, were highly prized as a supposed antidote to poison and as a cure for many health problems.

They became increasingly rare, until a group of enterprising Jesuit priests based in the Indian province of Goa, invented a substitute made from whale ivory, crushed pearls, precious stones, resins and musk.

Scrapings of these ‘Goa stones’ were ingested dissolved in wine and were promoted for their medicinal powers.

The stones, often covered with gold leaf, commanded huge prices and wealthy users would commission cases such as this one to hold them.

With finely fretted and engraved cagework of dense leafy scrolls overlaying the case, it would have been considered an appropriate receptacle for the precious ‘cure-all’ stones.


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