A stroll through history reveals many references to the pomegranate among diverse cultures and religions. The ancients were aware of its health benefits, and it was a featured icon in the art and writings of numerous religions.
In Christianity the pomegranate is a symbol of the resurrection and eternal life of Jesus. Depicted in religious illustrations and art, the pomegranate is often found in devotional statues and paintings of the Virgin and Child.
In medieval legend the pomegranate tree is a fertility symbol and an important feature in the hunt of that magical creature, the unicorn. Tapestries from the period show the wounded unicorn bleeding pomegranate seeds. Once captured, the only way to tame and hold onto the mythical beast was to chain it to a pomegranate tree.
In Judaism, the pomegranate is venerated for the beauty of the tree and its fruit. The seeds are said to symbolize sanctity, fertility, and abundance. One of the seven sacred varieties of plants mentioned in the Bible, the pomegranate is said to have 613 seeds – one for each of the Bible’s 613 commandments. In the Biblical Song of Songs the rosey cheeks of a bride are likened to two halves of a pomegranate. Depictions of the fruit have also featured in Judaic architecture and design. They decorated the pillars of King Solomon’s temple and the robes and regalia of Jewish kings and priests.
In Islam, the Koran speaks with reverence of the pomegranate, which is described as containing one seed that derives from heaven. Paradise as described in the Koran consists of four gardens with shade, springs, and fruit trees, among them the pomegranate.
In Bedouin custom the pomegranate features as a fertility symbol at weddings. The groom breaks open the fruit as he and his bride enter their home, with abundant seeds ensuring many children.
In Buddhism three kinds of fruit are held as sacred – the orange, the peach, and the pomegranate. In Buddhist art the fruit represents the essence of favorable influences. Buddha is said to have cured the demoness Hariti of her evil habit of devouring children by feeding her a pomegranate.
In China the pomegranate frequently appears in ceramic art symbolizing fertility, abundance, prosperity, numerous and virtuous offspring, and a blessing.
In Greek mythology, the changing of the seasons is attributed to Persephone’s surrender to the temptations of the pomegranate.