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On the religious heritage of bookmatching marble and maple

Here are my ideas, why masters (architects, luthiers) have chosen over the centuries to use the special type of DECORATION, that english speaking people call (ingeniously) "bookmatched".

I talked to luthier Andreas Köpke in Kiel (Germany) about the advantages of using a "split" (= a bookmatched) violin- or mandolin back. He told me: There is no acoustic advantage to bookmatch a violin's back. Maple trees are big enough to provide a luthier with a "full" one piece highly figured back. Carving a violin's back out of one maple piece gives better results - acoustically. So why did Stradivarius oder Lloyd Loar (Gibson's designer in the 1920th century) not "the best"? Why did they glue maple pieces together? Obviously: to get the "bookmatched" DECORATION.

I want to find an answer "vertically" - that means: by going back through the centuries, back to the time when Hagia Sophia in Istanbul was built. This church was built by the east-roman "cesar" Justinianus between A.D. 532 to 537 - after an earthquake that had destroyed the first church built by the "cesar" Constantine in A.D. 320.

IMO the marble stones inside are the "key" to understand the arisal and the "aim", the "purpose" of the decoration named "bookmatched and flamey". All over the place the walls are decorated with "bookmatched" flamed MARBLE. These marble stones are not just bookmatched, their character is not just to have a center-seam: They show a typical figure like the "lines in a opened book".

This church was the center of the east roman empire for almost 1000 years. Then Konstantinopolis (= town of Constantine) fell, when the Ottomans conquered the town. Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque.

Churches like Hagia Sophia had already been built before in Europe. The most important church of that kind is the St. Markus cathedral in Venice. I have been there several times in my younger days, but I had no eye for the marble decoration then. You find the same decoration.

I am quite sure that Stradivari visited Venice and the cathedral. He saw the marble. He understood the principle - maybe he understood even the "religious meaning", the "religious message" of these stones and their - natural (!) - decoration. So he copied the principle. He took "flamed" maple, glued the pieces together and provided his customers by the way with the religious message that this kind of decoration "says". I don't know whether Stradivarius was aware of that message or not - maybe he was. I am sure, Lloyd Loar did not know, as he never told about it.

By looking at the marble wall decoration in Hagia Sophia in Istanbul or by looking at a violins back or by looking at a (flamey or fiddleback) Les Paul top you are taking a look into the "one and only" book, the theological basis of christianity - the HOLY BIBLE.

I took these pics in Hagia Sophia:

Now you understand, why I said before that the english word "bookmatched" is an "ingenious" word to describe this special type of decoration: This kind of decoration not only does "look like" a book; it has been designed intentionally by religious architects and masters in the 4th or 5th century to symbolize the BIBLE - a book.

The bible is the basis of Christianity. The change from believing in a colourful group of Gods - as it was in Greece and Rome - to a monotheistic religion was fundamental. Also fundamental was the change from the vocally transferred "stories about the Gods" to the "word of God" - written in THE BOOK.

The ancient greek word for book is "biblion". You can imagine the importance of the BIBLE by considering the fact, that this book got the name "the book".

Imagine you are a little farmer or slave in the year A.D. 550. Almost nobody living next to you was able to read or write. But you already had seen people holding a "book" - the book - in their hands. Books in that time weren't a scroll anymore (as traditionally used by the Jews until today); the new technic "to preserve words" was the CODEX.

Wikipedia says:

"Papyrus scrolls were still dominant in the first century AD, as witnessed by the findings in Pompeii. The first written mention of the codex as a form of book is from Martial, in his Apophoreta CLXXXIV at the end of the century, where he praises its compactness. However the codex never gained much popularity in the pagan Hellenistic world, and only within the Christian community did it gain widespread use.[9] This change happened gradually during the third and fourth centuries, and the reasons for adopting the codex form of the book are several: the format is more economical, as both sides of the writing material can be used; and it is portable, searchable, and easy to conceal. The Christian authors may also have wanted to distinguish their writings from the pagan texts written on scrolls."

Imagine you lived in AD 550 and were doing a pilgrimage to the most important place in the east roman empire - sure you would go to Konstantinopolis and visit Hagia Sophia.

As in every empire, the leaders need legitimation. There are several possibilities to accomplish this objective. One way is architecture and intelligent design.

The architects and masterbuilders of Hagia Sophia wanted to create a church that made the visitors "breathless". The aim was to bring the visitors into a "entranced" state, to cause a "religious shiver". They also wanted to show the visitors the "key-elements" of the religion. These key elements were (are still) "the book" (biblion) and the cross. Hagia Sophia is full of both elements.

When the Ottomans conquered the place, they destroyed partially the crosses, but did not alter the symbols of the "book" (the flamey bookmatched marble). Their religion was also founded on a book - the holy Quran. An illiterate muslim visiting the Hagia Sofia saw at the walls of Hagia Sophia the same thing, that the illiterate christian saw 1000 years before by looking into a real CODEX: two pages and dark lines on the left and right side of the center seam.

It is typical for the impression of an open book, that the two pages almost never look the same. There is generally no "perfect match". THIS is the reason, why it is "normal" to have no perfect match on bookmatched violin backs or even Les-Paul-guitar-tops. A perfect match cannot be the symbol of a book, it cannot remind you of a book - of THE BOOK. A perfect match would be incredible.

To accomplish the "book effect" there is no need to have an exact "90 degrees" angle of the lines (flames) relative to the center seam. A book is normally not "completely open". I is open only partially, when held in the hands or resting in a book-stand. A illiterate person sees the "lines" of the book in a slightly different angle than 90 degrees. Look at these Stradivari backs.

They show the same small deviation from the 90 degrees postulation like the (1500 years old) marble walls in Hagia Sofia. Think of them as of pages of a partially opened book.

There ist one open question: Why didn't they use just paint? With paint you get better results without the logistic problems of fetching unusual marble stones from far away.

The answer is quite easy: The credibility that the words in THE BOOK are "words of God" is much higher, when the material is NATURAL - not human -. A natural material comes "from God" directly. The natural existance of such material like "flamey marble" or "flamey maple" (I do not know a third one) is the evicence, that God has "given a sign" to mankind that "THE BOOK" is the truth.

Even 1500 years ago there was "design". We have not heard the discussions of the master-designers. We have no protocols. But we are able, anyway, to decipher, to decrypt these old designs today.

The presented design principle has survived 1500 years. It came from Konstantinopolis (Istanbul) to Venice. It is a key feature of the St. Markus cathedral there. As I said before: I am quite sure that Stradivari visited Venice and the cathedral. He saw the marble. He understood the principle - maybe he understood even the religious meaning, the religious "message" of these stones.

The Gospel of John says:

"In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God."

That means more than my thesis so far. That leads to the thesis: By looking at the beauty of a flamey bookmatched arrangement you just don't look at a picture of the Holy Bible, you look at something symbolizing GOD.

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