The pomegranate (Latin, pomum granatus, “seeded apple”) was first cultivated by the ancient Phoenicians, who used the jewel-like fruit as both food and medicine. The many seeds made the fruit an obvious emblem of fertility, and by association, love and marriage. The pomegranate is associated with a number of goddesses, including Astarte, Cybele, Hera, and especially Persephone, whose ingestion of just one of the fruit’s seeds (a probable allusion to pregnancy) made her an eternal prisoner of Hades.
Pomegranates were also sacred to the ancient Israelite, who adorned temples and religious implements with its likeness. The tops of the pillars (Jachim and Boaz) of the Temple of Solomon were decorated with pomegranates, as were the hems opf the robes of the High priests. Here, the pomegranate stood for wisdom. The fruit is said to contain 613 seeds, the number of mitzvot (laws) in the Torah.
The pomegranate’s popularity carried over into Christian art, where it variously symbolizes the church (many seeds in one skin), or the passion and resurrection of Christ and of believers (especially when portrayed open or burst).
There is some evidence in ancient art to suggest that both the crown and the globus cruciger are derived from depictions of the pomegranate.