The May Meeting of the Mothers’ Union began with a service in church led by Bridget. Afterwards we crossed into the large room of the Parish Hall, as roofing work is taking place over at Room Two.
Margaret began the meeting by giving thanks to Bridget and Dorothy France, who accompanied the hymn. Then she reminded everyone of the ongoing projects – knitted squares for premature babies; embroidered crosses to be given to babies baptised in church – asking for volunteers to make them.
Then she introduced the speaker for the evening, Mr. Andy Czakow, whose talk was about Amber. First of all he asked what amber was, before explaining that it was the resin of trees that had lived between 350 million and 20 million years ago, and became fossilised. When trees get damaged, resin fills the cracks. Amber is classified as a precious stone, and can appear in 200 shades of colours. He passed around several samples of amber with different colours, appearances and textures – not just the more familiar honey or golden shades, used in jewellery.
Amber has had many uses through the ages – buttons, beads, dice, teething rings and carved animals. Some cultures believed that it had medicinal properties. So Andy passed round cotton buds to dip into solutions of amber and spirits, which were applied to joints and skin. It could also be used as an air purifier, when burnt. When amber was ground to a powder it was used to treat croup and asthma, or mixed with honey to help resolve ear infections, or to sooth the stomach. It was also used for heart problems, headaches and arthritis, and to relieve depression. Greeks called it Electra, as when rubbed it gives off static electricity.
Amber sometimes has ‘inclusions’ – these can be insects, flowers. leaves and small creatures, and these command a high price when sold.
Because amber was so versatile, it has been sold through many centuries. Trade routes were developed from Gdansk, which was a centre for amber in the Baltic, through Poland,Slovakia, Hungary, to Venice and the Mediterranean. There were many workshops in Gdansk, but Poland was divided between Russia and Germany in 1790 and the workshops closed down. There was a massive change in 1989, when Poland was reunited. More workshops opened, and numbers grew from 600 to over 6000.
Andy showed slides of some inclusions, a major street in Gdansk, where traders displayed their goods in glass cabinets, not under lock and key, and a beautiful, unfinished reredos (an ornamental screen covering the wall at the back of an altar) in St. Bridget’s church, made of amber.
After questions, Andy invited us to look at beautiful items of jewellery he had brought, made by his sister, with amber brought from Poland and set in silver. Andy was thanked by Bridget for his very interesting and informative talk.