in connection with this Berdische,
a Russian Pole Weapon of the 17th Century
This Berdische had been acquired c.1960 by a friend of mine, the late Alexander Doll, from a private collection in Munich, Germany. When it arrived, my friend was dismayed to find that the wooden shaft had been cut in half to simplify the job of packing! This was utter vandalism and we were outraged, as you can imagine. I offered to restore the piece to its original condition.
My plan for restoring the shaft was:
1. True-up the cut ends by making perfectly flat surfaces at 45 degrees.
2. Axially drill holes in the cut ends to accept a sturdy Maple dowel.
3. Fill the drilled cavities with Epoxy resin, and insert the dowel.
4. Align the two parts so that they form a perfectly straight shaft. This was done by placing both ends inside an angle-iron beam, exactly aligning the joint, and holding the parts in place with an elastic binding while the Epoxy cured.
5. After the epoxy had set, any stray Epoxy was removed, the shaft surface cleaned and, using an air brush, the wood was sealed with clear lacquer sealer and lightly rubbed down with very fine steel wool..
During the process of axially drilling into the two severed ends, I used an electric hand drill, manually holding the piece and the drill, and proceeding slowly and cautiously. With each pass of the drill, I tapped the wood to dislodge the fine shavings, which fell onto a pie pan of aluminum sheet which I had placed there for this purpose.
Suddenly, as I tapped, I could hear some distinct light "clunks" as some hard material was dislodged and fell to the pan. I continued to drill carefully and more material came out! I then sifted through the wood dust and extracted with forceps several small pieces of stone. I could not discern the color of the pieces since they were covered with fine wood dust. I placed them in a small glass of water and rinsed them off. Lo and behold, these were pieces of Lapis Lazuli, a semi-precious stone with which I am well acquainted, and which has always been popular in Russia! Incredible! How did it get into the wood. I was stumped.
I immediately called my friend and told him of the discovery. He, being a historian and well versed in Russian history, folklore, and superstition, gave the following explanation:
In ancient times (and even to this day) it was believed that various semi-precious and precious stones had certain supernatural powers. Some would protect one from fevers, others from other sicknesses, etc. Lapis was supposed to protect one against bodily injury. This fact, and the realization that it would have never been discovered, save for this fortuitous occurrence, meant that the Lapis had undoubtedly been inserted into the shaft at the time the Berdische was made (around 1650). This also proved that this was the original wood shaft. It certainly seems like the belief in the magic of precious stones was continuous since ancient times, well into the 17th century.
My friend asked me to look for signs where such an insertion could have been made. On inspection I found the very spot! When I had originally seen this spot, I gave it no special consideration because I thought that it was the place where a small branch had been removed, and the surface irregularity caused by the removal had been filled with what looked like a mixture of wood powder dispersed in some shellac-like resin. In fact, this was the aperture where the stone was inserted, the opening having been carefully sealed in an inconspicuous way. If the shaft had been cut in any other location, I could not have made this discovery. The spot is identified and can clearly be seen in the photograph. I returned the major portion of the stones to the Berdische, but kept a small sampling for posterity.
PS: In the Opera Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951) by Jan Carlo Menotti, the Kings come to Bethlehem bearing gifts. One King, Casper, has a small box with various precious stones which he shows to the little shepherd boy, Amahl, telling him of all the magical powers of the various stones. Lapis is one of those stones.
I hope you enjoyed this short tale in the adventures of restoration.
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