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

Unfortunately the epitaph beneath isn’t as clear as the carving.  Even at 400% magnification, all I can make out is

‘…….Wife….

….this life…

…1777…..

…Children..’

 

So I’m not sure if the headstone was erected by a wife or is dedicated to a wife.

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

 

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

Symbol of the Month – The Lily Cross

The magnificent Lily Cross on the Goodhart memorial in St Georges churchyard, Beckenham.
©Carole Tyrrell

 

I have always loved the magnificent Lily Cross in St George’s churchyard,  Beckenham as it’s such a bold and well carved one.  It’s also one of the largest memorials with the churchyard and is dedicated to a prominent local family, the Goodharts.  There is a poignant epitaph as well.

The epitaph to the Goodhart family beneath the Lily Cross. St Georges churchyard, Beckenham
©Carole Tyrrell

The Lily Cross is in the form of a Celtic Cross with the  four arms of the Cross each ending in a lily flower.

Lilies have always had a special and long significance with death.  In the 19th century their pungent, heady aroma was purportedly used to disguise the smell of the recently deceased’s body when it was the custom to have them rest at home prior to the funeral.   But the lily has also been seen as a representation of the soul’s return to innocence after death.

This is because of the lily’s strong associations with purity and innocence and with its colour of pure white it’s especially linked with the Virgin Mary.  Hence its other name the Madonna Lily.  In Christian Art, the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary are often depicted as holding a lily.

But there are other variants on the Lily Cross and these are:

  • The Flore Cross
  • The Patonce Cross
  • The Fleur de Lys Cross

These are more stylised versions of the Lily Cross.  In the Flore or Fleury Cross the arms end in a representation of flower petals and usually a lily. They often have three points at the end of each arm which represent three petals which is the version that I have usually seen without realising it.  A variation may be two points or horns or crowns but I haven’t seen this variation  yet.

A Flore cross in St Nicholas churchyard, Sevenoaks
©Carole Tyrrell

The Patonce Cross is any form of cross which has expanded end in which each arm ends in floriated points like the Flore or Fleury Crosses. In heraldry, the three petals represent faith, wisdom and chivalry and the four arms of the cross spread these to the four corners of the world. As a Christian Cross, the three petals represent the Trinity and the total of twelve petals symbolise the Apostles.

According to seiyaku.com, it’s claimed that the term Patonce is derived from the French word for the paw of an ounce or Snow Leopard. However it looks nothing like the paw print of a leopard but has been interpreted as the French being whimsical or romantic.

 

 

The Fleur-de-Lys Cross has similarities to both the Fleurie and Patonce Crosses in that it has liliform ends to the arms of the cross as they do. But these represent barbed fighting spears which are used in French heraldry.   The entire cross is a very stylised lily that has heraldic associations  especially in France where it was traditionally connected with royalty.  When Pope Leo II crowned Charlemagne as Emperor he was reputed to have presented him with a blue banner emblazoned with a golden fleur de lys.  However, after the French Revolution the fleur de lys was less obviously  associated with royalty.    Edward II is said to have used it in his coat of arms to emphasise his claim to the French throne.  Iwww.senyaku.com it’s claimed that this cross has been adopted by modern sub cultures such as the Goth movement who know it as the Gothic cross and New Agers who call it the Lotus Cross.

But a brief word on the cross as symbol.  It wasn’t always the primary emblem of Christianity and in fact, it wasn’t adopted until after the 2nd century. Prior to this it was the fish symbol, the ichthys, that was used by early Christians to identify fellow believers and often appears carved or written on their tombs.

The Ichthys, the symbol used by the early Christians prior to adopting the cross.
Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

In Christianity, the cross represents the Crucifixion and is a sign of Christ and faith.

But the cross also appears throughout many cultures and civilisations in several forms.  The cross of Horus, or the ankh, was used by the ancient Egyptians and, as it was often held in the hand of a god or powerful person, it’s a symbol of power.

