Symbol of the Month – The Harp

The harp on top of the monument to Henry Brinley Richards, Brompton Cemetery
©Carole Tyrrell

As you pass by a cemetery do you ever think that you hear celestial music drifting on the air?  Maybe it’s because there  are so many musical symbols to be found within them – violins, trumpets, guitars and harps to name a few.

This month, I’m going to be discussing the harp.  It may immediately bring visions of angels in pristine white gowns, perched on clouds, plucking away on golden harps to mind.  Harps have that ethereal quality.

Hans Memling Music making angels – circa 1480’s.
Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

I found many online images of statues of angels playing harps in cemeteries worldwide but all on stock photography sites.  It’s a reassuring image of heaven as a place of peace and calm. According to Alison Vardy, a professional harpist, the word ‘Harp’ or ‘Harpa’ comes from Anglo-Saxon, Old German and Old Norse words for ‘pluck’ as in plucking the strings.

However, when I first considered writing about the harp as a symbol I did think about linking it with St Patrick’s Day.  After all, it is the national symbol of Ireland and also appears on Guinness cans and bottles.

But this musical instrument has an ancient tradition and images of harps have been found in wall paintings in France dating from 15,000 BC. They also appear on Ancient Egyptian wall paintings from 3000 B.C.

Ancient Egyptian wall painting depicting a harp being played.

In fact, it’s one of the oldest musical instruments in the world and was originally developed from the hunting bow.  In this image the harp being played still resembles the hunting bow as it doesn’t yet have the pillar attached.  This didn’t appear until the Middle Ages and was added to support additional strings.  The earliest known image of a harp is a Pictish carving on an 8th century stone cross.

8th century Pictish carving of a harp.

 

‘Harps played an important part in Irish aristocratic life. Harpists were required to able to evoke three different emotions in their audience. Laughter, tears and sleep.’ Alison Vardy (the last emotion being very appropriate for a cemetery)

 

The harp is associated with St Cecilia who is the patron saint of music.  She was a Roman martyr who is reputed to have sung to God at her wedding and also as she lay dying after being beheaded.  You can read more about her life here;  https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Cecilia.

St Cecilia’s feast day is 22 November but her association with music didn’t begin until the 15th century. She was then depicted as playing at an organ or either holding an organ or organ pipes.

The harp also appears as an instrument of healing in the Old Testament.  In Samuel verses 16-23, David plays the harp for Saul in order to drive out the evil spirit that afflicts him.  Harps are also mentioned in Genesis and Chronicles.

When I first saw this monument in Brompton Cemetery I thought that it had to be dedicated to an Irishman.  But it is in fact on the grave of a Welshman, Henry Brinley Richards (1817-1865), who was born in Carmarthen.

1880 photo of Henry Brinley Richards
Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

He was originally destined for a medical career but music was his real calling.  However,  he didn’t play the harp as, instead, he played the piano.  He was discovered after winning a prize for his arrangement of a traditional song, ‘The Ash Grove’, at the 1834 Eisteddford in Cardiff. This really opened doors for Henry as he was able to study at the Royal Academy of Music under the patronage of the Duke of Newcastle. Henry won two scholarships while studying at the Academy and after graduation he taught piano there.  He travelled to Paris and met Chopin and he has over 250 compositions listed in the British Museum catalogues of printed music.  But his most famous piece of music is ‘God Bless the Prince of Wales’ from 1862.   Henry never lost his Welsh connections. Pencerdd Towy is his bardic name and not, as I originally thought, another Welsh town. Bardic names were pseudonyms and part of the 19th century medieval revival.  I did research bardic names but I have to admit that I was none the wiser.  And the meaning of the harp that sits so resplendently on top of the monument?  It’s the national instrument of Wales which I didn’t know until I began researching this post.

The monument to Sarah Russell, The Rosary Cemetery, Norwich, Norfolk
©Carole Tyrrell

The other example is from the Rosary Cemetery in Norwich. This is a non-denominational cemetery and rises in tiers above the city.   It’s an interesting group of symbols and is dedicated to a woman, Sarah Russell nee O’Brien (1869-1899) and there may be an Irish reference with the harp and her maiden name.   She died young, aged 30, in Kansas City, USA.  Sarah was born into a performing family as her father, Archibald O’Brien, and siblings were all equestrians.  I found the family living in Leeds in the 1881 Census and they must have really stood out amongst their respectable, aspiring middle class neighbours.  Equestrian was listed as their occupation. She married into another family connected with animals as her husband, William, was part owner of a zoo. One of her sisters, Irma O’Brien, wrote the epitaph:

‘To my dear sister Sarah Russell,

‘Soeur bien aimee reposee en paix’ 

which translates as:

‘Beloved sister rest in peace.’

 On this monument note that the harp has no strings and so cannot be played.  This indicates that the music of life has ended.  There are also other variants in which a string on the harp is broken which again means that it can no longer be played. The music has been stilled by death. The cloth, nicely detailed to simulate lace with the holes, indicates the curtain between the world of the living and the dead.  However, the broken column is said to denote a life cut short.  I have always understood this to mean that the backbone of the family, the support of the family, had died and this is usually on a man’s grave.  But maybe Sarah was the support of the family after all.  For me, it’s the unstrung harp that is the most poignant symbol of the group.

