The Stone Book

THE STONE BOOK

The Stone Book

ABC Newcastle (Newcastle)
Day Shift – 20/11/2007 – 02:10 PM
Presenter: Carol Duncan
Interviewees: Gionni Di Gravio, Archivist, Newcastle University

Newcastle University Archivist Gionni Di Gravio discusses a mysterious stone book donated to the University of Newcastle in 2003. Click the images below for various views of the object.

The Stone Book The Stone Book The Stone Book The Stone Book The Stone Book

Broadcast Notes

In 2003 a mysterious stone book was donated to The University of Newcastle and it has kept us guessing as to its origin and purpose.

The book is approximately 8.5cms by 7cms by 2.5cms and carved from medium grain sandstone. The stone book was donated to the University by staff member Robert Stephens, who donated the book after viewing a collection of ancient artefacts from Roman Britain in the library.

The stone artefact had been passed down from his grandfather to his father and on to him. His understanding was that prior to the age of printing, when books were rare, these stone books were carried by people to church.

In February 2003 there was an exhibition of such stone books at the Gallery Lombardi. The owner stated that “many of the stone books are dated late 1800s/early 1900s and have the words “Bible” or “Holy Bible” carved in them and a few are inscribed with names. I understand that these were carved as memorials to departed loved ones. Some are crude while others are beautifully carved and inlaid. All are representations of a closed book – never to be opened.”

A local necrogeographer (i.e., graveyard expert) believes that this sort of object is not in keeping with the Victorian period. The Victorian period sought to place a more optimistic approach to funerary symbolism, this object is more illustrative of the Georgian era and its memento mori.

Our retired Rare Book Librarian Elizabeth Guilford suggested that it could possibly be a Christian amulet of sorts and that it was possibly a stone missal that acted as a substitute for the bible, was possibly blessed by a priest, and that could then take the place of a holy bible as spiritual protection for someone who couldn’t read. This object is also the topic of a story by the author Alan Garner entitled The Stone Book where a young girl from a mining community is given such a stone bible (with a fossil inside) to carry to church by her father.

A cursory glance over the various interpretations of “stone books” garnered the following insights. As a symbol in the paintings of Bosch a ‘closed book’ represents ‘the futility of knowledge in dealing with human stupidity’. In Christian symbolism a ‘book’ most commonly represents the Bible. If open, it portrays truth or revelation, if closed, ‘it may be presumed to contain the names of the elect, and so may symbolize the Last Judgment and the inheritance of the saints’. We also learn that ”The book is the physical representation of knowledge and wisdom. It is the container of intellect; open books depict the book of life, learning, and the spirit of wisdom. Closed book is in the hands of God, Divine Mystery.’

Having viewed the stone book, the British Museum’s Early Christian/Byzantine curator could not recognise a period or culture that used such an article, stating “there are no comparable objects within our collection.”

So far our research has suggested two possible explanations for the stone book.

It could have been a stone missal that acted as a substitute for a bible. It was possibly blessed by a priest and then took the place of a Holy Bible as spiritual protection for someone who couldn’t read.

Or, it may have been a memorial for the dead. Just as a person’s life is said to be written in a ‘book of life’, meaning that as you live your life your book is written with the events, in death your book has come to an end and is closed. The closed book could be a memorial of one’s life.

I was contacted by one other local family that had a similar item passed down through their family. Their grandfather was a stone mason and they believed it had something to do with a ‘test’ of some sort.

It is very interesting that stone carvings and decorations on churches were the methods employed to educate and enlighten people into the stories of the bible, given that they couldn’t read the stories themselves. This gave rise to expression that churches were ‘stone bibles’. Given that it is clear that as literacy has improved, so has the decline in ornate sculpture that tells a story. I also thought of those works that came out at the turn of the century relating to the hidden wisdom housed within the dimensions of the pyramid and this idea that stone masons had been enlisted in some unspoken communication with the populace. These little stone books could be a memento of a silent and descriptive past passed down through the generations.


Stone Books From Across Time and the World


Caroline Kenner’s Stone Book

The most charming story that came my way was from Caroline Kenner in the United States. It relates to a dramatic incident that occurred in western Missouri during the Civil War era, not far from Kansas City, in a small town called Carrollton. I offer it below with her kind permission:

“Gionni’s mysterious book also made me think about this: I own a little stone book, carved of pale marble, with a wreath around my great-grandmother’s name on one side and the date 1861 on the other side. A row of hearts runs down the spine. The carvings and the “pages” were gilded but have gone a greenish black with time. Although much younger than Gionni’s book, it has an interesting story: My great-great-grandfather defended a man accused of murder, and protected him from the death penalty, although the man received a life sentence. He was so happy to be alive, he carved a set of little stone books for his lawyer’s four daughters as a thank-you gift. I am the great-granddaughter of the eldest daughter, and I still have her little stone book.”

