Alabaster, True alabaster is a soft, fine-grained form of gypsum (calcium sulfate) that is easily carved. It is slightly translucent and its color usually ranges from white to pink, although other colors sometimes occur. Alabaster is used to make statues, vases, lamp bases, jewel boxes, and other ornamental objects. These objects can be made as hard as marble by being subjected to intense heat. The ancient Assyrians used alabaster to make statues and to decorate temple interiors. Alabaster quarries are found in many parts of Europe. The alabaster mined near Florence, Italy, is especially pure and fine-grained. Italian alabaster is sometimes called Florentine marble.
When alabaster is used as an adjective, it refers to something (not necessarily alabaster) with a nearly white color and a light-diffusing surface, as in the words from the hymn America, the Beautiful: Thine alabaster cities gleam. . .
The term alabaster is also used to designate a substance that resembles true alabaster but is actually a fine-grained form of calcite. Calcite alabaster, often called oriental alabaster or onyx marble, is a calcium carbonate found in the stalagmites and stalactites of caves. It is a translucent, milky-white or yellow substance, and (like onyx) is sometimes streaked with light and dark bands. Quarries are found in Egypt, Algeria, Iran, Mexico, and the United States.
Oriental alabaster has long been used for ornamental purposes. The ancient Greeks and Romans made vases, statues, ointment boxes, and even columns out of this substance, and many examples are preserved in art museums. Egypt was famous for its oriental alabaster, and the tombs of wealthy Egyptians were often made of this material. The alabaster mentioned in several places in the New Testament (for example, see Matthew 26:7) is oriental alabaster.