Rock-Crystal-art - 10/19/00
"Carving Rock Crystal According to Theophilius" by Lord Valdis of Gotland (humor).
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Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
From: "Lord Valdis of Gotland" <lvaldis at cvn.net>
Date: 8 Oct 2000 10:36:48 -0000
To: Norsefolk at egroups.com
Subject: Documentation I entered in an A&S competition...fun read
At East Kingdom coronation the other weekend I entered the below
documentation with a raw piece of quartz. The quartz was not
polished, nor carved. Below you will read the documentation that
went along with it, I received more comments on this entry than I do
on some of my Norse reproductions carved in wood and antler. The
documentation starts out slow with the background, then it picks
up...so don't get bored too quickly. I hope you enjoy.
Yours In Service,
Lord Valdis of Gotland
Now to our feature presentation...
Theophilus 'On Divers Arts'
Using strictly period techniques directly from Theophilus's book on
divers arts, I will explain process's used. Theophilus Presbyter has
been described as a Benedictine monk, there are theories that Roger
of Helmarshausen is the same person. Roger of Helmarshausen was a
renowned metal worker, whose skill is attested to by a bejeweled book
cover in Nuremberg and two portable altars that are preserved in
Paderborn. The only record of his life was in the papers, that his
monastery conveyed a cross and a reliquary-altar to the Bishop of
Paderborn, in exchange for a church and its tithes on August 15,
1100. This is further supported by the fact that Roger of
Helmarshausen is very familiar and goes in great detail in his
writings on metal working, whereas he seems to strictly document
other techniques that he is not familiar, with vague detail and
inaccuracies. We will take one of these techniques and put it to the
My persona being a Viking artisan, worker of wood, bone, ivory and
semi precious stones, I will attempt to follow as best as possible
the details given in the above stated book.
As most A&S competitions cover strictly the arts, I will take you
through the science in the paragraphs below, please do not try this
Upon the wishes of Roger of Helmarshausen and for familiarity we will
use the name Theophilus in the below text.
Carving Rock Crystal
Rock Crystal was believed to be water hardened into ice, which then
hardened through many years into stone. We will call this quartz, as
I believe this is what the author was referring too.
Preparing the quartz according to Theophilus:
Theophilus tells us to take a two or three year old goat and bind its
feet together and cut a hole between its breast and stomach, in the
place where the heart is, and put the crystal in there, so that it
lies in its blood until it is hot. At once take it out and engrave
whatever you want on it, while this heat lasts. When it begins to
cool and become hard, put it back in the goats blood, take it out
again when it is hot, and engrave it. Keep on doing so until you
finish the carving. Finally, heat it again, take it out and rub it
with a woolen cloth so that you may render it brilliant with the same
Application by Lord Valdis:
Using cows blood from the local market I soaked the rock crystal (we
shall call it quartz) in the blood for an hour at which time I took
it out to try and carve it. The quartz was cold to the touch and did
not take the blade or file well. I did not see any difference in
continuity of the quartz after soaking.
Second attempt with the cows blood found me heating the cows blood to
a simmer and dropping the quartz into the blood. I waited another
hour with the same results as above, however the stone was warmer to
the touch. Note - the stench and mess of blood running down both
arms is starting to get to me.
Conclusion - The blood of a goat was significant in softening the
From the local auction I secured an old goat that was inexpensive due
to its age and health. Apologizing to the old goat and trying to
rationalize that it was being done for the sake of historical
accuracy...science. This did not make me feel any better about what
I was about to do. I cut its belly open from sternum to groin with a
skinning knife. Not being familiar with the anatomy of a goat I
immediately found myself with a lap full of intestines and other
organs. Pulling these to the side I reached in to find the heart,
again my unfamiliarity forced me to place my face in close proximity
of the smell and sight of this aged goats insides. I found what I
believe to be the heart and rested the quartz up against the organ
and quickly went to bath myself.
After an hour I gingerly approached the atrocity that was once a
goat, I reached inside, holding my breath and retrieved the quartz.
I quickly took it to the blade and file, neither of which had any
effect than if it were cold.
Conclusion - The goat was too old or had some sort of blood disorder.
