Symbol of the Month – Simply To Thy Cross I Cling

In the light of the current COVID restrictions, I am reblogging this post from a previous Symbol of the Month. Enjoy!

The famous quote on the third on in West Norwood. This is to an 11 year old girl, Dorothy Boswel. ©Carole Tyrrell
The famous quote on the third on in West Norwood. This is to an 11 year old girl, Dorothy Boswel.
©Carole Tyrrell

What does a woman clinging to a cross, seemingly for dear life,   have in common with the film  ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’  and heavy metal group Def Leppard?

Strangely enough, the connection is an 18th century Protestant hymn written by a fiercely Calvinist minister which has entered the Western cultural consciousness in the same way as ‘Abide With Me’.

‘Rock of Ages’ is a hymn with an enduring message of hope and ultimate salvation.  So no wonder it inspired a potent funerary symbol which is still used today.  However, it’s the second line in the third verse, ‘Simply to Thy cross I cling.’ that has proved most inspirational to Victorian monument masons.

A variant is a pensive young  woman  leaning on a cross for support as at West Norwood.  This cemetery contained several examples and here is a selection:

They’re not angels as they don’t possess wings and angels didn’t begin to appear in Victorian cemeteries until the late 19th century.  But they are one of the few cemetery symbols inspired by a popular hymn. It’s also a Protestant motif and was the only way in which a cross would have been permitted in a Victorian cemetery until near the end of the 19th century. This was due to the religious wars that were raging at the time.

When the Victorians created their large municipal cemeteries there was still a fierce Anti-Catholic  prejudice within Britain. This dated back to Henry VIII and the Reformation and had resulted in several anti-Catholic laws being passed during the 17th and 18th centuries.    But the cry was still ‘No Popery’ in the 19th century and any symbols that were associated with Catholicism weren’t welcome in the new marble orchards.   These included crosses, figures of saints and also angels.   Instead, there was a return to Classicism using Roman and Greek motifs and architecture.  Then, as the 19th century progressed, funerary monuments reflected the tastes of the time.  So you could walk through one and see Arts & Crafts, Celtic Revival, Art Nouveau until eventually towards the end angels did being to fly in.

‘Rock of Ages’ was written by a Calvinist minister, the Reverend Augustus Toplady, in 1763 and  was first published in a religious magazine, ‘The Gospel’, in 1775.   It’s allegedly based on an incident in Toplady’s life.  He was a preacher in a village named Blagdon and was travelling along the gorge of Burrington Combe in Somerset’s Mendip Hills when he was caught in a storm.  He managed to find shelter in a gap in the gorge and was struck by the name of the crevice that had saved him. It’s still marked as ‘Rock of Ages’ both on the rock itself and maps.  He is reputed to have written the hymn’s lyrics on the back of a playing card although one wonders what a minister was doing with a deck of cards.  However, no-one’s sure if this incident actually happened or if it’s apocryphal….

Toplady wasn’t a popular man and in an article by Rupert Christensen of the Daily Telegraph he was described as ‘fanatical, in a gross Calvinism and most difficult to deal with.’ John Wesley avoided him. Toplady was also fond of writing bizarre articles, one of which proposed that a spiralling National Debt  could never be paid off due to the extent of human sinfulness.  Something for the new Chancellor to ponder on I’m sure.   Toplady died in 1776 from TB and would undoubtedly have been forgotten were it not for his rousing hymn.

‘Rock of Ages’ caught the popular imagination. Gladstone translated it into Latin and Greek and asked for it to be played at his funeral.  Prince Albert reputedly requested it on his deathbed and it has appeared in several feature films. These include ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’ where it’s sung by David Bowie as Major Jack Celliers and both ‘Paper Moon’ and ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ where it’s played at a funeral.  It’s also inspired musicians such as Def Leppard and the writer of the film score for ‘Altered States.’ John Congliano.  It’s  also the title of the long running musical stage show.

These are its lyrics:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.

Not the labour of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die!

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgement throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
From L http://library.timelesstruths.org/music/Rock_of_Ages/et me hide myself in Thee.

