The Beauty Things introduced me to stone books. Some are crude whilst others are beautifully carved and inlaid. Many dated from the late 1800s/early 1900s and have the words Bible or Holy Bible carved into them. A few are inscribed with names.
Every man’s memory is his private literature.
In the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch a closed book represented ‘the futility of knowledge in dealing with human stupidity’.
Are stone books representations of a closed book? Or are they Georgian memento mori? A stone missal acting as a substitute for the bible? Were they blessed by a priest? Was it thought they might provide spiritual protection?
Or were they in fact, a memorial of life, a memorial for the dead? If a person’s book of life is authored by lived experience, with death the book ends, it’s petrified, sealed, and becomes a closed book – lifeless.
In Christian symbolism a book most commonly represents the Bible. If open, it portrays truth or revelation, it can be seen as the physical representation of knowledge and wisdom or a container of intellect. Open books depict learning and the spirit of wisdom. If closed, the book becomes more reflective, subtle and mysterious. It articulates the ineffable, the unknown and unknowable.
Or are stone books to do with craft? With Guilds? Given that the form and symbolism of stone carvings and decorations on churches were employed to educate, enrapture and enlighten people into the stories of the bible, given that churches have been described as stone bibles, perhaps stone books were an initiation, with apprenticed mason’s challenged to produce a book in stone?
In Alan Garner’s magnificent short story The Stone Book a young girl from a mining community is given a stone bible (with a fossil inside) to carry to church by her father. The final line reads:
And Mary sat by the fire and read the stone book that had in it all the stories of the world and the flowers of the flood.
Hand-held, their scale seems important, being small enough to be carried but not so small that you’re unaware of their presence or that you carry something important, and of value.
A memento of a silent past, passed down through the generations?
It’s better than a book you can open. A book has only one story.
from The Stone Book, Alan Garner
Are Wishing Stones 21st century stone books?
Wishing Stones are pebbles with holes in. My grandparents assured me they were also containers for wishes. Thread a string through the hole, whisper a wish into the hole and then, to prevent the wish escaping, tie the two ends of the string together to form a loop that captures the wish in endless circling.
Stones with holes hold a special fascination. They’re thin objects.
And here are a few of mine…
My kids made these as a ‘cheer-me-up’. They call them happy stones. I defy anyone not to cradle a handful of happy stones and not smile.