So the harp can have several associations; a musical instrument, a symbol of national pride, a representation of life and death and also with angels. However, according to J C Cooper, it can also be viewed as the ladder leading to the next world with the harpist being Death – an interesting allusion.   There is also a link with the Celtic God of Fire, Dagda, who calls up the seasons and whose playing originally brought about the change of the seasons and made them appear in the correct order.  This is the harp as an instrument of power particularly with Dagda.   This is very different from pensive angels in a heavenly harp choir. However,  it’s good to understand the contrasts in how it is used and how it’s perceived in other cultures.

I hope that you all stay well and safe in these unprecedented times.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

References and further reading:

An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols, J C Cooper, Thames & Hudson, 1979

https://churchmonumentssociety.org/resources/symbolism-on-monuments

https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2109764

https://tuisnider.com/2015/10/12/historic-cemetery-symbols-what-does-a-harp-mean/

https://artofmourning.com/2010/11/21/symbolism-sunday-the-harp/

https://www.undercliffecemetery.co.uk/gallery/funerary-art/

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

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

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Cecilia

https://bardmythologies.com/the-dagdas-harp/

http://www.internationalharpmuseum.org/visit/history.html

https://www.alisonvardy.com/harp-history.html

Symbol of the Month – The Easter Sepulchre

A plain and simple Esater Sepulchre at St Mary’s Grendon, Northants
© Carole Tyrrell

I thought that for this month’s Symbol  it would be good to have one that was specifically linked to Easter. So April’s  Symbol is  the Easter Sepulchre.

Although this is a difficult time for all of us with the worldwide pandemic of COVID 19, life still has to go on despite it feeling a little strange.  Easter is one of the holiest weeks in the religious or faith calendar and in medieval times the Easter Sepulchre would have been an integral part of the celebrations.

However, there are now very few examples of these in churches and only within England and Wales. After the Reformation and Henry VIII’s break with Rome over his divorce from Catherine of Aragon most of them were destroyed. The ones that have survived are to be found in little country churches.    I discovered this lovely example completely by chance when I visited the church of St Bartholomew in Otford, Kent.

Initially I thought that it was a canopied tomb without an effigy.  But the guide leaflet confirmed  that is is a particularly good example of an Easter Sepulchre and bears two symbols; the pomegranate, which was the badge of Catherine of Aragon and the Tudor Rose.  The sepulchre was made from Caen stone and has been dated to the early 16th century. The guide leaflet for St Bartholomew also suggests that the symbols could be a reference to the visit of Henry VIII and Catherine to Otford in 1520 on their way to the Field of the Cloth of Gold in France.  There is a small ledge on the right of the Sepulchre which is assumed to represent Christ’s empty tomb.  As John Vigar says:

‘It was the tomb of an individual erected on the north side of the chancel which over each Easter weekend would be used as a focus for devotion, representing the entombment and resurrection of Christ. It always had a flat surface on which the sepulchre itself would be placed.

However, the stone canopy was not the actual the Sepulchre.  This was a wooden chest containing either the cross from the main altar or a consecrated Host in an ornate container known as a Pyx. Some of the sepulchres were so small that they could only hold the Host.  The sepulchres were part of Easter church rituals from the 13th to 15th centuries and were used in both Catholic and Anglican churches. Each church was only allowed to have one. According to https://www.encyclopedia.com/:

‘In this period the ritual burial of Christ was a solemn observance. At the end of the Liturgies of Good Friday, the priest would carry the pyx and the Cross, both wrapped in linen, to the north side of the chancel where a temporary sepulchre which was usually wooden and draped with a pall had been made ready and laid them within.  The sepulchre was then perfumed with incense and lit by numerous candles as a constant watch was kept to protect the Host and Pyx.  The Host would have been consecrated on Maundy Thursday. Early on Easter morning, candles  would illuminate the church, the clergy would come to the Sepulchre, the Host was removed to the Pyx above the high altar and the Cross was raised from the sepulchre and carried in procession around the church while church bells chimed and the Resurrection was celebrated’.

Henry VIII wanted to preserve the sepulchres after the break with Rome but Archbishop Cranmer passed laws ordering their destruction.  The wooden chests were then put to other uses such as dish racks!  Soon their actual purpose was forgotten.

A more permanent form of the Sepulchre was as a recess, often canopied over a tomb chest.  Wealthy patrons or local families who wanted to be associated with the Easter mysteries often built tombs for themselves that could also be used as Easter sepulchres.  They vary from the very plain to the very ornate as with the one in Lincoln Cathedral.  Often they are not inscribed with the name of the donor and a church could only have one.  It was wonderful to see such a fine example at Otford  as I explored the interior of the church.

Here are two fine surviving examples:

Augustus Welby Pugin, the celebrated Victorian architect and designer attempted to revive the Easter Sepulchre and there is a magnificent example in St Giles, Cheadle.  But it was seen as merely decorative.

