Symbol of the Month – The Final Curtain

Full view of the impressive Raikes headstone, West Norwood Cemetery/
©Carole Tyrrell

The theatre is dark, the audience and backstage staff have all gone home or off to the pub and the final curtain has been brought down. The end of a show, the end of the evening and, in funerary symbolism, the end of a life.

This fine example is from West Norwood Cemetery where it commemorates the Raikes family.  Theatre was in their blood and so the sculpture of a theatrical curtain is very appropriate.

But curtains and draperies have always been associated with death and remembrance.  There is the old saying which is sometimes quoted on headstones and memorials that the deceased has ‘gone beyond the veil’.  An urn on top of a memorial will often have a sculpted piece of cloth draped across it which indicates the division between the living world and the realm of the dead.

In the 19th century and also well into the 20th century drapes were hung over mirrors with curtains and blinds drawn down at windows during the period of mourning. It was as if they were hiding death from the world or containing it within the family. On the Friends of Oak Grove Cemetery website they mention mirrors being covered with black crepe fabric in order to prevent the deceased’s spirit being trapped in the looking glass.

Parted curtains on a headstone to display a downturned dove and epitaph in the centre, Nunhead Cemetery
©Carole Tyrrell

Curtains also feature on headstones where they are depicted as parted in order to display a meaningful symbol or to draw attention to an epitaph that takes centre stage.  This example comes from Nunhead Cemetery where the curtains are parted to display a downturned dove which is a symbol of The Holy Ghost.

However the Raikes one is very obviously a theatrical curtain and it’s beautifully detailed.  They were powerful players in that flamboyant world and the curtain is a direct reference to this. For example, in 1889, they had Sir Edward Elgar and his new wife, Caroline, as guests in their house, Northlands in College Road, Dulwich.  This was just prior to his Salut D’Amour being performed at the Crystal Palace.

But the family home had a secret in its basement. This was where Charles Raikes (1879-1945) had constructed his own private theatre.  He lived there with his mother, Vera, (1858-1942) and two sons, Raymond and Roynon, from his former marriage. Roynon’s wife, Greta, and their daughter Gretha were also part of the household. Charles lived and breathed theatre and he was ahead of his time when he converted a large billiard room into the Northlands Private Theatre. Nowadays it would be a lavish home cinema with comfy seats and popcorn on tap with his own home movies onscreen.  He extended his pride and joy by removing a couple of inconvenient bay windows and then converting a coal cellar and wine cellar into dressing rooms. He was a talented scenic artist and stage carpenter and from 1924 – 1939 the Theatre put on nearly 23 productions a year to an invited audience. This was made up of the Raikes’ friends and relations and the actors and actresses friends as well. The lavish after show parties were renowned.

Charles’ sons continued the links to the entertainment world.  Raymond (1910-1998) became a professional actor in the 1930’s and played Laertes to Donald Wolfit’s Hamlet at Stratford upon Avon.

Raymond Raikes taken in 1945
Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

However he eventually became a BBC producer, director and broadcaster. He won several awards over a long career which included pioneering the use of stereo sound in radio drama.  In 1975 he retired and is known as one of the three greatest radio drama producers. Roynon became a professional photographer specialising in theatre pictures and also as a stills photographer for the BBC. Greta, his wife, became a theatrical costumier and drama teacher and her daughter, Gretha, in turn became a speech and drama teacher. In a 1997 Dulwich Society article she was also credited with being the curator of the archives of the Northlands Private Theatre.

View of the curtains and the quote from the Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam, Raikes headstone, West Norwood cemetery.
©Carole Tyrrell

The quotation below the curtain is from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.  It comes from the 21st, 22nd  or 23rd stanza depending on which version you read.   This is the verse in full and is taken from the 1859 translation by Edward Fitzgerald

Lo! some we loved, the loveliest and best

That Time and Fate of all their Vintage prest,

Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before,

And one by one crept silently to Rest.

 

He saw them as a selection of quatrains or Rubaiyats that had been attributed to the Persian poet who was also known as the Astronomer Poet of Persia.  Although Fitzgerald’s translation was initially unsuccessful, by the 1880’s, it had become immensely popular.  It has influenced many creative people over the years including the Pre-Raphaelites and especially Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Oscar Wilde was also a fan and mentions ‘wise Omar’ in The Picture of Dorian Gray.   Agatha Christie, Isaac Asimov, H P Lovecraft and Daphne Du Maurier are amongst many who may have borrowed a line a s a book title or used an Omar like figure within their works.  Interpretations of the Rubaiyat can be very free and as a result the quatrains can change their wording.  The underlying message of the Rubaiyat appears to be Seize the Day or Carpe Diem in Latin.  There are also several references to drinking with the implication that once drinking is over so is life.   But this particular line seems appropriate for its use on a headstone.

And so the curtain has bene brought down on the Raikes family but, as I took my photos, I thought I detected a faint smell of greasepaint and the appreciative sound of applause……

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading:

 https://aeon.co/ideas/how-the-rubaiyat-of-omar-khayyam-inspired

 sleepinggardens.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/fridays-funerarysymbols

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubaiyat_of_Omar_Khayyam

schoolworkhelper.net

https://artofmourning.com/2010/11/14/symbolism-sunday-drapery/

Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám Summary – eNotes.com

https://www.enotes.com/topics/rubaiyatomarkhayyam

https://dulwichsociety.com/2017-winter/1578-brief-encounter

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_Raikes

www.suttonelms.org.uk/raymond-raikes.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubaiyat_of_Omar_Khayyam

 

 

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Wildflowers and wild animals – a spring saunter through West Norwood Cemetery

A lovely display of tulips along path.
©Carole Tyrrell

Nature has decided to burst forth now that the sun’s out and suddenly everything’s out at once.     West Norwood Cemetery basked in a warm glow and its two terracotta mausoleums; the Doulton and the Tate,  seemed to be glowing.  I walked along the path from the entrance towards Ship Path and realised again how beautiful a cemetery can be in spring as new life appears amongst death.