I’ve also seen the lyrics of the hymn inscribed on monuments as at Streatham Cemetery and also Brompton.

However it does also appear as a motif on tombstones as here:

This is one on a tombstone - I found it on a blog but they had found it on wikipedia. So source unknown.
This is one on a tombstone – I found it on a blog but they had found it on wikipedia. So source unknown.

It has been described as a symbol of faith, of a person lost in sin whose only hope is to cling to the cross.

Sometimes just the phrase is enough as here:

This simple memorial only has the phrase on it. This is to Eva Catherine Dorin by her husband. She died young at 48. ©Carole Tyrrell
This is to Eva Catherine Dorin by her husband. She died young at 48. West Norwood.
©Carole Tyrrell

It was also popular as a print and these are two examples:

Both seem to clinging to a cross in a raging sea – a sea of sin perhaps?

The symbol has reappeared in more recent years and there is a much smaller, modern version at Beckenham Cemetery.  This is on the grave of a 16 year old who died in 1965.

Modern version on a 16 year year old girls' grave in Beckenham Cemetery at Elmers End. ©Carole Tyrrell
Modern version on a 16 year year old girls’ grave in Beckenham Cemetery at Elmers End.
©Carole Tyrrell
A much simpler version seen on the grave of Maud and Percival Jones in Beckenham Cemetery.. He founded Twinlock files who were a large local firm  in the area until the late '80's   ©Carole Tyrrell
A much simpler version seen on the grave of Maud and Percival Jones in Beckenham Cemetery dating back to the 1940’s. He founded Twinlock files who were a large local firm in the area until the late ’80’s
©Carole Tyrrell

An inspirational hymn to the Victorians and also well into the 20th Century but what could have the same effect these days?  I’ve always fancied a video of Sid Vicious singing ‘/My Way’ on my tombstone…..

©  Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rock_of_Ages_(Christian_hymn)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/3668144/The-story-behind-the-hymn.html

http://www.graveaddiction.com/symbol.html

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

http://cayugaheightshistory.weebly.com/uploads/2/4/5/4/24545229/pleasant_grove_cemetery_iconography.pdf

http://owlseeyouinthecemetery.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/nothing-in-my-hand-i-bring-simply-to.html

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Cannibals in a country church? The Harman monument,St John the Baptist, Burford, Oxfordshire

Detail of one of theTupinamba Indians on the Harman monument, Burford

As a ‘church crawler’, or someone who likes to poke about in churches and churchyards,  I didn’t expect to find this finely carved pair of South American Indians in an Oxfordshire church.  They decorate the monument dedicated to Edmund Harman (1509-1577) and his ‘faithful’ wife, Agnes.

Full view of the Harman monument, St John the Evangelist, Burford ©Bill Nicholls shared under Creative Commons Licence

The Indians have been identified as belonging to the Tupinamba tribe who, in the early 1500’s, lived at the mouth of the Amazon. They are assumed to be the earliest known representation of South American Indians in England.  The Tupinamba tribe were known to be cannibals and the carvings are believed to be the work of a Dutch carver, Cornelis Bos. However, no-one’s quite sure whether they’re there.  It has been assumed that they are a reference to Edmund Harman’s Brazilian trade interests. But perhaps Bos might have seen a similar design in the Spanish Netherlands and decided to ‘borrow’ it.

Edmund Harman was an influential man at Henry VIII’s court. In fact, he was one of Henry’s most important and trusted servants. From 1533-1547, he was the King’s personal barber and servant, a position that gave him enormous influence at court as he was so near to the King.  I’m sure that he didn’t spend his time asking Henry VIII if he’d been anywhere nice for his holidays……he was probably too busy bending the King’s ear with promoting his friends business schemes.   In 1538, Edmund had risen so high that he was included in a list of people at court who were:

‘…to be had in the King’s most benign remembrance…’

Benign it certainly was, as it meant that Edmund was granted several pieces of land in Oxfordshire as well as Burford Priory.  He was also one of the 15 servants who made up the Privy Chamber and their job was to attend to every aspect of the King’s comfort.

