Eggs painted in luminous colours and others fashioned of jewels and precious metals have long been a feature of the Easter celebrations.  In fact, painted and engraved eggs 6,000 years old have been found in Africa, writes GERRY BREEN

For people in this part of the world, chocolate eggs are usually given to celebrate Easter or springtime. However, Easter eggs have a colourful history, and the old traditions involved using dyed and painted chicken eggs.

Indeed, the practice of covering eggshells with elaborate decorations as part of spring rituals goes back to ancient times.

Engraved ostrich eggs, which are 6,000 years old, have been found in Africa. In ancient Egypt and in the early cultures of Mesopotamia and Crete, eggs were associated with death and rebirth, as well as with kingship.

Decorated ostrich eggs, as well as ostrich eggs in gold and silver, were frequently placed in graves of the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians 5,000 years ago.

Eggs have been fashioned in ivory, wood, leather, metal, mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell and richly decorated by artists. These rare objects painted in glowing colours of green, red, yellow and gold are much sought after by collectors.

Beautifully ornamented eggs have been found in China, Japan and India. Medieval peasants often paid an ‘egg rent’ to church and landlord and this rent generally fell due at Easter. By the early eighteenth century, this practice gave rise to the custom of exchanging dyed and decorated eggs among family and friends.

The Christian custom of Easter eggs started among the early Christians of Mesopotamia, who stained eggs with red colouring ‘in memory of the blood of Christ, shed at His crucifixion’. The Christian Church officially adopted the custom, regarding the eggs as a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own (issue 5598)