I admired the groups of brightly coloured red and yellow tulips as they gracefully lifted their cups to the sun as in homage and a perennial Spring flower, garlic mustard, clustered around the base of a hedge around a memorial.  I’ve seen plenty of it already this year and wondered if it was an omen of future weather.

A queen wasp flew indecisively above one group of primroses as if unable to choose which one to land on and so evaded my camera. A Queen wasp is one of the 7 signs of Spring as they awake from their winter slumber. Multi-coloured carpets of primroses were everywhere between monuments and memorials and butterflies were on the wing obeying the imperative being to mate.

Orange Tips, Holly Blues and the odd Brimstone, the first butterflies of the year, impressed me with their speed and acrobatics.   One Holly Blue dived under a spreading rug of plants that covered last year’s forgotten or discarded horse chestnuts and dead leaves.    There has been a lot of clearing going on in West Norwood and it was like rediscovering it again as I found memorials and monuments that I had never previously seen as they’d been hidden under ivy, brambles and other vegetation. The clearances have made it much easier to get to the back of Captain Wimble’s exuberant and magnificent tomb to admire the still crisp carving of one the ships on which he sailed. But more about him and his indomitable wife in a later posting.  It is the reason that the grass path that runs past it is named, strangely enough, Ship Path.

Captain Wimble’s magnificent tomb – you’d never guess that he was a nautical man would you? It’s a shame that the stone model of a ship has lost its mast but there are carvings of 3 of the ships in which he sailed around the monument’s sides.
©Carole Tyrrell

In one clearing two drifts of wood anemones stood proud and nearby was a large patch of lesser celandine – another Spring time flower.  I’ve also seen so much of it this year and again is it an omen of a hard winter to come or a hot summer….

Another view of the wood anemones as they looked so impressive against the background of dead leaves.
©Carole Tyrrell

A flash of russet behind a group of headstones caught my attention and I saw an adult fox selecting a good place in a patch of foliage as his mattress in which to have an afternoon kip. After he tucked himself in he then spotted me and got to his paws and limped off with difficulty.  He appeared to have a bad problem with one of his front paws and I felt guilty for having disturbed him.

There is a part of West Norwood Cemetery which backs onto a small row of houses and so the occupants household pets, cats,  come into explore.  There’s often a good selection of them on a sunny afternoon; using the cemetery as an extension of their garden while checking each other out, going on the hunt or as their playground.  After having disturbed the fox, I caught sight of a fluffy back and white cat on his rounds trotting along a grass path.  I tried to keep a discreet distance as he passed Mrs Beeton’s modest memorial and the top of Ship Path.  However, as I galumped along, he began to pick up speed.  He trotted, more quickly now, across the main path in front of the catacombs and then leapt gracefully onto the wall above them. He looked back as if to say ‘Too late!’ and then vanished over it.

Nervous cat by railings – I tried not to come too close.
©Carole Tyrrell

A grey cat near the houses was quite timid and I didn’t want to come too close and frighten him away completely. I took a couple of photos from as close as I dared and moved on.

So many dandelions this year and there was a fine spread of them in between memorials. After all the recent murky weather it was encouraging to see their bright splashes of colour.

Bluebells, at their most effective when in great drifts in woodland, were clinging together in a patch opposite the crematorium.  It was just as if Mother Nature had brought everything into bloom at the same time instead of one after the other.

As I ate my lunch whilst admiring the crimson blossom on a tree nearby I could hear an old lawnmower in the distance.    As I got up and came around to explore another large cleared area I saw a descendant of the Doulton family mowing the grass around the mausoleum.  Terracotta always looks at its best in the sunshine and today it looked almost on fire.

 

A small statue of a praying child was almost being enveloped by lesser celandine and there’s been plenty of it everywhere I went this year,

Child angel statue surrounded by copious lesser celandine – it’s been everywhere this Spring – a hard winter or a good summer? We shall see.
©Carole Tyrrell

I descended from the columbarium admiring the speed of butterflies as they whizzed around tantalizingly out of reach of my camera.  It was then that I encountered the fox again. He lay draped over a grave like a fur stole and raised his head as I passed.

The fox again! Still trying to have an afternoon nap.
©Carole Tyrrell

A cuckoo flower was half hidden in the long grass near another glorious display of brilliantly coloured tulips.

As I walked I thought how lucky I was in to be in this oasis with the busy world kept at bay outside its magnificent Gothic gates.    I passed the Stonehenge inspired monument to John Britton which still looks as if it’s just landed from the opening scenes of 2001 and then to one of my favourite memorials in West Norwood or maybe any cemetery.

It’s a real gem and is the unashamedly Art Nouveau headstone dedicated to Amelia McKeown.  Its modest size and poignant dedication have always impressed me and the primroses beneath it emphasised its deep blue colouring.  This had been a chance discovery a few years ago when the main entrance had been closed for building works and visitors had had to enter via a side gate. Sometimes the road less travelled can bring the unexpected to your notice.

As I left the cemetery, feeling that I’d had almost a Spring walk in the countryside with some attractive monuments, I noticed the Unknown Mourner still grieving in a rose garden.  The elderly lawnmower and the sparse cars of visitors were behind me and I was back out onto the slow moving traffic of Knights Hill and Norwood High Street again. I nearly turned round and went back in again…….

 

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

First churchyard butterfly of 2018!

The first Comma butterfly of 2018!

Seen in St George’s churchyard Beckenham on 14 April 2018 as it obligingly posed on a headstone.

Butterflies love churchyards and cemeteries as there’s often plenty of undisturbed wild flowers and long grass for them to feed on. And this was the first really warm day in ages!

©Carole Tyrrell text an dphotos

Symbol of the Month – The Celtic Cross

The Surrey Celtic Cross Brompton Cemetery
©Carole Tyrrell

Stylised animals, sinuous snakes, Celtic knots and traditional strapwork, flowers, angels and even a cat! The decoration on Celtic crosses within cemeteries can be varied and interesting. But it wasn’t until I was exploring Brompton Cemetery with an apps designer that I really began to look at them more closely. He spotted the Viking style animals on Margaret Stevenson’s cross near the Chapel and we were soon seeing spirals and the more emblematic strapwork known as Hiberno-Saxon art or Insular art amongst others.

