Symbol of the Month – Angel with trumpet

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.

 

Full view of the du Bois headstone, West Norwood Cemetery
© Carole Tyrrell

 

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,

‘Edward

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:

WAITING

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

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabriel%27s_Horn

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

https://www.cityofgroveok.gov/building/page/angel-blowing-trumpet

https://www.openbible.info/topics/angels_trumpets

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

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The mystery of two wonderful examples of medieval memento mori

I found the article below in the Church Times and thought that I would share it with you.  Although on first glance they may look a little macabre, I saw them as lovely examples of medieval iconogrpahy.  In many ways they are also very touching.  I love the mystery surrounding them as well.

Shrouded skeletons on brasses in medieval Durham church investigated

02 MARCH 2018

 

FRIENDS OF ST EDMUND’S CHURCH

The two shrouded figures displayed on brasses at St Edmund’s, Sedgefield

PUBLIC curiosity about two shrouded skeletons in a medieval church has led to an investigation into their origins.

The figures — believed to be male and female — are depicted on brasses displayed on the wall at 13th-century St Edmund’s, Sedgefield, in Co. Durham, which is Grade I listed. The plates are singular in that they portray skeletons: normally, the figure is a likeness of the person in the tomb.

Little is known about them, and the Friends of St Edmund’s are trying to find out more. “We are asked about the origin of the skeletons on a fairly regular basis, and it would be nice to have an explanation for people who visit the church,” Alison Hodgson, a local historian and the secretary of the group, said.

They hope that documents held in the archives of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne will shed some light, and are aware of one record which says that the two figures were once on a tomb that had a shield and ribbon above, and a border — probably with an inscription — around the edge.

Brian Mutch, a churchwarden and the Friends’ membership secretary, is leading the investigation. “We don’t know how long they have been in the church,” he said. “One document from 1896 says they were there then; so we will have to go further back. There is no indication as to how old they are, but all the others in the church date from the 1300s; so it is quite likely they come from then.

“It is possible they were on a tomb in the north transept, but that has been altered two or three times over the years. However, we do have two stone effigies in the south transept — one of a man and the other of a woman — and I wonder if it is them. There are records of noble families in the area giving patronage to the church, but we have yet to examine them.

“There is a lot more work to do. I don’t know how long it will take, but we shall persevere.”

Two lives on the ocean waves – the wonderful Wimbles of West Norwood Cemetery

The path on which you will find the Wimble monument.
©Carole Tyrrell

 

There is a clearing along Ship Path in West Norwood Cemetery where, if you pause for a moment, you could almost swear that you can smell the sea.  For a moment you can hear the ceaseless ebb and flow of the tides, the relentless cries of seagulls and the smell of ozone.

View of the Wimble monument, West Norwood Cemetery with the SS Maidstone panel.
©Carole Tyrrell

Then you’ll probably be standing in front of the exuberant and flamboyant monument to Captain Wimble (1797-1851) and his indomitable wife.  He was an employee of the East India Company and, Mary Ann, his wife, accompanied him on his many voyages which demonstrates that Captain Wimble didn’t subscribe to the old seafaring tradition that it’s unlucky to have a woman on board.  However, as sea voyages at the time could take over a year perhaps it was the only way that they could see each other.  He was born in 1797 and baptised at All Saints parish church, Maidstone in March of that year. Capt Wimble would have probably first gone to sea aged 12 or 13 and he was obviously ambitious. The East India Company who were extremely powerful and held a monopoly on the trade with India in importing items such as cotton and opium.  They were a precursor of the British administration in India. At 23, he became a ship’s captain with the Company by fulfilling their criteria and so his seafaring career began.

View of the Wimble monument, West Norowood Cemetery. Note the frieze at base that resembles rope and the ship on top.
©Carole Tyrrell

However, it’s immediately obvious that the monument is to a seafaring man. A boat, now sadly damaged, perches on top of the chest tomb.  It used to have iron masts but I have been unable to locate a photo with the ship intact. The nearest one is dated from 1968. Here is the link: https://www.architecture.com/image-library/RIBApix/image-information/poster/west-norwood-cemetery-london-the-sarcophagus-of-captain-john-wimble-decorated-with-ship-reliefs/posterid/RIBA48791.html

The epitaph on the front records his deeds and as you walk around you will see a sailing ship on each side.  They are still impressive and dramatic and the still crisp carving emphasises the sea scenes.  You almost feel that they could sail away at any moment.  These were all ships that Capt Wimble commanded. A sculptured length of rope decorates the base of the monument as a frieze.

