Volunteers restoring a stone oven at AiP’s historic preservation project in the small town of Brecljevo, Slovenia, stumbled upon an old tradition, adding a bit of excitement to the last day of work.
While removing loose stones and mortar in the oven, Leah found a ceramic pot. Tucked inside the pot was a coin placed inside for good luck, dating from about 300 years ago when the stove was built.
I tweeted about this discovery and quickly found, from @JoeValles, that there are still masons out there who practice this tradition. Joe was kind enough to send the following.
“Around 1997, a stoneworker called me from England looking for a job. He did cathedral restoration. I couldn’t offer him work but I told him to look me up if he ever got to the States. He did and I showed him some of my work around Raleigh. He asked me if we threw coins in our work here. He said the Romans sacrificed children to appease the gods when they were bridge-building. He said that they still find child skeletons in the piers when they excavate in Europe. At some point it evolved into using coins.
I’ve never researched what he said so I don’t know the full history but I’ve been doing it ever since. I usually just throw whatever I have in my pocket into my work for good luck – walls, bridges, patios etc. I enjoy history and being part of an ancient tradition appeals to me. Everyone wants to leave something of himself behind. Imagine centuries later someone discovering your coins. I love that idea!”
This whole thing has got me wondering about building rites and traditions. I had known about the “topping out” ceremonies during which a tree or evergreen is placed to a final timber or beam as it is hoisted into place. And of the course many official buildings have a ground breaking ceremony and cornerstone that often includes the laying of a cornerstone. The idea of a “coin of the realm” is somehow more personal, a smaller scale way for a craftsperson to say “I was here”.
I’d love to learn more so if anyone has any insights or stories to share, please pass them along!