A W Pugin’s richly decorated Esater Sepulchre in St Giles Cheadle/
©stgilescheadle

I’ve always associated Easter with a time or rebirth. Spring is usually on its way by Easter time; churchyards burst forth with Spring flowers and there’s a general feeling of Mother Nature getting on with it. This rebirth has never been so important as it is in 2020 in the light of the pandemic.

Please keep well and safe.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading:

Guide leaflet, St Bartholomew, Otford, Kent

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

https://www.nationalchurchestrust.org/what-see-inside/easter-sepulchre

http://modernmedievalism.blogspot.com/2015/04/the-easter-sepulchre.html

https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/easter-sepulchre

http://elfinspell.com/AndrewsEaster.html

https://www.britainexpress.com/church-history.htm?term=Easter+Sepulchre

https://www.johnevigar.com/john-e-vigar-blog/easter-sepulchres

http://www.threeabbeys.me.uk/research.html

 

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

Symbol of the Month – Lion’s Paws

 

This month’s Symbol is a little bit of fun.

These lion’s feet supporting two sarcophagi within London’s Brompton Cemetery almost look comical – it’s as if they may just get up and run away at any moment carrying their cargo!

But, if you look closely, then you can see how detailed they are especially with the hair around the ankles and the claws. They are unusual as I don’t see them that often. But there are examples to be found in other cemeteries. For example, there is one within Norwich’s Rosary Cemetery.

The Cozens monument in the Rosary cemetery, Norwich. It’s made from cast iron which was originally painted black. It records Jeremiah Cozens and other members of the Cozens family.
© Recording Archive for Public Sculpture in Norfolk and Suffolk

The sarcophagus is made from cast iron and was originally painted black.  It is dedicated to the memory of Jeremiah Cozens who died aged 32 in 1849.  There are other members of the Cozens family commemorated on different sides of the sarcophagus.  Also, Mrs Bradley’s monument in Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis, Tennessee, USA features a magnificent set of paws.

The lion represents strength which is demonstrated by the paws supporting the sarcophagus. They have appeared as decorative devices in Ancient Greece and Rome. These were often known as ‘claw feet’ or ‘paw feet’ and were usually either a lion or a bear’s foot.  They also appeared during the Renaissance and into the 17th and 18th century in French and English furniture.  This magnificent example dates from the Renaissance.  Although this sarcophagus has been dated to the 5th century the lions paws were added after the 15th century. It comes from Ravenna, Italy.

This sarcophagus was used as a grave for an Archbishop of Ravenna. The lion’s paws were added after the 15th century although the sarcophagus dates from the 5th century.
©://www.romeartlover.it/Ravenna4.html

 

So the use of lion’s paws probably originated in the Classical world as did the sarcophagus form itself. It’s a stone coffin that was used for burials and the word ‘sarcophagus’ comes from the Greek for ‘flesh-eater’.  With the rediscovery and use of Classicism within Victorian cemeteries such as Brompton it’s appropriate to find two elements from it.  Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome motifs appeared in many Victorian cemeteries and Classicism was one of the first major artistic movements to be represented within them.

These two examples are very plain apart from the wildly extravagant carved hair on the ankles of the paws.  They are both dedicated to women; Catherine Ferrall Carmichael and Charlotte Hooffstetter.

Catherine who died, aged 88, on 21 April 1853 was the widow of Major Hugh Lyle Carmichael.  He was the Lieutenant Governor of British Guiana from 1812 until his death, aged 49, in 1813. According to Wikipedia:

 ‘He was a strong proponent of giving native Caribbean troops the same rights as ordinary British soldiers.’

He is buried in Demerara where there is a monument to him. This is the link to the wikipeadia page about him: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Lyle_Carmichael

Sadly, I’ve been unable to discover anything much about Catherine. There is an epitaph on one side of the sarcophagus of which I can only read two lines so she may have to be a Work in Progress.

Charlotte Hooffstetter is recorded on one side of her sarcophagus as being:

…’the 2nd wife of Charles Hooffstetter Esq

Nee Charlotte Gasquet

Obt on 31st August 1861 at 77.

 

According to an inscription on side of the sarcophagus she lived in Thurloe Square with Charles at what is still a swanky address.  They had one daughter, Sophia, who died in 1854 and Charles Hooffstetter died on 30 September 1870. The names of other family members are inscribed on the other sides of the sarcophagus.  But, again, I can find out nothing more about her. According to Find a Grave even her birth date is unknown and Charles proved to be just as illusory. So Charlotte will have to be another Work in Progress.

 

I also found a magnificent example on the Henniker monument within Rochester Cathedral.

The sarcophagus and lion’s feet were immensely popular and could be adapted to many other decorative uses.  I found several examples of much smaller sarcophagi and lion’s paws on vintage and antique websites where they were being offered as wine coolers and collarettes amongst other uses.  They would look very good on a sideboard or in a gentleman’s study.

But nowadays lion’s paws are more likely to be supporting an ‘antique’ revival bath tub which is a different container for a body altogether!

