I can still remember the first time I saw Lapis Lazuli. It was on a hot summer's day in the South of England. I was lucky enough to be working on an archaeological site for my work experience and I found a piece of jewelry from the middle ages made from the lovely blue of Lapis Lazuli. It was used in jewelry well before the middle ages however, treasured by both Ancient Babylonian & Egyptian cultures and the stone itself has been mentioned in Greek, Roman and Hebrew scriptures.
Lapis Lazuli is talked about in the bible, although there it is referred to as Sapphire. The book of Job 28:6 says, "The stones of it are the place of sapphires: and it hath dust of gold." The dust of gold reference leaves us in no doubt that the sapphire references in the bible were, in fact, Lapis Lazuli. It would appear than that Lapis Lazuli has great religious significance as the Ten Commandments appear to have been written on slabs of it. God's throne is also described as being made of Lapis Lazuli.
Lapis Lazuli was believed to have been a sacred stone by several ancient civilizations and was buried with the dead to protect and guide them through their afterlife. The famous gold funeral mask of Tutankhamen contains Lapis Lazuli to help guide the young Pharaoh safely through the afterlife. The ancient Sumerian Queen Puabi also had Lapis Lazuli in her tomb to help with her safe passage to the other world. The Queen's headdress included strands of Lapis Lazuli and she also had a crown placed on a table near her head that was made of thousands of small lapis lazuli beads along with gold pendants of animals and plants. Displayed in the Natural History Museum in Chicago is a large symmetrical block of Lapis Lazuli that was found in an Incan grave. This would suggest that the Ancient Incan civilization also believed that Lapis Lazuli could help with their journey into the afterlife.
In some ancient cultures Lapis Lazuli was valued even more than gold. It was frequently used in amulets especially by ancient rulers as the stone is believed to represent power. Lapis Lazuli is also said to give the wearer good judgment, wisdom, inner vision and promote peace of mind. In fact King Solomon himself is said to have been given a ring of Lapis Lazuli by an angel which may be why he was so well known for his wisdom.
Aside from being used as a stone, Lapis Lazuli was also used for medicinal purposes. The Romans were of the belief that Lapis Lazuli was an aphrodisiac and it was being used as a tonic right up until the late sixteenth century. Some of the illnesses it was prescribed for were insomnia, melancholy, recurring fevers, vision problems and throat problems.
The Ancient Egyptians also used to ground up Lapis Lazuli and use it as an eye shadow. During the middle ages painters also used ground up Lapis Lazuli for color. It was mixed with oils and used in paintings right up until the 1800s.
Lapis Lazuli has also been used in some architecturally significant historical buildings. The Taj Mahal used Lapis Lazuli in the decoration, which is hardly surprising as Shah Jehan wanted the building to show all the colors of jewels. The walls of Russia's Catherine II's Palace, Zarskoe-Selo, were entirely lined with slabs of both Lapis Lazuli and Amber.
Lapis Lazuli enjoys a rich and long history as a significant semi-precious gem.