Nefertiti receiving the ankh.
©https://goodlucksymbols.com/ankh/

The swastika was another ancient form of the cross. But is now unfortunately associated with death and destruction due to its adoption by the Nazis.  But originally it was seen as a sign of good fortune and came from the East as these two examples show:

However, even for Christians, there were uncomfortable connotations to the cross. For centuries, it had been used as a method of punishment, not only for early Christians, but also for wrongdoers such as criminals. However, its adoption as the central symbol of the Christian symbol is attributed to a dream of the Roman Emperor, Constantine, in AD 320. In this he decided to abandon the Roman pagan gods and pray to the Christian god.  According to Douglas Keister:

‘During a midnight prayer Constantine gazed towards the heavens and saw a group of star that looked like a huge, glowing luminous cross.  After he fell asleep, Constantine had a dream in which he saw Christ holding the same symbol and instructing Constantine  to affix it to his standards.  He defeated Maxentius.  As a result he had the emblem applied to all of his standards and emblems’

When I began researching this post, even I had no idea of how many variants there were on the Lily Cross or, indeed, on crosses in general.  It makes a stroll through a churchyard or cemetery even more intriguing now that I can spot the subtle differences between the various types.  Although I have often seen lilies carved on headstones and memorials I have yet to see one as lovely as the St George’s Lily Cross.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading

Stories in Stone, Douglas Keister, Gibbs Smith, 2004

http://agraveinterest.blogspot.com/2011/04/different-types-of-crosses-in-cemetery.html?m=1

https://www.seiyaku.com/customs/crosses/fleur-de-lis.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fleur-de-lis

http://www.ancientpages.com/2016/10/10/ancient-symbol-fleur-de-lis-its-meaning-and-history-explained/

https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-symbolism-of-a-fleur-de-lis

http://www.ancientpages.com/2018/07/28/10-christian-symbols-explained/

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

https://www.google.com/search?q=the+different+types+of+crosses+explained&oq=the+different+types+of+crosses+explained&aqs=chrome..69i57j69i64l3.7747j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

https://www.britannica.com/topic/cross-religious-symbol

http://www. headstonesymbols.co.uk/

Symbol of the Month – The Church Bell

Detail of the Judd headstone, St Michael’s churchyard, Betchworth, Surrey
©Carole Tyrrell

 

This month’s symbol is the Church Bell and was inspired by the three bells that I saw on a Mr Judd’s headstone in St Michael’s churchyard, Betchworth, Surrey. It must be an ex-bellringer I thought and sure enough the epitaph stated that Mr Judd was:

‘ for 36 years Captain of the Bellringers at this Church.’

The central bell on the three appeared to be ringing but was it a specific peal?  A secret message to other bellringers?

Full view of the Judd headstone, St Michael’s churchyard, Betchworth, Surrey.
©Carole Tyrrell

I then found another similar headstone in Beckenham Cemetery which was dedicated to Henry Robert Taylor but with no further information on it.    This time all three bells appeared to be static.

So I contacted The Central Council of Church Bellringers (yes it does exist) to find out if they could shed light on the bells.  Firstly, they were very interested in my photos as these are rare memorials and they didn’t know that they existed.  One of their members, a retired Captain of Bellringers and historian,  was kind enough to reply and said  that the Taylor headstone was probably the grave of a bellringer which was close to the door of the bell ringing chamber. He added that the bells depicted were inaccurate for English church bell ringing and thought that it might be a standard pattern designed to fit a printed headstone.

However, with the Judd headstone in Betchworth he thought that the bells were a much better representation of a church bell hung for ‘change ringing’.

The churchwarden at St Michael;s, Bernard Hawkins, was kind enough to reply to my questions and said that the Judd tombstone was originally dedicated to Clara Judd  by eventually William Henry (Bill) was added to the inscription.  He also confirmed that Bill is buried close to the door of  the church’s bell-tower. In 1910, Canon Sanders paid tribute to his astonishing 36 years as Captain of the Bellringers by saying that’…the whole parish owes a debt of gratitude.’  And here he is:

Change ringing is an English form of bell ringing and if you wish to know more there is a link in the references and further reading section.

These two headstones and the bellringing references made me think of the links between church bells, the rituals of the church and death.  The most obvious one is ringing the ‘death toll.’ which appears in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 71:

‘No longer mourn for me when I am dead,

Than you should hear the surly, sullen bell,

Give warning to the world that I am fed

From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell.’

 

There is also the often quoted final lines from John Donne’s 1624 Meditation 17, from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions:

‘Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee’.

