Pomegranates have diverse cultural-religious significance, as a symbol of life and fertility owing to their many seeds but also as a symbol of power (imperial orb), blood and death. Pomegranates already symbolised fertility, beauty and eternal life, in Greek and Persian mythology. The Ancient Greeks considered a pomegranate a symbol of fertility and associated it with the goddesses Demeter, Persephone, Aphrodite, and Athena. The Bible only mentions pomegranates in the Old Testament. The hems of Jewish priestly vestments are decorated with a stylised form of this fruit (Ex. 28, 33f; 39, 24-26) and, as such, a pomegranate is a metaphor for the richness of the promised land of Israel (Deut. 8:8); in the Song of Solomon, Sulamith’s cheeks are compared to halves of a pomegranate (Cant. 4: 3).
In Christian symbolism (Hieronymus) the numerous seeds in this fruit represent the Church, unity in faith and a community of believers; in the same vein, a pomegranate appears in depictions of Mary as ‘the Mother of the Church’.
Pomegranates play an important role as a symbol of righteousness in Judaism, as they supposedly contain 613 seeds, which correspond to the 613 commandments of the Torah. Thus, at Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), Jews eat this fruit one seed at a time, for as many wishes as possible to be fulfilled.
In Buddhism, pomegranates, peaches and lemons are considered three blessed kinds of fruit.
The Koran mentions a pomegranate three times (6:99, 6:141 and 55:68), representing, for example, the good things created by God, whether earthly fruit or that of Paradise, hence it is also sometimes referred to as the ‘apple of paradise’.
In the Middle Ages, the resemblance between a pomegranate and an imperial orb made it a symbol of power, probably a relic of Ancient Germanic representations. Albrecht Dürer painted two portraits of Emperor Maximilian I holding a pomegranate, to represent the imperial orb. Since then pomegranates have been seen as an aphrodisiac and are an ingredient of many love potions.