Celtic Crosses first appeared within cemeteries during the Celtic Revival of the 1850’s and it has since become a worldwide emblem of Irish identity.  The Revival has also been described as the Celtic Twilight and the Cross is seen as its lasting contribution to the western world’s funerary art.  The Celtic Cross has been known in Ireland since the 9th century and in mainland Britain since medieval times.

It’s a form of the traditional cross but with the addition of a nimbus or ring.  The latter is seen as a symbol of eternity as it has no beginning or end. The addition of the nimbus has been attributed to St Patrick who is reputed to have added it to a Christian cross, extended one of the of the lengths to form the stem and then placed it on top of a stepped base. It was this combination of a pagan symbol and a Christian one that became the Celtic Cross. It has also been described as the ‘sun cross’ by those who interpret the nimbus ring as a representation of the sun. The four arms have also been interpreted as representations of the four elements; air, earth, fire and water as well as the stages of the day or the four fixed compass directions.

The more traditional, intricately patterned bands known as strapwork are known for the unbroken lines that make up any piece.  There have been 8 basic designs that have been identified and claimed to be the basis of nearly all of the interlaced patterns in Celtic decorative art. Hiberno-Saxon art is also known as Insular art and examples appear in the Books of Kells. Here are four examples from West Norwood Cemetery.

It was in Brompton that I noticed two examples with single spirals on them. A spiral on a Celtic cross is generally drawn clockwise to represent either the sun or the direction of running water.

Detail of spiral on Celtic cross in Brompton Cemetery, Sadly the epitaph is now illegible.
©Carole Tyrrell

It is one of the most ancient symbols known to mankind.   A double spiral is more difficult to create and has been seen as a depiction of universal balance such as yin and yang or night and day.  The triple spiral or triskele is the most difficult for obvious reasons and has several meanings attributed to it. But the one that I thought was the most appropriate in a funerary context was the triskele being seen as a representation of three worlds: the spiritual, the earthly and the celestial.  The word Triskele is reputed to have come from the Greeks and it’s one of the most complex Celtic symbols.

 

Also in Brompton, I discovered a Celtic cross with decoration that ended in snakes heads which is interesting as snakes which were revered by the Celts. They saw them as a representation of rebirth as they shed their skins and then live again.  Notice also the Celtic knot in the centre of them.  These have been found in Scandinavia and Western Europe as well as appearing within Celtic insular art. They are supposed to represent eternity or the never ending cycle of life with the closed ends signifying unity.

A Celtic knot with snakes entwined around it from Brompton Cemetery.
©Carole Tyrrell

 

Stylised Viking inspired animals and a Celtic knot on a Celtic Cross.
©Carole Tyrrell

So the next time you visit a cemetery or churchyard look out for the Celtic Cross and see what you find. It’s not only Celtic inspired decoration that appears on them. These two examples are from my local churchyard – one features traditional strapwork and the other has a lovely and unusual angel with beautifully carved feathery wings and the nimbus is almost like a halo.

 

This is the Mills memorial from Nunhead Cemetery and features beautifully carved passionflowers, a deeply significant symbol in the language of flowers, and also the IHS in the centre of the cross.

This lovely example is the Mills memorial from Nunhead Cemetery. It features beeautifully carved passionflowers and IHS at the centre of thet nimbus.
©Carole Tyrrell

 

And finally, again from Brompton, one with a cat in its centre which is possibly a pun on the name of the family commemorated – Cattenach.

The Cattanach Celtic Cross from Brompton Cemetery. A probably pun on the surname with the cat at the centre of the nimbus.
©Carole Tyrrell

©text and photos Carole Tyrrell

 

Further reading and references

 

https://www.claddaghdesign.com/history/celtic-symbols-what-they-mean/

http://ireland-calling.com/celtic-symbol-spiral/

https://www.ringsfromireland.com/Article/67/Celtic-Crosses

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celtic_cross

https://www.myirishjeweler.com/uk/blog/irish-celtic-cross-history

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celtic_knot

https://www.gotquestions.org/Celtic-cross.html

http://irishfireside.com/2015/02/03/history-symbolism-celtic-cross/

 

Downturned torches, a garland of roses and a pair of Aladdin lamps – creating a Symbols app in Brompton Cemetery

Closer view of the small boat on the Mccaig monument.
©Carole Tyrrell

It was a, shall we say, bracing February day in Brompton Cemetery.  The snowdrops were clinging together for warmth along the main avenue and a drift of daffodils near the soon to be completed café thought better of coming out in bloom. But I, and the apps designer, local GP Simon Edwards, didn’t let this spoil our fun.  We had previously worked with together on the Brompton animals app and it was good to have another pair of eyes with me.

Our aim was to devise an app that gave a good selection of symbols within the cemetery, both common ones that can also be found in other cemeteries and others that were perhaps unique to Brompton. There would be a brief comment on each one by yours truly and there was also the opportunity to see me in person. You’ll have to make up your own mind about whether I’m attempting fruitlessly to hide behind a Celtic Cross or draping myself elegantly around it.

Brompton opened in 1840 and, due to the 19th century anti-Papist movement. crosses, Christ statues or angels were not popular. Instead other cultures and civilisations and other older cultures and influences were used as inspiration.  These included Classicism from ancient Greece and Rome, the Celtic and Egyptian Revivals, Biblical quotations and references, the language of flowers as well as animals and insects.

Stylised Viking inspired animals and a Celtic knot on a Celtic Cross.
©Carole Tyrrell

Simon was also looking for additional images for the Brompton animals app and soon found a group at the top of the Stevenson Celtic cross. These are supposedly based on Viking animal images but although, when we looked more closely, it was difficult to make out exactly what kind of animals they were.  Brompton’s Celtic crosses are very interesting due to the variety of decoration on them from spirals, traditional Celtic strapwork, flowers and even a cat.  I will be writing about them in next month’s Symbol of the Month.