 

On the east side is a 3 masted ship, the Maidstone, with furled topsails on a clam sea and is dated 24 June 1840.  He captained this ship on a round the world voyage in 1840.  It travelled to Calcutta, then New Zealand, onto New Jersey and then finally New York. The Maidstone, all 818 tons of her, was built in 1839 at the Blackwall Yard in London and owned by Green and Wigram. She was intended for the London – Bengal and London-Calcutta routes and was last recorded in 1860 when she was abandoned on the way to Australia. There is a painting of her in the National Maritime Museum.

The Florentia is depicted on the south side in stormy weather off the Cape on 24 June 1825 and to the west is the London, dramatically and perilously sailing in heavy seas with a broken mast off Gangam and this is dated 6th October 1832. Gangam is   a coastal district of Orissa in India which East India Company  ships would have passed through on their way to Calcutta.  The Florentia was the first ship that he captained and he would have sailed to the island of Madeira near Tenerife, turned towards Brazil for supplies, then onto South Africa and onto India.

The three scenes emphasise the unpredictable ups and downs of a sea captain’s life which was completely at the mercy of the weather at that time.   There is a fulsome epitaph to the Wimbles on the north side of the monument:

‘Sacred to the memory of Mr John Wimble,

34 years of whose life was passed on the

seas. Died, 23rd July 1851, aged 54 years. ‘They

that go down to the seas in ships and occupy

their business in great waters; these men see the works

of the Lord and his wonders in the deep.’

Also of Mary Ann his wife who shared in some

of his perils. Died Exeter, 22nd March 1886

aged 94 years.’

Close up view of the Wimbles epitaph, West Norwood Cemetery.
©Carole Tyrrell

Capt Wimble was clearly a man of substance as this unique and imposing monument demonstrates.  It may be more than coincidence that Capt Wimble’s first ship as Master was called the Maidstone. He was born in the town of that name and when he retired he named his house in Upper Tulse Hill Maidstone Cottage. In the first Census taken in 1851 he was recorded as living at that address with Mary Ann, then aged 54, and two servants, Mary Iles and Elizabeth Sheffield, both aged 26. He died at Maidstone Cottage in 1851 with the cause stated as ‘heart disease’.

As you might have guessed by the size of the tomb and the quality of the bas-reliefs Capt Wimble was a man of means as it was the custom for wealthy travellers to give the captain of their ship expensive gifts at the end of the voyage.

I am indebted to Eloise Akpan’s 2005 article in The Norwood Review for the details of his will and also the Friends of West Norwood Cemetery’s newsletter, September 2020 for the details on his will and ships.   Capt Wimble’s will was signed 9 months prior to his death and in it he specified the intended destination of ‘every bit of his clothing, jewellery and furniture’, as well as the money. The debts of the relatives to which he lent money are all erased. As a result of the generosity of his well-heeled passengers there was an impressive collection of gold and silver items including 6 silver candlesticks.  These came down to a descendant of John’s brother, Charles. This was Derek Wimble who lived in Herne Hill until his death roughly 36 years ago.  The candlesticks with an accompanying candle snuffer were subsequently sold by his widow with an engraved inscription that stated they had been

‘given by the grateful passengers on a homeward voyage from Calcutta to London in 1840.’

Sadly, Derek had no idea that his illustrious ancestor was buried nearby which is sad.

Mary Ann was a woman of her own mind. The will also stipulated that ‘

I direct that my body may be decently and plainly interred at the discretion of my beloved wife. She alone shall have the ordering and regulation.’

Perhaps she had her own interpretation of this and so she created a magnificent monument to her husband and herself which is one of the most attractive and imposing within West Norwood.

An interesting postscript to this was in the Friends of West Norwood Cemetery’s 2010 newsletter in which the headstone and grave of a William Wimble had been located close to Capt Wimble’s.  William had also been born in Maidstone – a possible relative?

Sadly, I have been unable to find an image of either Captain Wimble or Mary-Ann which would have enabled me to put faces to them.  The monument is due to restoration this year and I am looking forward to seeing the results.

But I’m sure that when I next visit that I will still hear and feel sea breezes as I walk towards it along Ship Path.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading:

The Tomb of Captain John Wimble, Eloise Akpan, The Norwood Review, The Norwood Society, Spring 2005

https://www.discoveringbritain.org/content/discoveringbritain/walk%20booklets/West%20Norwood%20DB%20walk%20-%20written%20guide.pdf

https://historicengland.org.uk/advice/heritage-at-risk/search-register/list-entry/50185

https://www.fownc.org/pdf/newsletter69.pdf – this contains information about Capt Wimble’s ships, voyages and will.