Here are images of the stone book, with kind permission of Caroline Kenner:

Caroline Kenner’s Stone Book Caroline Kenner’s Stone Book Caroline Kenner’s Stone Book Caroline Kenner’s Stone Book Caroline Kenner’s Stone Book Caroline Kenner’s Stone Book


Ian Evan’s Stone Book

A local researcher into the use of ritual objects in houses as a protection again magic and witchcraft, Mr Ian Evans, has also kindly sent us an image of a stone book in the form of a bible discovered in a fireplace in a house in South Australia. Other weird objects found concealed in homes overseas include heart shapes cut from felt, nail clippings and magic symbols written on the ceilings of bedrooms, and hallways with smoke from candles. “All my Australian finds are also pretty odd to be honest, but I’d have to nominate a marble bible as being my single oddest item,” Evans said. “It’s of the type found in graveyards. This small bible [sculpture] was found behind a firegrate in a house where it had been carefully placed on its side. It weighed 2.4 kilograms and it was obviously was no accident being there.

Ian Evans’ stone book


Alan Garner’s Stone Book

We have been greatly honored to present Alan Garner’s stone book. Mr Garner wrote the highly acclaimed The Stone Book Quartet. He writes:

“The stone book I wrote about exists and is in my possession. The book is so exact a copy of a tooled leather binding that, held correctly, it is credible up to within a yard. There are four shallow circles on the front, which will have been where a brass cross was set, but that’s missing. It also has a number of random ‘slashes’ around where the cross would have been. These I have interpreted as wear marks made by the book’s having been used as a convenient stone for sharpening a small tool. However, if the books served a protective, apotropaic purpose it could be that the marks were a deliberate attack by an ill-wisher. The subject of spiritual protection and aggression is a big one in this country, covering many centuries and many forms. ” And, “Now that I look closely at the scan, I don’t believe my earlier interpretation of “tool sharpening marks”. They are something different, and postdate the removal of the cross.”

Alan Garner’s Stone Book
Photograph courtesy of Mr Alan Garner


Jim Downie’s Stone Book

I am currently accessioning the papers of Mr Jim Downie, local living treasure, retired businessman, Rotarian and Mayfield resident. His grandfather was William Ferrier(1853-1916), a stone mason whose specialty was working in marble. He was Clerk of Works for the building of Sydney’s Central Station among many other notable buildings including Gladesville and Callan Park Asylums, The Mutual Fire Insurance Offices, St Mary’s Cathedral and the A.J.S. Bank. Curious, I asked Jim whether he had a small stone book passed down his family, and he surprisingly said ‘yes’. His grandfather had fashioned these stone books for all the children as Christmas presents. They were also gilded in gold leaf. I will photograph this book this weekend.

Jim Downie’s Stone Book made by his grand father William Ferrier Jim Downie’s Stone Book made by his grand father William Ferrier Jim Downie’s Stone Book made by his grand father William Ferrier Jim Downie’s Stone Book made by his grand father William Ferrier


Jim’s Stone Book

An online correspondent has sent us his images of a stone book recently purchased. We thank him for sending through his images for researchers on this site. Jim writes:

“I [happen] to have one of these mysterious stone books, it takes the form of a bible that has a cross carved on the front and a similar binding type carving to the first book on this web page.

The book is approximately 8cm x 5cm x 1.7cm.

Un-believably I bought it on ebay some months ago and although I had no idea about the book itself I knew I had to have it. The person I bought it from couldn’t give me any information about it but said she thought it was Egyptian Marble?

When I received the book I then started to do a little research and couldn’t find anything until I eventually found this site a couple of weeks ago. I will take some pictures and send them to the email address that is listed on comment 6.

Regards
JIm”

Image_1 Image_2 Image_3 Image_4

Walter De Jonghe’s Stone Book

Email received 5th October 2011 8.36PM

To Whom It May Concern,

I am De Jonghe Walter from Belgium? I wrote to you before about the stone book I found in Belgium. Look up the article about this please. Due to circumstances I can only send you now the photo’s of the stone book.