But soon we were exploring the alpha and omega, the Chi Rho, shaking hands, downturned torches, and flowers amongst others.

Among Brompton’s more unusual symbols are the two Aladdin style lamps on the Cornwell headstone, the polar and cub on the Hills one in the modern burials section and the small stone boat tied up at the base of the cross on the McCaig monument.

So if you feel like taking a self guided Symbols tour around Brompton Cemetery then please click on this link:

https://ticl.me/West-Brompton/headlines/13447/view

Have fun and let us know what you think of it!

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

It’s behind you! – The Doom painting of Chaldon Church

The priest’s sermon has made you feel a little drowsy as you sit in your pew.  Then, as your eyelids begin to droop, suddenly you can smell burning and hear crackling flames….faint screams as well and devilish chuckling interspersed with angels singing…..there’s a sudden warmth behind your back and when you turn around, you’re confronted with gleeful demons faces on the whitewashed wall. Is one turning round and beckoning to you? Instantly you’re wide awake again with a nudge from your mother to sit up straight and you turn to face the priest again. But you can still hear the flames and the laughter…..

Chaldon’s Doom painting, or mural as the church prefers to call it, is reputed to be the oldest in England and has been dated to at least the 12th century.  It’s believed to be the work of an anonymous artist monk.    Until the 17th century it taught the local parishioners which was the right path to follow if you wanted to be going upwards to eternal bliss instead of down to hell for endless torment. The mural’s  official title, according to the church’s website  is The Purgatorial Ladder, or Ladder of Souls, with the Seven Deadly Sins.  However tastes and doctrines change and after the Reformation many of England’s Dooms were whitewashed over.  It was felt by zealous reformers that they didn’t follow strict Bible doctrine and were also considered to be ‘Popish’.

But Dooms have a habit of re-surfacing and so it was with the Chaldon Doom.  In 1869, the then Rector, Reverend Henry Shepherd was having the church walls prepared for whitewashing when he suddenly noticed signs of colour and halted the work. The mural was then cleaned and preserved.  There was a further conservation in 1989 by the Conservator and Director of the Canterbury Wall Paintings Workshop.

According to the painted church website, Dooms were the most commonly painted subject in the Middle Ages. Dooms were often placed on a church’s west wall as a reminder to parishioners as they were leaving the church.  But, as at Chaldon, they were also on the back wall or at the front on the chancel arch as at St Thomas’s Salisbury.  The Chaldon mural has the disturbing effect of constantly looking over your shoulder when you turn your back on it…..

The Chaldon Doom is large and measures 17ft x 11ft and stands out against the plain white washed walls. It’s painted entirely in red whereas other Dooms are in full colour. However it’s the only image in England of the Ladder of Salvation although it’s common in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. It’s behind the pews and would have been a constant reminder to the parishioners to be thinking of the afterlife.   A medieval congregation would have been illiterate and the Doom would have resembled a picture book or public information film on what could happen to sinners in eternity. They needed to prepare for the Final Judgement and, due to a shorter lifespan, the afterlife was much more to the forefront of the medieval mind than ours. A Doom is a traditional English term for a pictorial rendition of the Last Judgement or Doomsday which is the moment when Christ decides the eternal destination of human souls.  This is because the Church was very concerned with how to portray the afterlife in a visual way that could be easily understood.  After all a picture is worth a 1000 words…

There are roughly 40 surviving Dooms in Britain but in the 1880’s over 100 were recorded. They can often combine several themes: the parable of the sheep and the goats, assorted Biblical prophecies and other medieval traditions.  The Chaldon mural uses the Seven Deadly Sins.

There’s only two choices for the dead as they arise from their graves to go up to Heaven and sitting around on clouds playing harps or down to Hell and the eternal flames.  However Purgatory was also uppermost in the medieval mind as people believed that, prior to going to Heaven, a soul would have to spend time there before going up to Heaven. Chaldon’s Ladder represents Purgatory.

To interpret the Chaldon Doom and its crowded canvas you need to begin at the lower right of the painting and look for the serpent in the tree of life which is a metaphor for the fall of man.  This is a rough guide from a Chaldon church pamphlet and imagine the priest using it to preach to his flock:

Detail of Chaldon Doom showing the bridge of spikes over which dishonest tradesmen have to walk over with a moneylender sitting in flames with Envy and Lust on either side of him.
©Carole Tyrrell

Two demons hold up a bridge of spikes over which dishonest tradesmen have to cross. These include a blacksmith, spinner, potter and mason who are all missing essential tools. The cheating milkman is about to climb the ladder with a brimming bowl of milk due to having given short measure in life.

Then we come onto the 7 Deadly Sins:

Avarice: A moneylender sits in flames as two demons hold him upright. He’s blind and money pours from his mouth. He has to count it all as it flows into his pouch.

Envy: There are two figures on the right hand side of the moneylender.  One of them has longer hair than the other.

Lust: On the moneylender’s left hand side are two figures embracing.

On the left hand side of the ladder a demon plucks souls from the ladder of salvation.

Pride: A woman is beside a demon as a devil wolf gnaws at her hands.  This could indicate either pride in her hands or that she fed her pets too well in life while ignoring the starving.

Anger: Above the woman two figures fight over a hunting horn.   Two demons throw what are considered to be murderers into a cauldron.

Detail of Chaldon Mural. Glottony clutching hi bottle of wine.
©Anne Mitchell. Used without permission

Gluttony: A drunken pilgrim lies at the feet of a demon.  He’s sold his cloak or badge of office in order to buy wine.

Sloth: At the far left 3 women dawdle.

A cloud bisects the picture to form a cross and the foot of the Ladder is the symbol of life.  The Archangel Michael is weighing the good and bad deeds as the Devil slyly has a hand on the scales trying to weigh it down with bad deeds as he holds a rope dragging souls to hell.   A penitent tries to point out to St Michael what the Devil is up to.  The 3 Marys are being led to Heaven by an angel as another one above them helps a remorseful thief ascend to the Pearly Gates.