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=X3FjAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA143&lpg=PA143&dq=paw+foot+furniture&source=bl&ots=adue3S9yfZ&sig=VPhDuMvb76W8LHyy02CZ-wzZKNE&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi0yOu48NvYAhWjKMAKHWLfDFo4ChDoAQhRMAk#v=onepage&q=paw%20fo

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

https://www.si.edu/ahhp/smithsons_symbolism

https://www.google.com/search?q=lsarcopahgi+with+lions+paws&tbm=isch&ved=2ahUKEwiYy63th9LnAhXF_IUKHZLEAy8Q2-cCegQIABAA&oq=lsarcopahgi+with+lions+paws&gs_l=img.3…190039.196641..197488…0.0..0.62.1335.27……0….1..gws-wiz-img…….0i67j0j0i131j0i5i10i30j0i5i30j0i24j0i10i24.peZ9RteRhGY&ei=IBtHXpi7GcX5lwSSiY_4Ag&bih=969&biw=1920#imgrc=r4Ue1MRSDSt5KM

https://www.romeartlover.it/Ravenna4.html

http://www.racns.co.uk/sculptures.asp?action=getsurvey&id=940

https://fineartamerica.com/featured/elmwood-cemetery-lions-paw-jon-woodhams.html

Symbol of the Month – The Boat

The first Symbol of the Month of 2020 – a little later than I planned but more to come….

Close-up of boat, Caig monument Brompton Cemetery
Side view of boat

There are many sailing vessels in cemeteries. Ships, boats and the occasional yacht, becalmed on headstones or monuments forever sailing on a marble or granite sea.  Often they reveal the incumbent’s former occupation as on this fine example on the grave of Captain Edward Parry Nisbet in Brompton Cemetery.  Note the cross formed by the mast which is one of the central symbols of Christianity. There’s also the magnificent and exuberant monument to Captain Wimble  and his indomitable wife on the appropriately named Ship Path in West Norwood Cemetery.

But this little boat tied up and apparently moored at the base of a large cross is symbolic of a journey that has reached its final destination.

Side Side view of boatview of boat showing detail as it’s been carved to resemble a wooden boat.

The monument is located within Brompton Cemetery and is a representation of the journey of life.  This is a small sculpture of a rowing boat that has been carved to resemble a wooden one and there are seats inside but no oars. It could be interpreted as coming to the end of your life or journey and entering another life of eternity symbolised by the cross.  In other words, the crossing to the ‘other world’ as Douglas Keister calls it.   Also as www.stoneletters says:

‘…it’s a symbol of our last journey, it embodies the voyage of life, of coming full circle and taking us back to the waters of our beginning.’

However a boat can also be seen as an emblem of safety and refuge as it carries us over life’s often choppy seas and takes us home.  In this context, another boat that springs to mind is Noah’s Ark.  It protected and saved all that were on it and was a metaphor for the church as it weathered the storm against all odds.  However, Keister also suggests that the shape of a boat can resemble that of a cradle or a womb which would again emphasise shelter and protection. It holds us secure above the chaos of life.

Boats and death are a central theme in many other religions and cultures in that they carry the souls of the dead to eternity.  For example, King Arthur was transported by boat on death and, most famously, the Vikings people also used funerary boats. This was granted to important people of the tribe as they and their possessions would be sent out across the water in one after it had been set ablaze.  A symbolic mimicking of the soul’s journey to Valhalla.  Also in Greek mythology, Charon was the ferryman who took the souls of the dead by boat into the Underworld by crossing the River of Woe, Acheron.

But boats and death also feature in literature, especially poetry and there is the famous quotation by F Scott Fitzgerald:

‘So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’ 

‘Crossing the Bar’ by  Alfred Lord Tennyson also features a sea voyage which will end in death,

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.

There is also The Ship of Death by D H Lawrence amongst others.

I said earlier that a boat or ship is an important Christian symbol due to the mast forming a cross. Also, the Latin for ‘nave’ ,the central aisle of a church,  means ‘ship’ and there are several Biblical references to boats and ships.  After all, Christ told his disciples to “follow me and I will make you fishers of men”.

But let’s not forget that a boat or ship can also indicate a love of sailing and freedom.

The epitaph beneath the boat – some of the letters are missing .
©Carole Tyrrell

Some of the letters on the epitaph beneath the boat and cross have worn away so I can only assume tha the name commemorated is Walter Ward M Cais but it seems incomplete. He died young at only 43 and his widow, Martha, married again and lived well into the 20th century. It must have been a message of comfort that Walter’s small boat was moored safely for eternity.

Full view of the boat and cross, Caig monument, Brompton Cemetery
©Carole Tyrrell

 

© Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References:

Stories in Stone, Douglas Keister, Gibbs Smith, 2004

https://stoneletters.com/blog/headstone-symbols-the-boat

https://allaboutheaven.org/symbols/boat/123

http://www.historyofpainters.com/boat_symbolism.htm

http://imagesinthemind.blogspot.com/2008/08/boat-symbol.html

 

Symbol(s) of the Month – A quiver of Arrows and garland of oak leaves

A closer view of the two symbols – the bow and quiver of arrows and the oak leaves. Note the acorn.
©Carole Tyrrell

A country churchyard on a warm, sunny May day can be a peaceful and interesting place to explore. All Saints churchyard in Staplehurst is one of those as it looks down over the village from its hilltop perch.

