What material is the narwhal horn

  Ainkhürn (literally "one-horned", "horn of the unicorn") is the name for the narwhal's tusk, insofar as it was used as a handcrafted material or material with a magical protective effect. The name has its origins in the fact that the tooth was thought to be the horn of the unicorn in the Middle Ages and early modern times. It was therefore valued as one of the most valuable materials of all and was mainly used for rulers' insignia.

The mythical unicorn could not be grasped by the hunter, but placed his head trustingly in the lap of a virgin. Hence, in him one saw the symbol of Mary, the virgin, innocence and the immaculate conception. The horn became a symbol of divine power, to which the greatest salvific effect was ascribed.

Noteworthy objects from Ainkhürn are the throne of the kings of Denmark at Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen, the scepter and orb of the Austrian Empire (see Austrian Imperial Crown) and a sword from the possession of Charles the Bold, which is kept in the Vienna Hofburg.

Also in the treasury of the Hofburg is a whole narwhal tooth (a whole "horn"), which is simply called "Ainkhürn". It is a gift from the Polish King Sigismund II to Emperor Ferdinand I in 1540. Together with the agate bowl, it is one of the “inalienable heirlooms of the House of Habsburg". When the estate was divided after the death of Ferdinand I, it was agreed that these two objects should remain in the joint ownership of all lines and that they should not be given away or sold.

There are also two narwhals' teeth in St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, which were brought with them from Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade.

The high value of the Ainkhürn - at times ten times that of gold - is explained not only by its rarity, but primarily by its property as a means against poisoning, an omnipresent threat in ruling houses. It was believed that the unicorn's natural abhorrence of impurity caused the horn to sweat in the presence of poisons. Therefore, before serving the food, servants had to touch the ainkhürn (or the bezoar or the adder's tongue, which were said to have the same effect). [1] In order to achieve the poison-neutralizing effect, centerpieces and drinking vessels were also made from the narwhal tooth. For fear of being poisoned, Emperor Rudolf II had his court goldsmith Jan Vermeyen made a drinking cup from Ainkhürn that was preciously set with gold and precious stones (today in the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna).

Individual evidence

  1. Louis Lewin: The poisons in world history, Cologne 2000, pp. 43-44

Category: Organic Material