This A-Z encyclopedia of sacred gems is a one-of-a-kind publication and heralded by many in the areas of gem enthusiasts, jewellers, magic practitioners and the Goth community. Prof. Lecouteux describes over 800 gems and minerals that have been used for medicinal therapies, religious rituals or magical workings.

Claude Lecouteux is a historian and a former professor of medieval literature. He is currently Professor Emeritus at the Paris-Sorbonne University.

This review can only comment on the introductory 28 pages called Bones of the Earth. The rest is contained in the A-Z listings.

As translated by Prof. Lecouteux’s regular translator, Jon E. Graham, the style is easily-read and in clear simple language. The Professor reveals just how long a history sacred stones have had in our world. Different cultures have different explanations as to how minerals and gems were created. For instance, crystals were considered by some to be solidified snow. The whole Introduction is bursting with this lore.

Stones have been used for a variety of reasons since prehistoric times. They have been used as weapons, fortifications, tools, medical therapies, and included in religious rituals. The author takes his research from medieval times. Medieval writers themselves cite earlier sources. An attitude that seems strange today in our scientific world is the Stone As Person. A number of Medieval and earlier texts tell tales of stones assuming personalities, speech, movement and feelings. The worship of sacred stones was well under way until toward the end of the Middle Ages when Christian councils declared those who engaged in this to be anathema. Today, worship is probably the wrong word, but people still revere stones for their inherent qualities, beauty and utility.

A useful section in the Introduction is the explanation of the Lapidary Typologies. These include Pagan lapidaries which take information from the classic Greek and Latin works. Christian Lapidaries add their own symbology to the physical, medical and magical virtues. Mixed lapidaries have traditional indications with religious considerations.

The A-Z section is organised by leaving the name of the stone in its Latin version. There are also entries of the modern names and cross-referencing helps enormously. The entries have the name in bold and next to it any cross-referencing. The stone is then described and underneath are listed the sources and any studies are cited. Entire lapidaries are described and traditional uses are given, for instance, the Hebrew high priest’s breastplate gems are outlined on pages 79-81. Many entries are illustrated with woodcuts or drawings and there are eight pages of colour plates. Notes and a Bibliography complete the volume.

Overall, this is a marvellous reference work for jewellers, renaissance re-enactors, magicians, and therapists. And maybe I should add for straight-out admirers – like me – of God’s work in stone.

– Reviewed by Jennifer Hoskins in New Dawn 143