healing stones and minerals

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Bern
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healing stones and minerals

Postby Bern » Mon Mar 18, 2013 5:01 pm

Hello!

I have been reading around sources such as Hildegard of Bingen looking at lists of stones and minerals used in a healing capacity in medieval Europe and my intention is to buy some samples to add to a modest living history display of herbal/folk remedies.

I know that gems were polished for use in jewellry and amulets but I'm unsure whether the highly polished look of modern tumblestones are really appropriate and I am leaning towards rough unpolished samples and simply telling people that they would have been polished if good enough to mount in a setting.

Can anyone advise if modern tumblestones are really TOO polished or is this another case of a modern brain underestimating medieval techniques and simply expecting to see duller stones?

any advice appreciated

thanks

Bern



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Jack Campin
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Re: healing stones and minerals

Postby Jack Campin » Mon Mar 18, 2013 6:19 pm

There is a comprehensive survey of mediaeval lapidaries in Frank Dawson Adams, "The Birth and Development of the Geological Sciences".

I have the Dover edition. There is a scan on archive.org but since it said on line 3 that their copy came from "Osmania Unlversftq Librarq" I didn't read any further.



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Brother Ranulf
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Re: healing stones and minerals

Postby Brother Ranulf » Mon Mar 18, 2013 10:34 pm

Medieval Bestiaries (books of beasts) often included sections on the properties of various types of stone, both healing and malignant. Natural vaguely round or oval stones certainly were polished and used as cabochons in rings, decorated caskets and even on clothing.

Take a look at the Aberdeen Bestiary of about 1190, from folio 93v (De lapidibus igniferis) onwards - a translation and commentary are available here:

http://www.abdn.ac.uk/bestiary/contents.hti

Here is a 12th century Abbot's ring with a rock crystal or white sapphire stone, both polished and cut, in a silver gilt setting (bear in mind it has been in the ground for over 800 years but it is still well polished):

abbot's ring.jpg


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Marcus Woodhouse
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Re: healing stones and minerals

Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Mon Mar 18, 2013 11:01 pm

I think that it is a modern perception that would have you see medieval gems as not being well cut or polished. I get a simialr reaction when people see how bright material can be made with natural period dyes. They just assume that the clothes were "covered in sh**" to borrow a Pythonesque expression.


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Bern
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Re: healing stones and minerals

Postby Bern » Tue Mar 19, 2013 3:27 pm

many thanks for that folks. :D

Having checked out those refs and doing some more digging I think this will very much be a work in progress!!!!

There were highly polished cut gems around and a number of methods involving abrasive powders etc have been descibed which I believe would probably rival the high gloss look of the water tumbled modern variety but it looks as though they would also be shaped in some way - usually in a cabuchon cut for inclusion in settings etc, rather than be left in the irregular pebbly shape. (unless it was a naturally pleasing shape to begin with)

The earliest mention of water tumbling I have found so far is on a gem history web site which doesn't back anything up with primary sources. It gives a passing mention of ancient Egypt and then jumps to 800AD in India - so while there is a possibility of tumbled stones in Medieval Europe I am essentially ignoring that at the moment.

As the season is now upon us and I really want something for people to handle and to instigate a chat , I have decided that, as none of the 'medical' descriptions I have seen comment on the finish of the stones, I will get hold of some natural rough minerals (to be honest they are easier and cheaper to source) - but I will also try and get some polished cabuchon cut samples of the same stones and keep on researching!!!

many thanks once again!!!!

Bern.



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gregory23b
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Re: healing stones and minerals

Postby gregory23b » Sat Mar 23, 2013 11:34 am

There are descriptions on how to grind and polish haematite for use as a bunisher for gold, such tools have to be very smooth indeed. As BR says, gems were polished to a high standard, often using elbow grease and time. Shiny goes back a long way, maybe humans are part magpie


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ASK
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Re: healing stones and minerals

Postby ASK » Mon Sep 30, 2013 8:31 pm

I would point out cutting stones (as we know it) is very different to polishing stones... if you study most stone settings for jewels in medieval treasures they are irregular, which is incredibly harder to make than if the stone has been cut to a regular form as we get today. This is a real pain in its own right... the V&A have published on this subject, and it is difficult to find a counter argument.

The main reference I work too for this is Theophilus (12th C). He describes polishing and cutting of a stone done by:
Cementing the stone in chasers pitch to a long piece of wood around the same thickness as the stone. When it has cooled with both hands rub it on a piece of hard sandstone adding water until you get the shape you want. Then using another finer sandstone do the same until it is completely smooth. Then use a flat lead plate and put on it a moist tile (guess the lead plate has some friction on it), which has been abraded... then polish the stone until brilliant. Lastly put some of the tile dust onto a goat skin (not a tanned piece) which is stretched over a piece of wood (nailed to the underside) and rub the stone until completely clear adding saliva.... simple... :D

I would expect it is difficult to find a better reference of a 'how to' than this...


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Brother Ranulf
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Re: healing stones and minerals

Postby Brother Ranulf » Mon Sep 30, 2013 9:28 pm

Thanks for that, it shows that the cutting process was obviously extremely hard work over a long period of time. This explains the rarity of cut stones in 12th century England. The few that survive are all in ecclesiastic rings, like the abbot's ring above and the octagonal sapphire ring found in the grave of bishop William de Saint-Barbe at Durham cathedral, dated to about 1152. By far the majority of stones are natural ovals or close to it - so polished, but not cut. Even so a lot of work still went into the polishing.


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