One of the largest rock monuments in London’s Brompton Cemetery ©Carole Tyrrell
If you visit as many cemeteries and churchyards as I do, you’ll soon notice that there will be several monuments and memorials that are carved to resemble a rock or a group of smaller rocks to form one large rock. They are skilfully created and the casual Victorian cemetery visitor would have recognised the reference.
The Rock is an overtly religious symbol and is often surmounted by another symbol. An angel looking somewhat precarious on top as above, a cross, an anchor and even a pair of bronze eagles on top of the one below. Although sadly only the talons remain clutching on for eternity. This is the Loeffler monument in London’s Brompton Cemetery. (You may have to zoom into see the talons but they are there).
The Loeffler monument in London’s Brompton Cemetery.©Carole Tyrrell
The Loeffler epitaph. ©Carole Tyrrell
The Baxter monument in London’s Kensal Green cemetery. The rock is almost overloaded! ©Carole Tyrrell
There are numerous references to rocks in the Bible in which both Christ and God are referred to as being ‘the rock’ to the faithful. It symbolises steadfastness, firmness and stability. It’s also seen as providing a firm foundation for faith and for life. This is echoed in the Parable of the 2 Builders in Matthew 7:21-28 in which the wise builder digs deep and lays the foundations on a rock whereas the foolish one builds on what he thinks is level ground but which crumbles and falls and is swept away by floods. In the Old Testament, God is also referred to as
‘ the Lord, My Rock and my Redeemer’
in which he is seen as a support, something to lean on and rely upon. Indeed, rather like a rock. In fact, the disciple, Peter’s name means ‘rock’ in Greek as it is ‘Petros.’ And the Hebrew word for ‘rock’ is ‘Eben’ which again means also indicates firmness, stability and faithfulness. There are too many examples in the Bible for me to quote here but these are just a few:
In Samuel 22.2 it is said that:
‘Our Lord our God
You are my mighty rock, my fortress, my protector.
You are the rock where I am safe.
You are my shield, my powerful weapon, and my place of shelter.’
And also Psalms 62.6:
‘He only is my rock and my salvation: he is my defence; I shall not be moved’
King James Version
There is also the classic Christian hymn, ‘Rock of Ages’ which again symbolises the eternal support of God.
Although I am not particularly religious, I do acknowledge that many of the symbols that the Victorians used came originally from the Bible. Religion was very important to them and the Bible, or the Good Book would have been a constant source of inspiration for epitaphs and symbols. I have had a Sunday School education and can see where Biblical references can be found.
However, other cultures also revere the unchanging, eternal quality of stone or rock and in China it is seen as a symbol of longevity. Also in Japan, rock gardens are places for visitors to meditate and achieve a sense of Zen.
So, the Rock is a powerful symbol of faith, trust and steadfastness, both for the deceased and the bereaved.
©Test and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.
References and further reading