"He who carries with him into battle an amulet of Lapis carries with him the presence of his god."
A SAYING OF THE ANCIENT SUMARIAN PRIESTS
The name of this beautiful, decorative material is derived from a
medieval Latin form of the Arabic word lazward, meaning blue. The
later Latin form lazurius and the French azure are taken,
respectively, from the Persian word lazur and the Arabic azul,
each word meaning a very special colour of deep blue.
An analysis of this stone shows it to be a rocklike mixture of
several minerals, namely hauynite, lazurite, sodalite, calcite
and pyrites. The attractive speckles found in lapis are actually
tiny crystals of iron pyrites. It is a metamorphic rock and has
often been confused with Azurite a blue hydrated copper
Lapis lazuli does not have a crystalline structure and so by
definition cannot be included in the list of precious gems its
value lies in its attractive coloring, which has prompted people
to use it as a decorative material from the earliest times. It
also has a long history as the material make to use the painter's
The best lapis lazuli is still quarried in the province of
Badakshan, Afghanistan, just as it was when Macro Polo visited
the quarry in AD 1271. The stone is also quarried near Russia's
Lake Baikal, while poorer quality lapis comes from Chile and the
THE SAPPHIRE OF ANCIENT GREECE
Ancient manuscripts reveal that the stone was considered the
sapphire of ancient Greece Theophrastus claimed that this
"sapphire" was "sprinkled with gold dust" and all references to
sapphires in the writings of antiquity are now taken to mean
Medieval troubadours told tales of a priest-kings called Prester
John, who retired to his sleep on a bed made
for a single block of "sapphire" in order "to make him sleep well
and destroy lustful thoughts." It was thought that the spirits of
light and wisdom were attracted to blue stones because they
resembled the blue of the heavens, and that lapis was an emblem
Ancient Egypt knew all about the wonders of lapis. The Ebers
Papyrus, dated from about 1600 BC, contains a formula for a
medicine used to cure cataracts of the eye, and this includes
lapis lazuli, milk and slime from the Nile (also called
"crocodile earth"). The Ancient Egyptians, Sumerians and
Babylonians also gave the stone credit for relieving neuralgia
and head pains.
The Egyptians venerated the stone for its mystical connotations
and such large quantities were needed for religious carvings that
it appears as an important item in the lists of tributes paid to
Egypt by other states. Lapidaries were even forced to use a blue
ceramic when lapis supplies ran out.
A most important Egyptians amulet was fashioned from lapis lazuli
in the form of a stylized eye, decorated with gold foil. The eye
of the nature goddess Isis was believed to watch over the souls
of the deceased on their final journey. Often, the 26th chapter
of the Book of the Dead was engraved on lapis lazuli hearts,
which were placed in a sarcophagus with the mummy. The Egyptians
also carved lapis lazuli into stylized versions of Ma, the
goddess of truth. Small figurines of this goddess were worn by
judges, usually suspended from their necks on heavy gold chains.
FACT & FANTASY
Even today, in Macedonia, an amulet of lazuli is carried by
expectant mothers hoping to prevent a miscarriage they call it
the "stop stone".
Physicians of later centuries were equally impressed. According
to William Rowland, translator of The Complete Chemical
Dispensatory of 1669, the stone:
"purgeth chiefly melancholy, cures quartans, apoplexies,
epilepsies, diseases of the spleen, and many forms of dementia.
It is worn about the neck for an amulet to drive away frights
from children; it strengthens the sight, prevents fainting, and
abortion, but it must be removed near the time of delivery lest
it keep up the child."
Powdered lapis lazuli was also mixed with the pulp of certain
berries, and stiffened with sugar, to form Alkermes, a remedy
believed to cure various ills.
Other tales speak of gifts of lapis lazuli cementing the fidelity
of friends, and dreaming of Lapis denoting a successful affair of
The stone is under the planetary influence of Venus and also
represents the fourth hour of the night.
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