holystone n : a soft sandstone used for scrubbing the decks of a ship v : scrub with a holystone; "holystone the ship's deck"
Usage notesSmaller blocks for awkward places are prayer books.
Holystone is a soft and brittle sandstone that was formerly used for scouring and whitening the wooden decks of ships. It was used in the British and American Navy for scrubbing the decks of sailing ships.
The term may have come from the fact that 'holystoning the deck' was traditionally done on one's knees, as in prayer.
According to one source holystoning was banned in the US Navy in 1931 as it wore down the decks (and with the demise of teak decked battleships became unnecessary). However, a photo on the US Navy's Navsource photo archive of the USS Missouri) purports to show Navy Midshipmen holystoning the deck of the USS Missouri in 1951 (albeit in a standing position) A Time Magazine article (June 8, 1931) discusses the end of holystoning (archive article (fee) ) in the US Navy.
John Huston's 1956 film Moby Dick, and most recently Peter Weir's 2003 film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, shows sailors scrubbing the deck with holystones. Holystoning is referenced in Richard Henry Dana's diary, the 1840 classic Two Years Before the Mast in what he calls the "Philadelphia Catechism":
- “Six days shalt thou labor and do all thou art able,
- And on the seventh—holystone the decks and scrape the cable.”
It was not generally done on the knees but with a stick resting in a depression in the flat side of the stone and held under the arm and and in the hands and moved back and forth with grain on each plank while standing - or sort of leaning over to put pressure on the stick driven stone.
The size and shape of the stones was 'bible-sized' and that is one of the legends as to why it was holy stone.
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