The Stone of Heaven
Posted on November 15 2019
The literal meaning of ‘lapis lazuli’ is ‘blue stone’. ‘Lapis’ is Latin for stone and ‘lazuli’ is derived from the Persian word for blue: ‘lazhward’. Found in limestone caves, mines, and mountains worldwide, this semi-precious stone rock is composed mainly of lazurite, white calcite, and pyrite. Low-grade lapis has more white specks than pyrite and is sometimes referred to as ‘denim lapis’. For thousands of years, people have prized the lapis lazuli stone for its spiritual meaning and brilliant color. Lapis lazuli is still a popular gemstone to this day.
A Brief History of the Lapis Lazuli Gemstone
The Original Mines
The stone found in the Garden of Eden, referenced on the Breastplate of Aaron, and sculpted into the Heavenly Throne was found on earth in today’s terrorist war zone - now Northeast Afghanistan. This gemstone, called lapis lazuli, was commonly named ‘sapphire’ in the bible. The original lapis mines, which are some of the oldest commercial gemstone sources, were first recorded to have been in operation since 700 BC and are still producing lapis for retail today.
From the mines in Afghanistan, merchants carried these gemstones along the Silk Road trade route to the great civilizations of Greece, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Persia. It has been recorded that Greeks used lapis lazuli gemstones as healing remedies for epilepsy, skin issues, and to enhance their memory. Romans thought the stone had aphrodisiac qualities and may help improve deteriorated vision.
Funeral Mask of King Tutankhamun
During ancient Egyptian times, lapis lazuli was ground into a powder, which became speckled with the gold color of the pyrite component, and was used as eye makeup by Cleopatra and other upper-class citizens. Lapis lazuli gemstones were inlaid into the funeral mask of King Tut, carved into scarab pendants, and placed on tombs. In this culture, lapis lazuli stones held spiritual meaning and magical properties. Lapis lazuli was regarded as a heavenly stone that would offer protection in the next life and it was also a symbol of truth and godliness for Egyptians. Pharaohs and priests wore robes dyed from lapis for a more god-like appearance.
The Middle Ages
Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel with lapis powdered paint, one of the most expensive of all blue pigments at the time. In modern paints, this pigment is known as ‘ultramarine’. Other revered artists of the Renaissance and Baroque period, like Vermeer and Titian, reserved this paint for depicting the clothing of the Virgin Mary, angels, and other central figures within their artwork.
During the Middle Ages, the lapis lazuli gemstone was in high demand by royalty for jewelry and accessories because it resembled the night sky. Eventually, the meaning of the lapis lazuli stone grew to become a symbol of royalty and honor.
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Peter Carl Faberge’s Imperial Egg design, made with lapis lazuli gemstones, was a hit with Russian Czars. While it is no longer used for paint pigments, lapis is still popularly used in jewelry today. It is often cut into cabochons for pendants and earrings, used as inlays in bracelets, made into spherical beads and buttons, and other jewelry applications. It is also used for statues, mosaics, and other works of art. Some people also believe that lapis lazuli gemstones hold healing properties that relieve stress, promote peace, help overcome depression, and calm vertigo.