Best regards,
Walter

Sunday, 21 June, 2009 at 11:55 pm

The Stone Book,
I am Walter living in Kruibeke a village nearby Antwerp in Belgium. As a yuong boy of 14 (now 62) a walked the borders of the river Schelde by my village. The water had wached away the sand, and with other things this book of stone came to the surfice. As I was collecting antiek given to me by both my grandparends I always had this item in my collection. Did not know wath it was, but it give me a feeling.it was something special. The front of this book as a cross upside down, as they use in the church of desiple Petrus. On the smale side is written( but you kan see much later and is different) “key of heave” (see the fourth image of the spine below) . I am verry pleased to find this webside, now I know there are more of those books! Sorry for my poor Englisch writting, give you my greethings, Walter

Conclusion

David Thomas Ansted in his work “The Great Stone Book of Nature” (Philadelphia: George Childs, 1863) says that Nature is akin to a Library. To him the “Great Stone Book” is the science of Geology, where the vast knowledge of the Earth lies, waiting for “careful personal observation and an acquaintance with the language of nature.”

Whatever its original purpose, our stone book has us intrigued and it is a welcome addition to our Collection.

Gionni Di Gravio
Halloween 2007 and beyond

28 thoughts on “The Stone Book

  1. This is most interesting and exciting. If anyone has any knowledge, thoughts or anecdotes they will be of the greatest use to me (the author of ‘The Stone Book’) and to the Bodleian Library.

    Alan Garner

    • Dear Mr. Garner, Just stumbled on this blog. Surprised to see stone books made outside of the US. I collect American folk art, and in particular, that done from stone. Have collected about 145 stone books over the past 6 or 7 years, and reached that number only because I was able to buy two nice collections. I usually can only find about 4 or 5 each years, mainly at antiques shows that focus on folk art. About 15 of my books have dates, from 1861 to 1915, with most being from 1870 to 1910. My belief is that the great majority were carved by stone cutters (especially gravestone carvers) as little gifts and keepsakes for loved ones and friends. Some have beautifully incised lettering, while others are somewhat crude. The great majority done from white or pale colored marble. Some have religious iconography, such as “Bible”, or crosses, ivy, etc. Most are fairly plain with only the hinge line denoted. But some are highly elaborate. Sizes range from a half inch to ten inches tall, but most are roughly 3 by 4. Have attempted research in old newspapers, but they are rarely mentioned. In two cases, prisoners carved books for a judge and a sheriff. But I think that is the exception. Send me your e-mail and I’ll send you some photos. The date on your blog is 2007, so hope you receive this. Ciao, Ian Berke (San Francisco)

      • Hi there i have a book in my possetion that i found while digging in a forrest in scotland when i was 10 years old , ( now 32 ) lol
        Anyway i forgot about it till today, it is very much like these books on this site , it looks to be made from marble and is shaped just like a bible , its a little chiped around the edges and does look old , please give me your email and i will send u pics ,
        Id love to no anything about it and if worth anything ,,,
        Thanx David.,

  2. OR the slashes could have been made when the cross was removed. That is, they were a part of a single act, which may have been spiritually, as well as physically, aggressive.

    Alan Garner.

  3. Gionni,

    Thank you for the fine tribute to John Turner in your lecture tonight. I have rushed home to look up the information on the stone book you mentioned. I wonder looking at these objects if they formed part of Freemason ceremonies? This might explain why people have not been very forthcoming about them but it would seem to fit quite well with Freemason traditions of veneration for the stonemason and, especially in British masonry, veneration for the one true artificer and his Word.

    Hilary Carey

    • Hilary,

      Robert Stephens is my uncle and it was my grand father who had passed it on to him. This could be possible however my grand father was the first freemason in our family. I am currently a mason myself and i have never seen something similar to this in any lodge nor have i heard of a stone bible being used in the past. (mainly because i have never looked for it, it sounds quite plausible to me) As i said there is a masonic link in my family however my grandfather had it passed to him by his father who was not a mason.
      I know you posted this comment a few years ago but i thought it is an interesting idea. I will ask around and do a bit of research and see what i can come up with.

