This month’s Symbol of the Month is later than planned due to the Coronavirus snapping at my heels. I was determined to have a Spring saunter through three local churches while I still could. They have now all inevitably closed.
I hope all of you can stay well during this difficult time.
It wasn’t until late in the 19th century that angels fluttered into large Victorian cemeteries and there is undoubtedly a story to be written as to how they changed sex once they had perched themselves on top of monuments. There is a hierarchy of angels and they can be identified by what they hold in their hands; a sword, shield, a book or, in this case, a trumpet. The angel holding a trumpet is the one that features as this month’s Symbol.
I have seen several examples and this one comes from West Norwood Cemetery. It’s on the headstone dedicated to Edward who died aged only 13 years. As the epitaph states,
THE ONLY SON
E. du Bois Esq
BARRISTER OF LAW’
I’ve always considered it to be a very striking, almost 3D image, with the detail on the angels wings, clothes and the clouds that surround her. It depicts an angel blowing on a trumpet with a Biblical quotation surrounding her. The angelic figure is definitely a woman. and it’s always intrigued me how angels which are traditionally male in the Bible became pretty, pensive young women when they appeared in cemeteries and churchyards. The quotation reads:
THE LAST TRUMPET (words unreadable)………
ALL SHALL RAISE AGAIN
In this case, the angel trumpeter on this headstone is a representation of the Last Judgement Day as she is the herald of the resurrection.
There are many references to angels blowing trumpets in the Bible and their association with the dead rising on the Day of Resurrection. For example in Corinthians 15:32, it says:
‘in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,
At the last trumpet.
For the trumpet will sound, and the
Dead will be raised imperishable,
And we shall be changed.’
There are also references in the Book of Revelation and Matthew 24:32.
However, it is the archangel, Gabriel, who is most associated with blowing a trumpet to announce the resurrection of the dead and images of this began to appear in the 14th century. There is a very stern and definitely male angel figure holding a trumpet at the entrance to Queen Victoria’s mausoleum at Frogmore. There is also a geometric figure known as Gabriel’s horn or Torricelli’s trumpet. It has infinite surface area but finite volume. According to Wikipedia:
‘The name refers to the Abrahamic tradition identifying the archangel Gabriel as the angel who blows the horn to announce Judgment Day, associating the divine, or infinite, with the finite. The properties of this figure were first studied by Italian physicist and mathematician Evangelista Torricelli in the 17th century.’
Angels appear in most religions and it’s appropriate that one of the most well-known is associated with communication. In fact angels are usually seen as messengers as the word ‘angel’ is derived from the Greek word, ‘angelos’, which means ‘messengers.’ They also appear in Islam as the word for messenger, Mala’ika, is the Islamic term for angel. The Koran, like the Bible, also has references to angels especially Djibril or Gabriel nd Mikhail or Michael. According to Douglas Keister:
‘Angels appeared to grow wings in a 5th century mosaic in Rome. After all they are seen as messengers between heaven and earth.’
Gabriel is is also associated with the Annunciation. He is, with his trumpet blowing, an obvious choice for announcing the departure of a soul and its arrival in Heaven.
I have seen an example of an angel blowing a trumpet in Tower Hamlets Cemetery and this lovely example comes from St Mary’s Catholic cemetery which nestles next to its larger neighbour, Kensal Green. She is on top of the Abreu monument.
While exploring Kent churchyards prior to the Coronavirus outbreak I found 17th headstones with angel heads on them with trumpets surrounding them. In this one the trumpets are crossed like long bones beneath the angel head.
So, in many ways this is a very ancient symbol which has come down through the centuries as a message of comfort to those left behind. The one dedicated to Edward du Bois has an epitaph that expresses his father’s grief as well as his anger at his son’s untimely death.
©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.
References and further reading:
Stories in Stone, Douglas Keister, Gibbs Smith, 2004