Of all of the various meanings and sentiments given to lapis lazuli since its discovery, perhaps the most significant is its inherent divinity. The stone’s whimsical coloring, often resembling a starry night sky, undoubtedly evoked an image of the heavens and led to a long-standing relationship between the stone and its use in religious ceremonies.
The use of lapis lazuli as a religious ornament goes back to ancient times. One of the oldest myths, that of the Sumerian Goddess of Love, Inanna, depicts her entering the underworld wearing a lapis lazuli necklace. In Sumerian culture, lapis lazuli was said to bear the soul of the deity.
There is ample evidence of its religious status in the ancient cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia as well. Lapis lazuli was the main trait denoting the Egyptian Goddess of Truth. This attribution undoubtedly led to contemporary interpretations of lapis lazuli as the stone of truth and clarity. Lapis lazuli was also found in the graves of the elite. Since Egyptian rulers were often equated with Gods, lapis was both a religious and regal symbol, meant to show respect. Most notably, the stone was used in the creation of Tutankhamun’s funeral mask. Lapis lazuli was believed to protect the wearer in the afterlife and the valuable items buried in one’s grave could potentially be used as insurance.
The notion of lapis lazuli’s celestial properties followed it throughout the centuries and eventually made their way into Christian practices as well. The azure stone was often used in depictions of saints’ and angels’ garments. It was also particularly associated with the Virgin Mary. Lapis lazuli pigment was commonly employed in the design of the Virgin Mary’s robes, and can be seen in hundreds of classical works of art.
Lapis lazuli’s popularity traveled East as well. The stone became an important part of many Asian religion’s rituals, particularly Buddhism. Buddha statues were carved out of lapis lazuli, and the pigment was used in their artistic depictions. Russian Tsars also had a fascination with the stone, using it to adorn their palaces.
Nowadays, lapis lazuli has less religious connotations and more aesthetical value. Still, it’s supposed metaphysical properties and folklore mythology undoubtedly stem from its use in religious rituals across cultures. The fact that the stone was raised to a celestial status in practically every culture is a testament to lapis lazuli’s beauty and value.