I have already discussed one of the symbols that I found in there which featured in a an earlier Symbol of the Month. This was ‘The Choice’ which I found in the older part of the churchyard.  After exploring the newer part of the churchyard and seeing ‘nature’s lawnmowers’ aka sheep in the field behind I returned to the older section.  I then discovered this headstone with a combination of two symbols on it.

At first glance you might be forgiven for thinking that this is the grave of a warrior or someone involved in warfare as the combination is formed from a bow, a quiver of arrows and a circlet of oak leaves.  The bow and arrows are a symbol that has been known for centuries and since the earliest times has been associated with hunting and survival.

The headstone is dedicated to Edwin Fitch who died at the fairly young age of 43 on 22 January 1869. The epitaph goes on to state that Edwin left behind a widow and two children; Marianne and Walter William.  There is also another inscription above it that states that the stone was erected as a mark of respect by the Staplehurst Cricket Club.

The epitaph to Edwin Fitch in Staplehurst churchyard.
©Carole Tyrrell

But, as with most symbols, there are other meanings and I am indebted to theartofmourning blog for reminding me of these.   For, although a cricket field can occasionally turn into a polite and gentlemanly battlefield, I was sure that there were softer connotations to the bow and quiver.

The other most obvious interpretation is of Cupid shooting his arrows of love straight to a lover’ s heart. Indeed, he is traditionally portrayed holding a bow with an arrow ready to aim and fire. There are also the famous lines in William Blake’s poem, ‘Jerusalem’:

‘Bring me my bow of burning gold

Bring me my arrows of desire.’

There is also a Biblical link with children. In Psalms 127:3-5 children are described as being:

‘Children are a heritage from the Lord,
    offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
    are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
    whose quiver is full of them.

I interpret this to mean that a man’s children will continue his family line and achieve their place in the world.

The oak leaves underneath the quiver and bow are an ancient symbol of strength and the oak was known as the tree of life in pre-Christian times. According to memorials.com it is believed to have been the tree from which Christ’s cross was made.

Close-up of the acorn featured on the Fitch headstone.
©Carole Tyrrell

An acorn is also depicted on the headstone which emphasises immortality and fertility.  There is the old saying  ‘ Mighty oaks from little acorns do grow’  and this may be a reference to Edwin’s children and his hopes they would go onto do great things.  An acorn is the seed of the oak and so is a symbol of potential.

 

Edwin had an untimely death and we don’t know if he, his family or members of the Cricket Club chose the symbols.  But I believe that it was a final message from him to his family that he left behind and that this thoughts were of hope.

There is also a small verse underneath the epitaph:

‘My wife and children dear I bid you all adieu,

By God’s commands I leave this world and you

And trust my friends whom I have left behind

May give you comfort, and to you be kind.’

In this Edwin clearly hopes that his friends will support his family after he has gone. The Fitch family may have been in financial straits with the death of Edwin as the Cricket Club provided the headstone.

I have found out more about Edwin and his family.  He married Maria Wickings on 9 September 1852 and they had three children together.

  • Marianne born in 1853
  • Walter William born in 1855
  • Charles born in 1858

Sadly, Charles appears to have been stillborn or may have died in childbirth as he was born and christened on the same day and is not recorded on Edwin’s epitaph. Marianne followed her father to the grave in 1875 aged just 22.

I have approached the existing Staplehurst Cricket Club for further information on Edwin but the present club has only been in existence since the 1950’s.  They thought that Edwin might have been the very first member but are undertaking further research.  One current member thought that there might have been a private Staplehurst Cricket Club associated with the nearby Iden Manor.

This is now a nursing home but was once the house of the Hoare banking family. There are members of this family buried in the churchyard.  In 1904 they sold the manor due to impending bankruptcy and they were well known in the area for holding cricket and football matches, flower shows and other events for the village.

Finally, I think that this is a poignant combination of symbols that left a powerful and comforting message to his family.  A man whose last thoughts may have been of his family and now lies under the green canopy of the tall trees of Staplehurst churchyard with his beloved daughter.

 

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading:

https://artofmourning.com/2011/01/09/symbolism-sunday-the-arrow-and-quiver/

https://www.memorials.com/Headstones-Symbolism-information.php

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

http://headstonesymbols.co.uk/headstone-meanings-and-symbols/acorn/

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

http://www.staplehurstsociety.org

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/54684/jerusalem-and-did-those-feet-in-ancient-time

https://biblehub.com/kjv/psalms/127.htm

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+127%3A3-5&version=NIV

http://mlesdes.eklablog.com/england-s-national-symbols-free-article-a92748989

 

 

Symbol of the Month – The Good Samaritan

The row of tombstones along the wall of St Margaret’s Church, Rochester.
©Carole Tyrrell

The tombstones in St Margaret’s churchyard, Rochester are arranged like teeth along one wall. It faces out onto the Medway and, if you’ve got the strength, to look over there’s also a steep slope beneath. But it was here that I found the Good Samaritan headstone.  Never underestimate the power of a lovely sunny day to really bring out the beauty of a good carving.