Detail of Chadon Mural. The Weighing of the Souls. Three naked women walk towards the Ladder as an angel points the way.
©Anne Mitchell. Used without permission

Elijah and Enoch are also going upwards to bliss on the right of the ladder as an angel holds up a scroll of their good deeds.   Above them another of the heavenly host hold up a scroll which says ‘open ye the gates that the righteous may enter.’

Detail of Chaldon mural. Supposedly based on the Harrowing of Hell as Satan lies on top of a huge worm like creature and an angel tranfixes him with a banner/ Redeemed souls climb the Ladder as another angel helps one climb.
©Anne Mitchell. Used without permission

On the far right the Lord is mesmerizing the Devil with his cross while welcoming Old Testament characters into Heaven and finally above the ladder is the demi figure of Christ in the act of benediction.

He has the sun on his right hand side and the moon on the left.

 

For a fuller explanation I can recommend: http://www.paintedchurch.org/chaldon.htm

 

Chaldon church is near Coulsdon in Surrey and its correct name is St Peters & St Pauls.

View of Chadon church, Surrey.
©Carole Tyrrell

It’s a lovely picture, postcard church with a candle snuffer tower but it’s in the middle of nowhere except for a scattering of nearby houses. There’s no village attached to it and it’s on the notorious Ditches Lane which leads off Farthing Downs.    This can be a lonely road for walkers as there are no houses along it until you reach the church.  Chaldon church is rumoured to have been built on a pagan site and there has been a church here since 1086 AD.  Its foundations have been dated back to 727AD.   I find it strange that such a magnificent and dramatic mural was located in such an out of the way place.  It really took me by surprise when I first saw it as it’s so in your face. But as I turned away from it I thought I heard devilish sniggering and wondered what it must have look like under flickering candlelight.

There are other Doom paintings to be seen in England and these are:

South Leigh, Checkendon and Coombe – Oxfordshire

Wenhaston, Sufoollk

Dauntsey, Wilts

Patcham, Sussex

Penn, Bucks

Oddington, Glos

Symington, Beds

Lutterworth, Leics

Stratford upon Avon, Worcs (this is in glass)

York Minster  (a crypt carving)

St Thomas’s church, Salisbury

I have seen the one in Salisbury and was really impressed. It’s in full colour and is over the chancel arch to greet worshippers.  Christ sits on a rainbow at the centre of the chancel arch with the godly rising from their graves with angels whereas on the left the sinners are being helped by demons to go down below. This again was whitewashed over and then re appeared. Here are a small selection of images from it:

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

Reference and further reading

Dooms with a  View, Cathy Howard, FONC News Summer 2007

Chaldon Church mural leaflet

Restoration Village, Philip Wilkinson, English Heritage, 2006

Restoration Village, Philip Wilkinson, English Heritage, 2006

http://www.stthomassalisbury.co.uk/documents/history-heritage/9-the-doom-painting-guide/file

http://www.paintedchurch.org/doomcon.htm

http://www.paintedchurch.org/sleig7ds.htm – South Leigh Oxfordshire 7 Deadly Sins

http://oxoniensia.org/volumes/1972/long.pdf – overview of medieval wall paintings in Oxfordshire including Dooms

http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/suffolk/suffolk_three/wenhaston/index.html

http://www.paintedchurch.org/dauntdoo.htm

http://www.allsaintspatcham.org.uk/page9.html

http://www.medievalchurchart.com/2017/10/the-penn-doom-buckinghamshire.html

http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/cotswolds/gloucestershire/gloucestershire_two/lower_oddington/index.html

http://www.paintedchurch.org/mmoret1.htm – Marston Moretaine, Beds

https://www.leicestershirechurches.co.uk/lutterworth-church-st-marys/

https://www.stratfordguildchapel-friends.org.uk/the-wall-paintings

http://www.mondes-normands.caen.fr/angleterre/archeo/Angleterre/sculpture/doomstone.htm

https://www.quora.com/What-were-medieval-doom-paintings-and-what-were-they-used-for-What-is-their-importance

http://www.paintedchurch.org/doomcon.htm

http://www.lazerhorse.org/2014/06/08/medieval-doom-paintings/#

http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/cambridgeshire/hi/people_and_places/religion_and_ethics/newsid_8605000/8605860.stm

 

 

 

 

 

Symbol of the Month   – The Cadaver tomb

Full length view of John Benet’s cadaver tomb.
©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

This month’s symbol is a cadaver or pardon tomb from St Mary’s in Bury St Edmunds.  These medieval tombs  were an extremely visual  way of reminding everyone that, despite what you had achieved during life, death would make you equal with all men.

It was as I stood in St Mary’s church, Bury St Edmunds after having  admired its magnificent hammerbeam with lifesize angels pinned to it like exotic butterflies that I saw John Benet’s tomb resting against a side wall.

I’d seen two, somewhat worn, cadaver tombs in Winchester Cathedral but not one so close up and so well carved. Even now it’s still crisp and detailed but due to its current location it was difficult to take a full length photo. The tomb depicts John Benet lying on his back as a lifesize corpse with a shroud or towel protecting his modesty.

Another full length from the feet up of Benet’s cadaver tomb with the modesty cloth.
©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

Although St Mary’s guidebook describes Benet’s tomb as a Pardon tomb, they are more often known as a transi or cadaver tomb.  This definition comes from Wikipedia who describe a transi or cadaver tomb, as a ‘memento mori’.  This is Latin for ‘remember you will die’ and a reminder of the inevitability of death.  Wiki goes onto add that this type of tomb is in the form of:

‘…a type of gisant or recumbent effigy tomb featuring an effigy in the macabre form of a decomposing corpse…’

This type of tomb is particularly associated with the Middle Ages which is roughly when Benet’s tomb was created and I’ve always known them as cadaver tombs. However, they’re not always in the form of a decomposing corpse as they can also be in the form of skeletons or the body of the deceased wrapped in a shroud. I am indebted to the flickeringlamps blog which featured transi tombs in the form of ‘double-deckers’.  This is where the top layer of the tomb portrays the gisant of the deceased as they were when alive and then below on the bottom layer as a decomposing corpse.  This is an extremely visual reminder of what the person once was and what they will inevitably become as earthly glory is fleeting and all must die.