      Thanks

      Nicholas Stephens

  4. The Stone Book,
    I am Walter living in Kruibeke a village nearby Antwerp in Belgium.
    As a yuong boy of 14 a walked the borders of the river Schelde by my village.
    The water had wached away the sand, and with other things this book of stone came to the surfice.
    As I was collecting antiek given to me by both my grandparends I always had this item in my collection.
    Did not know wath it was, but it give me a feeling…it was something special.
    The front of this book as a cross upside down, as they use in the church of desiple Petrus.
    On the smale side is written( but you kan see much later and is different)”key of haven”.
    I am verry pleased to find this webside, now I know there are more of those books!
    Sorry for my poor Englisch writting, give you my greethings, Walter

  5. Hmmm, that was interesting. Looks like somethings will always remain mystery.

    I myself has been trying to solve the mystery of the legend that forces you to have “earn it before

    having it”, for a wile now. Could not understand much though.

    Let me know in case you get to understand the mystery of the Old Hound and the Legend

    By the way, good writing style. I’d love to read more on similar topics

  6. Hi

    I to have one of these mysterious stone books, it takes the form of a bible that has a cross carved on the front and a similar binding type carving to the first book on this web page.

    The book is approximately 8cm x 5cm x 1.7cm.

    Un-believably I bought it on ebay some months ago and although I had no idea about the book itself I knew I had to have it. The person I bought it from couldn’t give me any information about it but said she thought it was Egyptian Marble?

    When I received the book I then started to do a little research and couldn’t find anything until I eventually found this site a couple of weeks ago. I will take some pictures and send them to the email address that is listed on comment 6.

    Regards
    JIm

  7. I was given a small stone bible by my grandmother, who received it from her stone mason father before he died when she was four years old.
    It has a cross of calvary on the front, and the back cover is a latin cross across an anchor cross joined by a heart. The bible has carved edging, pages, and spine. The bible is 1 5/8″ by 1 2/8″ by 7/8″. It is limestone. My grandmother never told me why she gave it to me that I remember, but I think it was because I was the oldest granddaughter. I am 57. My grandmother grew up Roman Catholic, in Missouri in a rural community. However I have wondered if maybe her father was actually falling back on a Greek Catholic or Eastern Church custom. His name was Jacob Hardwig. The little Bible had been handled a great deal when I received it, and there is a drop of candle wax on the front cover.
    I would love to know if this rings a bell with anyone.

  8. Hello,

    I am an artist working on a major exhibition project to open at at the Fridericianum in Kassel, Germany in June, 2012. I would like very much to purchase or to receive on loan one or more stone books to be exhibited in a vitrine in the museum. Please let me know if this is at all possible, I can make arrangements through the museum’s registrar to ensure safe shipping and insurance. I would be very happy to elaborate further on the project via email.

    Thank you in advance for any information or help.

    All the best,

    Michael

    • Hi Michael,

      I might be interesting in loaning or selling my stone bible for the exhibition.

      Please post some further information or link your email address so I can contact you directly.

      I look forward to hearing from you.

      Best
      JIm

    • I see you had an interest in stone books ,
      I have a small light coloured marble bible
      It is very like the ones pictured here , it does not have
      A cross or anything inscribed on it its just bible
      Shaped , i found it about 20 years ago in a forest
      In scotland , always wondered what it was and
      If worth anything , my email is dave_dave44@hotmail.com. i can send pics
      If u are interested in looking at it ,
      I would love to get a value on this as i may sell it,
      Thanx David.,,

  9. IM ALEX PURIFICACION FROM PHILIPPINES, iM REALLY A NATURE LOVER AND EVERYTIME I RECEIVED STONES (MUTYA) IN DIFFERENT FORMS, tHE LAST ONE WAS SMALL BLACK BOOK WITH ENGRAVE THE THE EYE WHICH BEEN SEEN INSIDE THE CAVE OF MT, bANAHAW HUNDRED YEARS AGO,,,,ON TOP OF THE EYE WRITTEN IN LATIN OR HEBREW WHICH REFERS ABOUT BIBLE / CREATION / COMMANMENDTS..THE SIZE IS ABOUT 1,4INCHES BY I,2INCHES AND PREFECTLY LOOKS LIKE A BOOK….I HAVE SEARCHING IN THE INTERNET MORE KNOWLEDGE ABOUT THIS STONE BOOK …..

  10. Pingback: (23) The Importance of Being Earnest | The Codex from Rohonc Project

  11. Pingback: (23) The Probable Use of a Meaningless Object | The Codex from Rohonc Project

  12. I am looking for something called the Arundelian Marbles having to do I think with the bible. If you have heard of this, please contact me with any information you may have. Does it contain any information on the date of creation?

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