A man is depicted on it, lying half naked being comforted by another man while a horse, presumably the victim’s, stands nearby.  In the distance two figures, presumably men, walk away with their backs to the scene.  It’s a well carved little picture and  I immediately thought of Parable of the Good Samaritan.

The epitaph beneath the carving.
©Carole Tyrrell

I am indebted to the Kent Archaeological; Society for the transcript of the epitaph. .  Even at 400% magnification, all I could make out was

‘…….Wife….

….this life…

…1777…..

…Children..’

It actually reads:

(In memory of)

Catherine Wife of Will Bromley

Departed this life

The ( ) Feb 1777

aged 33 years

Also Six Children

Will Bromley

departed this life

( ) June 1783 aged 41 years

Also William Gerrad Bromley died

the 30th of January 180(7) aged (36 years)

 

The Parable of The Good Samaritan comes from the Gospel of Luke, verses 10:25-37 and here is a shortened version taken from the World English Bible:

‘Jesus answered, “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he travelled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the host, and said to him, ‘Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.’ Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?”’

He said, “He who showed mercy on him.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

The Samaritan who stopped to help is described as Good but in reality Jews and Samaritans hated each other. They were known to destroy each other’s temples but few people have heard of the Samaritans nowadays. According to Wikipedia, the parable is now:

…….often recast in a more modern setting where the people are ones in equivalent social groups known not to interact comfortably. Thus, cast appropriately, the parable regains its message to modern listeners: namely, that an individual of a social group they disapprove of can exhibit moral behaviour that is superior to individuals of the groups they approve.’

The old road from Jerusalem to Jericho.
Shared under Wiki Commons

At the time in which the Parable is set, the Jerusalem to Jericho road was known as ‘The Way of Blood’ due to the amount of blood that was spilt on it from attacks on travellers by robbers.  It was extremely dangerous.  In fact Martin Luther King Jr in his ‘I’ve been to the Mountaintop’ speech given the day before his death, had more sympathy for the Levite and priest who ignored the victim and went on with their journeys. He described the road as:

‘As soon as we got on that road I said to my wife, “I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.” It’s a winding, meandering road … In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the “Bloody Pass.” And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking, and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’’]

Wikipedia

 There are several other interpretations of the Good Samaritan parable and if you are interested you can find them here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_Good_Samaritan

The phrase ‘Good Samaritan’ has become part of modern language and denotes someone who helps a stranger. There are several worldwide hospitals named after him and it has inspired art, fiction, photography and sculpture amongst others.   This is a 17th century painting from 1647

Bathasar van Cortbernde The Good Samaritan (1647)
Shared under Wiki Commons

 

and here is a modern sculpture from Nova Scotia.

Monument to William Bruce Almon by Samuel Nixon St Paul’s Church Nova Scotia 2019
Shared under Wiki Commons

 

However, the only images that I could find that resembled the headstone carving were from 19th century bibles which were much later than the carving on the headstone. This is taken from the 1875 Children’s Picture Bible Book.

This image come from the Children’s Picture Bible Book 1875.
Shared under Wiki Commons

 

So was the wife or the husband buried in St Margaret’s churchyard the Good Samaritan or was the image chosen to remind the viewer to be one to their fellow men?  We may never know.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading:

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+10%3A25-37&version=KJV

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

https://www.kentarchaeology.org.uk/research/monumental-inscriptions/rochester-st-margarets-church#03

 

Symbol(s) of the Month – the tools of the trade

This memento mori comes from the churchyard of Boxgrove Priory Church. Note the crossed pickaxe and possibly a spade at the left hand side of the skull.
©Carole Tyrrell

The tools of the trade refer to those used by the sexton in his duties as maintaining the local churchyard. The word ‘sexton’ is derived from the Latin word ‘sepeliarus’ which roughly translates as ‘the custodian of sacred objects’. He or she is an officer of the church, a member of the congregation and is also in charge of maintaining the church buildings.

The sexton’s tools can include:·

    •  A spade or shovel·
    • A turf cutter which is recognisable by its triangular blade·
    • A pickaxe

These can often be depicted either on their own or crossed and are reminders of mortality as they are connected with the dead. I used to think that they only appeared on the headstones or memorials of gravediggers but this hasn’t proved to be the case.  Instead they appear to be a form of memento mori and a reminder of the viewer’s ultimate destination.     There are variations as in this one on the headstone of Ann Baker in the churchyard of St Nicholas, Sevenoaks.  In this combination of symbols, a coffin takes centre stage as it appears to either be rising ominously out of the ground or is being deposited into it.

This fine set of tools includes a coffin, a pick axe, a spade and possibly a scythe. These are on the headstone of Ann Baker in St Nicholas churchyard, Sevenoaks
©Carole Tyrrell

The epitaph states that she was the wife of Stephen Baker and there is a headstone with that name on it nearby.  There is a nicely carved skull on it and I wondered if, as Ann’s symbols are larger and  appear to be professionally carved, that perhaps the family had gone up in the world.