In 1546, Edmund was one of the witnesses to Henry VIII’s will which was a very important document.  According to the Burford church website,

He makes an appearance with his King in Holbein’s last painting which is kept at The Barber’s Hall in London. The artist has helpfully labelled all the assembled men and Edmund is at the front on the right hand side.

Henry VII and the Barber Surgeons – Hans Holbein (1497/1498-1543) Edmund can be seen kneeling with his name. Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

Edmund and Agnes had sixteen children (!) but only two of them, both girls, survived their parents.  There are representations of them on the lower half of the monument.   

The sons of the Harmans, St John the Evangelist, Burford ©Julian P Guffogy shared under Creative Commons Licence
The daughters of the Harmans, St John the Evangelist, Burford ©Julian P Guffogy shared under Creative Commons Licence

According to the Burford church website, Edmund’s epitaph:

‘…..is considered to be an early example of a Post-Reformation epitaph as there is no mention of Purgatory or saying prayers for the dead man’s soul to ease his way out of it.  Purgatory and other religious practices had all been swept away by Henry VIII’s determination to divorce Katherine of Aragon and set himself up as the Head of the new Church of England.’

It is a lovely monument with beautiful, crisp carving and a wonderful example of the stone carver’s skill. Sadly, despite all the expense and the effort lavished in creating the monument, Edmund and Agnes were buried in Taynton which is 7 miles away from Burford.

However, it stands as a memorial to a man who rose from humble beginnings, moved in powerful circles and brought the New World closer to home.

©Text and Photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

 References and further reading

https://www.burfordchurch.org/harman-memorial

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/003591571600901610

https://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/3742667.barber-king-gentleman/

A touching epitaph to the one left behind. St John the Baptist, Burford

shadows fly away

St John the Baptist, Burford,

This was the inscription that made the most impression as it was so touching and heartfelt.  It perfectly expressed the deceased’s belief, that although they had pre-deceased their partner, they believed that they would both wake again on Judgement Day and be reunited.

The first part of the epitaph on a unknown Monument, So John te Baptist, Burford

The second part of the epitaph on an unknown monument, St John the Evangelist, Burford

Its simplicity is what makes it stand out simple and yet I have no idea on which monument the inscription was despite looking through my photos from the day. But it made a powerful impression. In many ways it was more powerful than far more ornate monuments and tombs.

However, when the Penguin Book Cover Generator was doing the rounds on social media just prior to Christmas last year it provided inspiration…

View original post 22 more words

A touching epitaph to the one left behind. St John the Baptist, Burford

St John the Baptist, Burford,


This was the inscription that made the most impression as it was so touching and heartfelt.  It perfectly expressed the deceased’s belief, that although they had pre-deceased their partner, they believed that they would both wake again on Judgement Day and be reunited.

The first part of the epitaph on a unknown Monument, So John te Baptist, Burford
The second part of the epitaph on an unknown monument, St John the Evangelist, Burford

Its simplicity is what makes it stand out simple and yet I have no idea on which monument the inscription was despite looking through my photos from the day.   But it made a powerful impression.  In many ways it was more powerful than far more ornate monuments and tombs.

However, when the Penguin Book Cover Generator was doing the rounds on social media just prior to Christmas last year it provided inspiration for one book design.

When we can actually go out again, whenever that is, I’m coming back Burford – ready or not!

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow in Brompton Cemetery

Now that snow has come to Central London again how I wish I was there to see it! But I’m not and instead I thought I would show how beautiful a cemetery can look when it’s covered in the white stuff. These were taken during the last big snowfall, the so called Beast from the East, in Feb 201 and feature Brompton Cemetery looking a little mysterious as the snow fell and fell and fell……

Brompton Cemetery in snow Feb 2018 ©Carole Tyrrell
View over Brompton Cemetery from a side path Feb 2018 ©Carole Tyrrell
View of colonnades Brompton Cemetery Feb 2018 ©Carole Tyrrell
View of Brompton Cemetery chapel Feb 2018 ©Carole Tyrrell
The Italian Boy as I call him, Brompton Cemetery Feb18 ©Carole Tyrrell
Snowy view from sidepath Brompton Cemetery Feb 2018 ©Carole Tyrrell