Cadaver tombs can be found in several UK cathedrals and parish churches. The earliest surviving one is in Lincoln Cathedral and is dedicated to Richard Fleming. It dates from the 1430’s.  St Pauls’ cathedral has a later example from the 17th century which commemorates the poet John Donne.  Cadaver tombs are also known in Europe and particularly in Italy, France. Germany and the Netherlands.

But who was John Benet?

According to St Mary’s guidebook, John Benet was a medieval cloth trader and one of St Mary’s most important benefactors.  He financed the very ceiling that I’d been admiring and also his own private chancel chapel and tomb. Within his lifetime, Bury St Edmunds was a thriving town built on the local wool trade.  This led to the creation of a rising merchant class who were able to use their money to leave a lasting memorial to themselves in their local church as proof of their good and pious life.  Surely admittance to the Pearly Gates would be assured if you provided your church with some embellishments…. After they couldn’t take it with them but they could definitely prove that they’d had it while alive….

John Benet was a rich and powerful man within his local town  which is why he was able to afford to have a cadaver tomb made for him and one that was so well sculpted.   It originally lay in his own private chapel.  This has now gone but if you look up you can still see its glittering ceiling  which was restored in 1968.   You may just be fortunate enough to see the light glisten on the tiny pieces of concave mirror glass inserted into the gold stars to give the illusion of real stars twinkling.  Benet’s motto, ‘Grace me Governe’, his initials, coat of arms and SS collar are also part of the intricate decoration.  The latter, again from St Mary’s guidebook:

’….was a gift from the Lancastrian kings in recognition of a special or personal services.  It was in the form of a collar or chain in which the letter ‘S’ was engraved.  The letter ‘S’  which presumably stood for ‘Sovereign.’

The restored ceiling of what once was the ceiling of John Benet’s private chapel.
©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

So Benet moved in high circles and wasn’t afraid to shout about it for all eternity.

There are Latin prayers on the ceiling’s edges which include ‘Pray for the soul of John Benet, ‘Let us praise the Lord gloriously’, Alleluia, Honour and glory to the only God.’, ‘My soul shall delight in the Lord’, ‘Seek only the highest’ and finally ‘May the pure Virgin Mary bless us with issue.’  Benet was not a man who stinted where his soul was concerned.

The tomb has moved around the church interior several times. But not of its own volition as far as I know. It has been surmised that the effigy of him portrayed as a decaying corpse was made during his lifetime.

Now there’s an  interior design feature for you…it would have been intended as a constant reminder of his own inevitable death and the need to make preparations for the afterlife. It’s in remarkable condition and is the best one that I’ve seen.  It may have been created in the  nearby Abbey’s master mason’s workshops.  This seems very likely given Benet’s powerful connections and the quality of the carving would also confirm this.

Originally he was positioned with his feet facing the east but, in 1884, the tomb was turned around so that the side inscription could be read.  In this, Benet’s motto is carved and a small figure of himself is in the middle of it, dressed in his finest clothes, and holding up the word ‘Me’.  Under one hand of the decaying corpse are the words:

‘He that will sadly beholde me with his ie, May he hyd own mirrour (and) lerne for to die. ‘

Full length view of John Benet’s cadaver tomb.
©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

 A lifesize memento mori if you will. The guidebook, however, describes it as a Pardon Grave’ which isn’t a term that I’ve heard before. It’s meant to indicate that the person who was being commemorated has obtained a pardon or remission from purgatory.  Benet had also left instructions for his papal pardon to be displayed near his tomb for all to see.  I had the impression that Mr Benet was a bit of a show-off but if you don’t blow your own trumpet…. I sincerely hope that all this piety and expense achieved its aim.

The cadaver tomb iconography is based on the medieval Dance of Death or Danse Macabre.

Nobleman & Physician from the Lubeck Totentanz courtesy of UT Southwestern

This depicted a long line of people from Emperors to Popes right down to a beggar, each of whom had death in the form of a skeleton at their shoulder. This was a reminder that Death made all men equal.   The first one was recorded in St Paul’s Cathedral and in Long Melford, Suffolk, according to St Mary’s guidebook, long cloths were displayed depicting ‘the dance of Pauls’

It’s amazing that this survived the Reformation and Cromwell’s wrecking crews and still sits in St Mary’s reminding visitors of their inevitable fate.   But Mr Benet has a further claim to fame as, in 2003, he was loaned out to the Victoria and Albert Museum as part of their ‘Gothic: Art of England’ exhibition. Apparently, during conservation, traces of flesh coloured paint were discovered on the figure which included red and green veins especially in the neck.  So try and imagine Mr Benet in his original colouring – it must have quite a sight to see.    I think that he’d be very proud that his tomb, the hammerbeam ceiling and also his chapel ceiling are still in St Mary’s for all to enjoy and remember him.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated. 

References and further reading: 

St Mary’s, Bury St Edmunds A guidebook, Clive Paine, Honey Hill Publishing 1986.

Metamorphosis of a Death Symbol’ The Transi Tomb in the Late Middle Ages an d the Renaissance, Kathleen Cohen (Berkeley: University of California Press) 1973

https://flickeringlamps.com/2015/01/03/a-most-macabre-tomb-in-lincoln-cathedral/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cadaver_tomb

 

 

 

Symbol of the Month – The Six Pointed Star

Another view of the 6 pointed star,Brompton Cemetery.
©Carole Tyrrell

 

This month’s symbol is one that I’ve always associated with the Jewish faith where it’s known as the Star of David. But when I spotted a prominent example in Brompton Cemetery which isn’t a Jewish Cemetery I wondered why it was on that particular monument.  But on a recent visit to St Mary’s church in Bury St Edmunds I saw a six pointes tar in the East window and read in the guidebook of its significance with Christianity.  The window was part of the 1844 restoration and is based on a  14th century example on the nearby Abbey Gate.