Although only the ‘death toll’ is used today, originally there were three tolls that were rung and they denoted different stages of death.  I am indebted to the headstonesymbols.co.uk blog for this:

‘There was superstition that evil spirits would gather around a dying person, trying to catch the departing soul. To give the soul a chance of ascending to heaven, church bells were rung at the time of death to frighten away these demonic forces. It was even added to the rules of the early Church of England that:

…when any is passing out of this Life, a Bell shall be Tolled, and the Minister shall not then slack to do his last Duty. And after the Parties Death (if it so fall out) there shall be rung no more than one short Peal, and one other before the Burial, and one other after the Burial.

Church of England Canon law; 1604

The Passing Bell

The first ringing to indicate an impending death was called the “Passing Bell“. This was to alert the priest that he was needed to perform the Last Rights.

The Death Knell

A “Death Knell” was rung immediately after the death. This was a slow solemn peal and each strike or teller identified the sex and age of the deceased. In small communities they would know from this who had passed and who’s souls to pray for.

From the number of strokes being formerly regulated according to circumstances, the hearers might determine the sex and social condition of the dying or dead person. Thus the bell was tolled twice for a woman and thrice for a man. If for a clergyman, as many times as he had orders, and, at the conclusion, a peal on all the bells to distinguish the quality of the person for whom the people are to put up their prayers. In the North of England, are yet rung nine knells for a man, six for a woman, and three for a child.

Old Church Lore by William Andrews

Lych or Corpse Bell

The last bell, the Lych or Corpse bell would be rang at the funeral, and is the only one that survives today.’

 

The Funeral Toll was also rung as the procession approached the church and was known as ‘ringing home the dead’.

The Dead Bell

A worn hand bell symbol on a headstone. Courtesy of http://headstonesymbols.co.uk
©http://headstonesymbols.co.uk

However, in Scotland and parts of Northern England, a hand bell was rung which was known as the dead bell.  This was used with deaths and funerals until the 19th century.  The dead bells were rung for two  reasons; to protect the newly deceased from evil spirits and to also seek prayers for the dead person’s soul.  These ‘dead bells’ are often carved on monuments and tombstones in Scotland and Northern England.  There are two men ringing dead bells on the Bayeux Tapestry at the funeral of Edward the Confessor:

The funeral procession of Edward the Confessor as depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry. Note the dead bells held by the two people next to (below) the deceased.From: Lucien Musset The Bayeux Tapestry, translated by Richard Rex, published by the Boydell Press, Woodbridge, UK. 2005. ISBN 1-84383-163-5. pp. 160-165
Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

But there are also superstitions and beliefs concerned with church bells particularly during the medieval period. They were thought to have special protective powers to drive away evil spirits for example and were often baptised. After all, most people know of the Houses of Parliament’s world famous Great Bell in its clock house, Big Ben. The  Catholic church still has a blessing for new bells in which they’re  given the power to protect those who hear it, repel storms and triumph over evil.

There are also several legends concerning bells that have ended up underwater either due to cliff erosion, a reservoir or hidden in lakes.  They are reputed to ring from their watery graves at dead of night and Simon Marsden, the celebrated photographer, mentions them in in his books.

Bells have always been an intrinsic part of church life whether ringing to denote the end of a life or jubilantly pealing at the beginning of a new life in marriage.  They have been held in reverence and also awe due to their supposedly magical powers.  Even today, they sometimes have names and are seen as part of the community.  Both the Betchworth and Beckenham headstones record a connection between man and bell that has lasted for centuries.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

References and further reading:

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

https://www.reddit.com/r/westworld/comments/5gpwyx/symbolism_of_the_bells_in_the_graveyard/

http://www.solwaypast.co.uk/index.php/structures-in-stone/13-mem/90-st

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

http://www.gmct.com.au/media/720756/gmct-information-sheet-_cemetery-symbols_lr.pdf

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

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

http://www.sacred-texts.com/etc/fcod/fcod08.htm

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

http://headstonesymbols.co.uk/headstone-meanings-and-symbols/bell-on-headstone/ http://www.famousliteraryworks.com/donne_for_whom_the_bell_tolls.htm

https://cccbr.org.uk

https://surrey.cc.org.uk – grateful thanks to Martin Higgins

https://fromtheedges.wordpress.com/2015/03/20/the-sound-of-sunken-bells/

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

 

Symbol(s) of the month:  A camel and a family of cats

Due to a major mistake by my internet provider I have been offline for over two weeks but shadowsflyaway is back again!