 

Thismagnificent set of symbols comes from Halstone churchyard. They comprise a spade, a book (presumably a Bible), an Angel of Death and a skull and crossbones.
©Stephen Sebastian Murray

This fine example comes from St Peter’s, Falstone, Northumberland and  contains several key mortality motifs.  A spade or shovel , an open book, perhaps the Bible or a prayer book, a skull and crossbones and a winged angel above.

This example of a skull with a tool amongst other motifs comes from the churchyard of Rochester Cathedral in Kent.

Skull and tool, Rochester Cathedral graveyard.
©Carole Tyrrell

 

I have found two other magnificent examples in Edinburgh and Northumberland churchyards but am awaiting permission from the bloggers  to be able to use them.

However, sextons have another claim to fame as they also appear in literature and plays. For example, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act V, Scene 1,  the two gravediggers who are digging Ophelia’s grave debate whether she should have a Christian burial as she is a suicide.  Later in the same scene,  a sexton unearths Yorick’s skull giving rise to one of Hamlet’s most famous lines:

‘Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well.’

Several famous rock singers have worked as grave diggers including Joe Strummer, Dave Vanian of the Damned and Tom Petty .   However, the claim that Rod Stewart was one is only an urban myth.

Charles Dicken featured a sexton, Gabriel Grub, in a ghost story that appeared in The Pickwick Papers called ‘The Goblin and the Sexton’.  Gabriel is not a happy man. On Christmas Eve, he walks along Coffin Lane to the churchyard to finish digging a grave which is to be used the next day.  Along the way he takes out his ill temper on a boy singing a Christmas carol and then meets the Goblin sitting cross legged on a headstone.  This Christmas night will change Gabriel’s life forever.  According to the Victorian web this story was Dickens’ version of Rip Van Winkle and is an example of ‘a curmudgeon chastised.’

The Goblin and the Sexton by Phiz aka Hablot Knight Browne from Dickens The Pickwick Papers
Shared under Wiki Commons

 

It seems appropriate that sexton’s tools should feature so prominently in some churchyards. After all, he or she is the last person to take care of your body after death; whether you are buried or your ashes are deposited there and also the preservation of your memorial.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless indicated

References

http://headstonesymbols.co.uk/ngg_tag/sexton-tools/

https://flickeringlamps.com/2018/07/28/memento-mori-symbols-of-death-in-st-cuthberts-kirkyard-edinburgh/

https://churchmonumentssociety.org/resources/symbolism-on-monuments#s

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

http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/phiz/pickwick/24.html

https://familychristmasonline.com/stories_other/dickens/gabriel_grub.htm

 

Symbol of the Month – Old Father Time

Old Father Time on an almost horizontal headstone, Pluckley, Kent
©Carole Tyrrell

Ah, the perils of searching for symbols in old churchyards. I had to almost lie horizontally on the ground to take a photo of this one in the churchyard of St Nicholas, Pluckley, Kent.  I was a little nervous that the headstone would fall on top of me but what a headline that would have made!

At the time I had no idea what it represented and just thought it looked interesting.  In fact it wasn’t until much later when I’d had a chance to look at it properly that I realised the identity of the figure in the carving.  I then wished that I’d also taken a photo of the epitaph.

It is in fact a depiction of Old Father Time.  It’s a lovely example. As you can see he’s sitting with one hand holding a fearsome looking scythe with a bent and gnarled stem and the elbow of his other hand is resting on an hourglass.  He is a very old man with a white beard, large angel wings on his back and is flanked on either side by two angel heads.  What better symbol for a life that had ended?

So far I have only discovered a few other examples.  There is a 17th century version on a tombstone in a Hendon churchyard and a huge, modern one again resting on an hourglass within Warzaw’s Powarzski cemetery.  I can’t show them in this blog as one is on a stock images library and so not royalty free and I am awaiting permission to use the other image.  However I found this one on Wikipedia but its location is not given.

Old Father Time and a grieving widow. An unknown Irish memorial.
Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

We traditionally associate Old Father Time with the New Year celebrations. He is the representation of the outgoing Old Year welcoming in the New Year which is usually portrayed as a smiling baby.  But Father Time has also been described as a gentler version of the Grim Reaper as they share the same accoutrements of a scythe and hourglass.

 

He is considered to be the personification of age and is related to the ancient Greek god Chronos and also the Roman god Saturn. Father Time’s ageing, worn out body is a reminder that time ultimately devours all things and that none can escape.  The grains of sand in the hourglass count out not only his life but all lives.  Although he has a long, white beard, a sign of age, it has been interpreted as a reclamation of purity and innocence.  But, as the hourglass can be inverted, so can a new generation, the New Year, restore the source of physical vitality. However, time is not always destructive as it can also offer serenity and wisdom.

Cronos, from which chronology derives, was the ancient Greeks word for Time and the Romans knew him as Saturn. According to Wikipedia:

The ancient Greeks themselves began to confuse chronos, their word for time, with the agricultural god, Cronus, who had the attribute of a harvester’s sickle.  The Romans equated Cronos with Saturn, who also had a sickle and was treated as an old man, often with a crutch. The wings and hourglass were early Renaissance additions.’