Six pointed star in St Mary’s church, Bury St Edmunds
©Carole Tyrrell

According to St Mary’s guidebook the star is an important Christian symbol as:

‘Jesus was descended from David and is the Messiah for both Jews and Gentiles, the star of David is an important Christian symbol.’

This may account for the apparently Hebrew looking writing in the centre of a six pointed start dating from the 14th century on a window in Winchester cathedral.  Another one in the same building, dating from the same period on a choirstall canopy, was recorded by Pevsner.

 

6 pointed star from stained glass window in Winchester Cathedral
©https://www.simonarich.com – used without permissionThe six pointed star is a geometric shape and is formed from the intersection of two equilateral triangles.  At the centre of the intersection is a regular hexagon.  In Greek it’s known as a hexagram and in Latin it’s called a sexagram.

In Christianity it’s known as the Creator’s Star or the Star of Creation. The six points are alleged to represent the six days of the Creation and also the six attributes of God. These are:

  • Power
  • Wisdom
  • Majesty
  • Love
  • Mercy
  • Justice

But the six pointed star is a universal symbol.  No-one is quite sure where or when it first appeared bit it’s known and revered throughout both Eastern and Western religions and faiths.  For example, in Buddhism it has been found in the Tibetan Book of the Dead and has been used as decoration on Masonic temples, In Freemasonry the star is seen as a representation of the male and female.  This is also an important element  in Hinduism as the combination of triangles are also seen as motifs of male and female and the star becomes an emblem of Creation and divine union.

 

There is a darker side to the six pointed star as, in Occultism, the star is a powerful symbol for conjuring up spirits and as a talisman.  In this the star is seen as representing the 4 elements:

 

  • Fire         –             upwards pointing triangle
  • Air           –             opposite upwards pointing triangle
  • Water     –             downwards pointing triangle
  • Earth      –             opposite triangle pointing downwards

 

But the Rastafarian faith also uses the Star of David or the Magen David as a central motif. Here it’s coloured either black or appears in the Rastafarian colours of red, green and gold.   This is because the Rastafarians believe that their leader, the late King of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, was a divine being.  He’s always been considered as being directly related to King Solomon’s father, King David, and therefore to Jesus.  This is based on a visit by the Queen of Sheba to the Israelite king, Solomon, as recorded in the Book of Kings 1 Kings 10 1:13. Rastafarians believe that during the visit they slept together and a child was born.  This child led to a direct line of descendants to Haile Selassie.

Although the Star of David is now seen as almost exclusively Jewish it wasn’t always so.  It is reputed to have originated in ancient Arabic Kabbalistic texts in which it was known as the Seal of Solomon and became the Star of David in the 17th century.   The Jews of Eastern Europe in the 19th century adopted it as a representation of their faith and Hitler used it as a badge to identify Jews during the Second World War. Today it is on the national flag of modern day Israel.

But what does it mean in funerary terms and why is it in this particular monument?   I looked more closely at the first epitaph beneath it.

The epitaph underneath the 6 pointed star – note Thomas Bower died.
©Carole Tyrrell

It was dedicated to a Thomas Henry Bowyer Bower, the son of Captain Thomas Bowyer Bower whose epitaph is lower down. Thomas died young, aged 24, at Port Palmerston, Darwin, Australia. I’m not sure if he’s actually buried there but, perhaps in this context, the star has been placed there as a symbol of the spirit that survives death. Over the centuries people have used the stars to guide their way and I thought that maybe the star was placed here as an eternal light guiding the deceased through the darkness back home again. Note the quotation on the epitaph from Deuteronomy 32.12,

‘The Lord alone shall lead him’

This  may be a reference to the to North or Pole Star which is traditionally associated with Jesus.

There is a downward pointing dove placed over the star which is a symbol of the Holy Ghost, part of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

6 pointed star on the Bower monument, Brompton Cemetery
©Carole Tyrrell

 

In the King James version of the Bible in Luke 3:22 :

‘And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.’

 I wondered if the last words of this biblical verse referred to the father and son relationship.

My own interpretation of the star and the dove is that it may have been a final goodbye from a father to a son who died far from home and wanting him to know how much he was loved.

©Carole Tyrrell text and photos unless otherwise stated.

 

References and further reading:

www.religionfacts.com/six-point-star

http://www.thecemeteryclub.com/symbols.html

http://www.gmct.com.au

https://stoneletters.com/blog/gravestone-symbols

http://religionfacts/six-point-star

http://star-of-david.blogspot.co.uk/2006/06/rastafarians.html

http://bbc.co.uk/religion/rastafari

http://symbolism.co/dove-symbolism.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_Spirit_in_Christianity

http://www.biblegateway.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wildlife in Cemeteries No 8 – the dark side of the Snowdrop

Snowdrops in St George’s churchyard, Beckenham.
©Carole Tyrrell

Imagine yourself in a gloomy medieval church on the festival of Candlemass. You, and your fellow parishioners, have each brought your candles to be blessed by the priest and, after the procession which will fill the church with light, they will all be placed in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary.   Candlemass marked the end of winter and the beginning of Spring and the blessing is to ward off evil spirits.  It traditionally falls on February 2 and is shared with the Celtic festival of Imbolc.  And in the churchyard outside you can see green shoots forcing their way up through the hard winter earth.  The snowdrop’s milk-white flowers show that spring is on its way as they begin to emerge into the light.

The placing of the lit candles in front of the Virgin Mary’s statue gave the snowdrop one of its many other names – Mary’s Tapers.  But there are many others such: Dingle Dangle, Candlemas Bells, Fair Maids of February, Snow Piercer, Death’s Flower and Corpse Flower.