The circular stone in Brompton’s Garden of Remembrance featuring the family motifs.
© Carole Tyrrell

 

Animals increasingly appear on modern memorials and I’ve often wondered if they are a totem for the deceased or maybe they just like them or maybe they had a pet.  Cats are very common and I’ve seen them either in 2D carved on a  headstone or in 3D form as a small statue.

But this one is unusual as it’s very personal, almost in a code, and is on a memorial stone in Brompton Cemetery’s Garden of Remembrance.   Most memorial stones are small and people use calligraphy or a very small motif due to the limited size.   The family name isn’t stated on this stone and the images are almost playful.

I was lucky enough to meet the widow of the man commemorated on the plaque. She is Maria Kacandes-Kamil and the mommy cat represented her.  The two her cats were her daughters and the camel depicted her husband, Steven, who died in 2011.  The significance of the camel is a reference

to the family name (you may have guessed it already) which is Kamil.   Also note that the mommy cat, Maria, is pointing at the camel to possibly denote the marital bond.

It was lovely to find a modern memorial which had a touch of humour as well as being very personal.

How many casual passer-bys like myself would have guessed the significance of the animals?

RIP Steven.

 

© text and photo Carole Tyrrell

 

 

Symbol of the Month – The Mourning Woman

 

A fine example from Kensal Green Cemetery on the Isabella Shaw memorial.
©Carole Tyrrell

 

This month’s symbol is the Mourning Woman who is derived from Classicism and its association with ancient Greece and Rome.  I would hesitate before describing their presence in Victorian cemeteries and churchyards as a monstrous regiment but they have mostly been on duty for over a hundred years.  They patiently watch over and grieve for the departed.  An eternal mourner, often with a veil covering her head and swathed in flowing robes, she keeps vigil.

The Mourning Woman can be a free standing statue on top of a monument or plinth looking sorrowfully down on the viewer.  She can also be in the form of a 3D relief weeping over an urn containing the beloved’s ashes as in these examples:

 

At West Norwood cemetery there is this example of one resting on a lifesize cross (I hate to say it but whenever I see her I’m always reminded of the George Formby song ‘I’m Leaning on a lamp post…etc.).

A full view of the mourning woman as she rests on a cross on the Herbert Warren memorial, West Norwood Cemetery.
©Carole Tyrrell

 

Classicism held sway when London’s Magnificent Seven cemeteries were created. The anti-Catholic movement from the Georgian era was still a major influence with the cry ‘No Popery!’ loudly shouted.   So no crosses, no statues of Jesus or any angels were permitted.  Instead the clear cool lines of the ancient world were used as well as some of their traditions.

Mourning women were one of these as women played an integral part in the funerary ritual in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome.   In the latter they were paid professional mourners as the more mourners there were at a funeral the more wealthy and prestigious the departed had been in life.  In the funeral procession which took place prior to the cremation the professional mourning women, who were not part of the deceased’s family, would loudly wail, rip out their hair and also scratch their faces in mourning according to contemporary records.  It was felt that women could more easily express emotions as it was unacceptable for a man to weep in public.

There are several Biblical references to the mourning women.  They are mentioned in Amos 5:16, Chronicles 35:25 and also in Jeremiah 9:17 as below

Thus saith the LORD of hosts,

Consider ye, and call for the mourning women,

that they may come;

and send for cunning women, that they may come:
King James Bible

 

The reference to ‘cunning’ women means ‘skilled’ women.

They would often weep noisily and copiously spilling their tears into vessels known as tear catchers or lachrimosa.  At the recent excellent Museum of Docklands exhibition, The Roman Dead, there were some on display.  They were small glass vessels and were placed in tombs, presumably overflowing, after the funeral was complete. Again, if many tears were collected, it signified that the deceased was held in high esteem and those crying the most would receive a higher payment.