 The Roman Chronos was originally an Italian corn god known as the Sower and a big festival known as the Saturnalia was held to celebrate the harvest.   So there is a link between these ancient gods and Father Time in that they both symbolically harvest, or cut down the mature crops, to make way for the Spring’s new growth.

Father Time appears throughout many cultures and also in art, books and sculpture amongst others.  In one of Hogarth’s later work, The Bathos, he appears lying down surrounded by his familiar objects, all now broken.

The Bathos by William Hogarth in which Old Father Time lies surrounded by his broken symbols.
Shared under Wiki Creative Commons.

But in St Nicholas’ churchyard  Old Father Time keeps an eternal watch over a life that has ended,  resting on a still crisply carved hourglass.  It is full, the scythe has harvested and so the endless cycle of life continues.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading:

Stories in Stone, Douglas Keister, Gibbs Smith, 2004

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

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

http://headstonesymbols.co.uk/

http://www.mortephotography.co.uk/index.asp?pageid=647016

https://wordsonstone.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/father-time-the-weeping-virgin/

https://literarydevices.net/bathos/

https://www.novareinna.com/festive/oft.html

https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-1-4612-6287-9_24

https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Father%20Time

http://www.speel.me.uk/gp/chyardmonsintro.htm

©Carole Tyrrell

Symbol of the Month – The Choice

The Full view of Alice Stone’s headstone in All Saints churchyard, Staplehurst, Kent
©Carole Tyrrell

You never know what little gems you might find in a country churchyard and I discovered one while exploring in Staplehurst.  All Saints has a commanding hilltop position and looks down on pretty half-timbered houses.  Since 1100 it has stood on this site and has several ancient features such as the remain s of an anchorite’s cell..

The churchyard was far larger than I expected and led to a more modern section at the back of the church.  But as I explored the older part of the churchyard I turned around and came face to face with this unusual symbol on a white headstone.

Alice’s epitaph – a little ineligible in parts.
©Carole Tyrrell

It’s dedicated to Alice Stone, wife of James Stone of Sheerness.  There is no date of birth recorded but she died on 5 February 1787 aged 27.  Alice may have died in childbirth which was a frequent cause of death for women in past eras or maybe she was a victim of an epidemic. We’ll never know.  However, there is some barely legible lettering above the inscription which I have been unable to sufficiently enhance in order to read it so this may well warrant a second visit.

The deceased arises and casts off their shroud.
©Carole Tyrrell

The scene at the top of the tombstone is almost like a miniature Doom painting.  My interpretation of it is that it’s Judgement Day and the deceased has awoken from their eternal slumber.  They appear to be in a burial chamber and lying on a ledge or on a shelf within a vault.  They have partly cast off their burial clothes and appear to be slightly decayed.  Ribs are visible and the head appears skull-like.

But where are they destined to go next?  What will be their fate?

There’s only the choice of two final destinations for them – Heaven or Hell which are depicted on either side of the figure.

The devil standing over a skeleton that’s lost it’s crown.
©Carole Tyrrell

On the right hand side is a magnificently winged demon, or The Devil himself, standing over a grinning skeleton whose crown has fallen from his head.   The crown is a very significant symbol in that it can indicate the passage from the earthly life into the divine and I have written it about in a previous Symbol of the Month.  The demonic figure appears to be holding what looks like a besom or maybe it is a three pronged fork or even a large arrow.  Although there are no flames, here the Devil is triumphant in his domain.

 

 

 

 

Closer view of the angel in the clouds and his trumpet.
©Carole Tyrrell

On the left-hand side, an angel appears to be floating within clouds while blowing a large trumpet in the direction of the newly awoken deceased.   Underneath the angel is a brick house with an entrance or a small narrow gateway (I have to say the entrance does resemble a fireplace).   I interpret this as being a depiction of God’s House and there are numerous references to it within the Bible such as Matthew 7:13-15:

‘Enter through the narrow gate,

For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction,

And many enter through it’

 And also in Genesis 28: 16-17:

 ‘When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought,

“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”

 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

 It was difficult to find a specific Biblical verse that mentioned the Devil and Hell but I did find a reference in Matthew 10:28 :

‘And fear not them which kill the body,

But are not able to kill the soul:

But rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.’

(King James Version)

 I am not a particularly religious person but the parishioners of All Saints at the time would have recognised the quotations.

The scene would have been a prompt to the passing viewer or mourner to live their lives in a righteous manner or face the alternative for eternity.   It’s very dramatic and, as Alice died at an early age, this reminder would have very pertinent at a time when the average life expectancy was far lower.

So far I have not been able to find out more about Alice or James but for now she rests within part of the quintessential English country churchyard.  She’s amongst ancient stones, some protected or obscured by mosses and lichens, and the bright wildflowers of late Spring.    However, I would like to know more about her and what may have inspired the little scene on her headstone.

R I P Alice Stone.

©Text and images Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

https://www.kentarchaology.org.uk/Research/Pub/ArchCant/009%20-%201874/009-11.pdf

https://www.kentarchaeology.org.uk/Research/Pub/ArchCant/009%20-%201874/009-11.pdf

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+10%3A28&version=KJV