Snowdrops, Brompton Cemetery, January 2018
©Carole Tyrrell

 

The snowdrop’s appearance has also inspired many comments . According to the Scottish Wildlife Trusts website they have been described as resembling 3 drops of milk hanging from a stem and they are also associated with the ear drop which is an old fashioned ear ring.  Anyone who has seen a group of snowdrops nodding in the wind will understand what they mean.   The snowdrop’s colour is associated with purity and they have been described as a shy flower with their drooping flowers.  However, the eco enchantments website reveals that the flower is designed in this way due:

‘to the necessity of their dusty pollen being kept dry and sweet in order to attract the few insects flying in winter.’

Snowdrops have been known since ancient times and, in 1597, appeared in Geralde’s ‘Great Herbal where they were called by the less than catchy name of ‘Timely Flowers Bulbous Violets’.  Its Latin name is Galanthus nivalis.  Galanthus means milk white flowers and the nivalis element translates as snowy according to the great botanist, Linnaeus in 1753.   In the language of flowers they’re associated with ‘Hope’ and the coming of spring and life reawakening.

However, yet despite all these positive associations, the elegant snowdrop has a much darker side. Monks were reputed to have brought them to the UK but it was the ever enthusiastic Victorians who copiously planted them in graveyards, churchyards and cemeteries which then linked them with death.  Hence the nickname name ‘Death’s Flower.’

They were described by Margaret Baker in the 1903 ‘Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore and the Occult of the World’ as:

‘so much like a corpse in a shroud that in some counties  the people will not have it in the house, lest they bring in death.‘

Snowdrops, St George’s Beckenham.
©Carole Tyrrell

So that’s where the ‘Corpse Flower’ nickname came from.

Snowdrops are also seen as Death’s Tokens and there are several regional folk traditions of connecting death with them. For example in the 19th and early 20th centuries it was considered very unlucky to bring the flower into the house from outside as it was felt that a death would soon occur.  The most unlucky snowdrop was that with a single bloom on its stem.    Other folk traditions were described in a 1913 folklore handbook which claims that if a snowdrop was brought indoors it will make the cows milk watery and affect the colour of the butter.  Even as late as 1969 in ‘The Folklore of Plants’  it was stated that having a snowdrop indoors could affect the number of eggs that a sitting chicken might hatch.  A very powerful plant if these are all to be believed – you have been warned!

It’s amazing that this little flower has so many associations and legends connected with it but I always see it as a harbinger of spring, rebirth and an indication of warmer days to come.

But the snowdrop also has a surprise.  This came courtesy of the Urban Countryman page on Facebook – not all social media is time wasting!  If you very gently turn over a snowdrop bloom you will find that the underside is even prettier and they also vary depending on the snowdrop variety.

Here is a small selection from my local churchyard and one from Kensal Green cemetery.

So don’t underestimate the snowdrop – it’s a plant associated with life and death but watch out for your hens and the colour of your butter if you do decide to tempt fate…..

 

©Carole Tyrrell text and photos unless otherwise stated

References:

http://www.plantlore.com

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/naturestudies/bright-in-winters-depths-why-the-flawless-flower-of-candlemas-is-ajoy-forever-8483967

http://www.flowermeaning.com/snowdrop-flower-meaning

http://www.ecoenchantments.co.uk/mysnowdropmagicpage.html

https://scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/2014/03/natures-death-tokens/

 

 

 

 

Visit a Beard That Killed Its Owner – St Stephan’s Church, Braunau am Inn, Austria

I am indebted to Atlas Obscura for this one. Enjoy and definitely one to put on your tourist itinerary if you’re ever down that way !

 

Visit a Beard That Killed Its Owner

Over 450 years later, Hans Steininger’s deadly facial hair is still on display.

BY ERIC GRUNDHAUSER JANUARY 26, 2018

Hans Steininger’s epitaph in Braunau am Inn.

Hans Steininger’s epitaph in Braunau am Inn. BENUTZER: M.M/PUBLIC DOMAIN

Among the epitaphs displayed on the side of St Stephan’s church  in the town of Braunau am Inn on the Austrian-German border, there is a large stone relief of a man with an unusually long beard stretching down past his feet. At first glance it might seem a bit outlandish, but it’s a fitting monument to an important man who was killed by his own facial hair.

The likeness is that of Hans Steininger, a 16th-century burgomaster (town mayor) of Braunau am Inn, who’s since become somewhat of a folk figure. Much about his life and role as a leader have not survived the centuries since his death, but his incredible beard, which is said to have been over four and a half feet long, looms large in the town’s cultural memory.

Steininger was a popular mayor, serving multiple terms, but in 1567, he met an ignominious end. On September 28 of that year, there was a large fire in the town that caused a general panic. Steininger usually kept his prodigious beard hair rolled up and stuffed in a pocket, but during the commotion he was running around with it hanging free. In the midst of the chaos, he managed to step on his own beard, sending him tumbling down a flight of stairs and breaking his neck. Killed by his own beard.

The full-body illustration at the church shows Steininger’s beard bifurcated into two scraggly strands, stretching down past his feet. And tucked away in the local district museum is the town’s most hirsute artifact: the 450-year-old beard of Steininger.

Steininger’s beard today. MARKUS METZ/CC BY-SA 3.0

 

After his death, Steininger was honoured with the aforementioned epitaph, but that’s not all. Lest the years of work it must have taken for him to grow his beard be lost, the long length of facial hair was cut off and preserved separately, becoming an important town heirloom.

Over 450 years after Steininger’s death, his beard survives, currently on display at the District Museum Herzogsburg in Branau. The artifact has since been authenticated and chemically preserved so that future generations can continue to appreciate this sensational local story.

Today, Braunau am Inn is most often remembered as the birthplace of Adolf Hitler, but for understandable reasons, the local tourism board seems more keen to celebrate the mayor who was killed by his own beard. There have even been tours of teh  city given by a Steininger re-enactor decked out in a flowing fake beard. Hopefully no costume version will ever prove as deadly as the original.

©Eric Grundhauser and Atlas Obscura

 

BEARDSHAIROBJECTS OF INTRIGUE