Incidentally the tear catchers became fashionable again in the 19th century with the Victorian cult of death.  But this time the bottles had special stoppers that allowed the tears to evaporate and when they did the mourning period would be over.  There is also a Biblical association with the practice of collecting tears in bottles in Psalms 56:8:

Thou tellest my wanderings:

put thou my tears into thy bottle:

are they not in thy book?

King James Bible

 

In ancient Greece it was again women who prepared the body and then laid it out ready for viewing on the second day.

Kinswomen, wrapped in dark robes, stood round the bier, the chief mourner, either mother or wife, was at the head, and others behind. This part of the funeral rites wasthe prothesis. Women led the mourning by chanting dirges, tearing at their hair and clothing, and striking their torso, particularly their breasts.

Wikipedia

 

Here is a 6th century depiction of ancient Greek professional mourning women in full flow:

Body lying in state attended by family members with the mournign women ritually tearing their hair, Terracotta plaque – late 6th century BC. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, USA
Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

 

So for centuries women have been associated with, and played a major part, in the funerary process which may have been one of the reasons for the Mourning Woman appearing in cemeteries.

I feel that these women could be seen as a forerunner of the winged angels that flew into cemeteries towards the end of the 19th century.  Both of them were guardians of the dead protecting them for eternity.

To end on, here is an lovely example that I unexpectedly discovered while on a Sunday afternoon stroll in the ‘secret’ graveyard behind St Nicholas’s church in Sevenoaks.  She stands, surrounded by back gardens, and is a particularly elegant version.  The memorial beneath her feet is dedicated to Elizabeth Dick and was erected by her sorrowing husband.

Sleep well for eternity Elizabeth and all those guarded by the mourning women.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading:

https://victorianmonsters.wordpress.com/victorian-funerary-practices/https://victorianmonsters.wordpress.com/victorian-funerary-practices/

https://www.ancient.eu/article/96/the-roman-funeral/

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

http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA*/Funus.html

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/understanding-grief/201802/professional-mourners-ancient-tradition

https://biblehub.com/jeremiah/9-17.htm

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

http://www.lachrymatory.com/History.htm

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

http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA*/Funus.html

 

 

 

 

Symbol of the Month – The Shrouded Cross

The Shrouded Cross on the family grave of the Beckley family, St Nicholas church, Sevenoaks
©Carole Tyrrell

This month’s symbol is a rare one and I discovered it in my local churchyard, St Nicholas in Sevenoaks. It’s on the grave of the Beckley family.

A draped cross in West Norwood Greek section.
©Carole Tyrrell

However, I have also previously seen crosses with real cloth draped on them in two big London cemeteries One was in the Greek Section of West Norwood.  At that time I thought that perhaps it was to commemorate an anniversary or a particular religious festival. However, during my research for this post. I have discovered that the colour of the   West Norwood cloth, white,  is associated with Easter Sunday.

As you can see from the above photo of the Beckley headstone, the cloth is wrapped loosely around the cross  and, according to my research, it’s a resurrection symbol.  In fact it’s known as the Resurrection Cross or the Shrouded Cross. Some of its other names are: the Draped Cross, the Empty Cross, the Risen Cross or the Deposition Cross. The latter is a further reminder of Christ’s descent from the cross

It’s intended to be a representation of Jesus no longer being on the cross. Although there are also plain crosses on graves unless they have the cloth they are not Resurrection crosses. The cloth is a supposed reference to Christ’s grave clothes or shroud that were found in the tomb after he rose from the dead. It emphasises to the bereaved left behind that death isn’t the end.

Within the church calendar, the cloth draped around a cross during important dates in the Christian calendar particularly Easter has special significance according the colours of the fabric. These are white, purple – the colour of royalty, and black.  The latter is used from Palm Sunday (the week prior to Easter) until Good Friday and denotes mourning after Christ’s death on the cross.

The shrouded cross on the Beckley headstone is a striking image which caught my attention and really stood out in a churchyard containing several headstones with fascinating symbols on them.

So this one may be an affirmation of faith on behalf of the deceased  or a strong belief in the afterlife with death being seen as the beginning of a new life.

 

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

 

References and further reading

https://www.seiyaku.com/customs/crosses/shrouded.html

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

https://answers.yahoo.com/question/ind?qid=20170406140444AAUuXdc