After disposing of the last goat I went to the auction house again
and tried to explain why I needed a goat between the ages of two and
three years. After being escorted out by security I decided to
approach a local farm with no questions asked and none given. The
farmer was happy to sell me a healthy looking two-year-old goat. Not
knowing which sex to get I picked a female for this test since my
aging goat before had been a male.
I was able to get into the chest cavity with the quartz with a little
more ease this time. I let it sit for three hours until the stench
started to make it an issue for my neighbors. Taking the quartz out
and trying my file on it I found it as hard as ever, although it was
a beautiful red color. Note: Be careful at this point because the
stone is very slippery and you are liable to cut yourself. I
concluded that I must continue with the next step Theophilus
described, so I stuck the quartz gingerly back into the room
temperature flesh. I should point out that this work is being done
in a little workshop and the stench of flesh made it impossible to
finish other projects. Night came and passed with the morning being
unbearably hot and humid, I started out towards my workshop. As soon
as I opened my back door I realized that I may not have the resolve
to see this project to the end. The odor was unbelievable, I quickly
donned a painting mask and quickly entered the workshop and took out
my quartz. I hurriedly grabbed my files and headed out the door
again. No luck, still hard and now very sticky.
Conclusion - After reading Theophilus's description again I realized
that perhaps he took the heart out for he says to place the quartz
where the heart is. With revived enthusiasm I head out to search for
I purchase a male goat, three years of age from another local
farmer. I concluded that the male being larger would have a higher
blood volume and hence a higher concentration of whatever it was that
made the quartz soft.
Being an old hand at gutting goats by this time I quickly cut out the
heart and place the quartz in its place. It took me a better part of
an hour to clean the quartz from my last endeavor, but I was leaving
nothing at risk. I quickly rolled the goat into a piece of tarp so
as to keep the smell contained. After an hour I went to check on my
passion only to end up doubled over outside my workshop losing my
dinner to the soil. Now with an empty stomach I approach my work
again and successfully take out my quartz and prepare for a
successful attempt. Placing the tarp back over the carcass I quickly
exit to try my hand at carving my quartz once and for all. Putting
my blade to the quartz I found it as hard as ever, trying the file I
made a few scratch marks.
At this point a local Sheriff's Deputies car pulls into my driveway.
I was standing there with blood up both arms and across my front, my
knives and files laying around me and with me holding an object that
looks similar to an organ with its bright red color and dripping
blood between my feet. I will not mention the look of desperation I
had on my face at not being able to carve the quartz with the look of
panic coming over it when I recognized the car that pulled in and
what it must look like. To make a long story short, the sheriff's
department kindly removed the carcass's for me and cataloged
everything in my workshop for me, while giving me free room and board
until I could talk with the local judge who just happened to be at
the Pennsylvania Ren Faire that weekend. Monday morning finds me
explaining Theophilus before a captive audience with people taking
frantic notes at my every word. I have never seen such an interest
in medieval history as I experienced in that room that day. I was
released that afternoon and told to hand over my copy of Theophilus
On Divers Arts to the deputy that followed me home.
All is quiet at my house now, I have just ordered the Theophilus On
Divers Arts from online and am waiting to try and harden steel in the
urine of a small red headed boy, according to Theophilus there is no
better way to harden steel.
Conclusion - I have had plenty of time to think about this now and
with many a discussion with my therapist, that the courts so kindly
provided, we have concluded that perhaps the artisans that told
Theophilus the details of their trade were either protecting their
technique or just pulling a joke on him, not realizing that it would
turn my life upside down some 900 years later.
My personal feelings are that I need a goat that is from Europe and
has eaten the same diet as they did in the 12th century, but I will
refrain from experimenting with that one for a while, at least until
I am no longer under house arrest.
Theophilus On Divers Arts
Note: No animals were hurt during these tests, the tests were purely
a writ of fiction. The quotes from Theopilus is true and the
description that he gives for carving quartz is accurate. My
personal conclusion was that it was a joke played on Theophilus for a
good laugh and to protect their trade (trade secrets). Much of what
is written by Theophilus is accurate, some techniques are harmful by
today's standards and should be handled with care. Please feel free
to stop by my merchant booth to discuss A&S. I hope you enjoyed the
Yours In Service,
Lord Valdis of Gotland
Feel free to forward this as you like with the proper credits. If
someone decides to publish it in any format, I request a copy sent to
me snail mail.