Symbol of the month – The Butterfly

This is another older post about a symbol that is not common within churchyards and cemeteries and so I am always thrilled whenever I see an example.  This gorgeous example is in below is in the interior of St Nicholas’ church in Chislehurst, Kent. It’s dedicated to a woman and perfectly illustrates the use of the butterfly as a symbol of transformation and resurrection.

As the lockdown edges closer to more restrictions being relaxed, I hope to be out exploring again very soon!

Butterfly on monement, interior of St Nichols church Chislehurst, Kent, copyright Carole Tyrrell



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©Carole Tyrrell


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©Carole Tyrrell


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©Carole Tyrrell

The Gordon monument butterfly motif in all its glory. Kensal Green Cemetery. copyright Carole Tyrrell
The Gordon monument butterfly motif in all its glory. Kensal Green Cemetery.
copyright Carole Tyrrell

Cemeteries and graveyards can be happy hunting grounds for butterflies.  But not just the bright, dancing summer jewels, borne on the breeze, but also the much rarer kind which perches in them for eternity.

So far I’ve only discovered two of this particular species which were both in London.  One was in Brompton and the other was in Kensal Green.  But I have also seen others online in American cemeteries.

But I’m surprised that the butterfly symbol isn’t more widely used as it is a deep and powerful motif of resurrection and  reincarnation.  It has fluttered through many cultures which include Ancient Egypt, Greece and Mexico.

In classical myth, Psyche, which translates as ‘soul’, is represented in the form of a butterfly or as a young woman with butterfly wings.  She’s also linked with Eros the Greek God of love.   It is also a potent representation of rebirth and in this aspect, the Celts revered it.  Some of the Ancient Mexican tribes such as the Aztec and Mayans used carvings of butterflies to decorate their buildings as certain butterfly species were considered to be reincarnations of the souls of dead warriors.  The Hopi and Navaho tribes of Native American Indians performed the Butterfly Dance and viewed them as symbols of change and transformation.

The butterfly is an archetypal image of resurrection in Christianity and this meaning is derived from the 3 stages of a butterfly’s life.  These are:  1st stage = the caterpillar, 2nd stage = the chrysalis and 3rd and final stage = the butterfly.  So the sequence is life, death and resurrection.   The emergence of the butterfly from the chrysalis is likened to the soul discarding the flesh.  It has been depicted on Ancient Christian tombs and, in Christian art, Christ has been shown holding a butterfly.   It is supposed to appear chiefly on childrens memorials but the two that I’ve seen were on adult memorials.

Butterflies also feature in Victorian mourning jewellery and there is a fascinating article on this with some lovely examples at:

http://artofmourning.com/2014/10/25/butterfly-symbols-and-19th-century-jewellery/

In the 20th century, butterflies appeared in the flowing, organic lines of Art Nouveau and often featured in jewellery and silverware.

Face and butterfly on exterior of chapel. copyright Carole Tyrrell

Face and butterfly on exterior of chapel.
copyright Carole Tyrrell

This example is from the Watts Chapel in Surrey and shows the flowing lines and stylised butterfly.   They also appear in vanitas paintings, the name given to a particular category of symbolic works of art and especially those associated with the still life paintings of the 16th and 17th centuries in Flanders and the Netherlands.    In these the viewer was asked to look at various symbols within the painting such as skulls, rotting fruit etc and ponder on the worthlessness of all earthly goods and pursuits as well as admiring the artist’s skill in depicting these.  Butterflies in this context can be seen as fleeting pleasure as they have a short life of just two weeks.

Butterfly traditions

There are many superstitions and beliefs associated with butterflies.  They are often regarded as omens, good and bad, or as an advance messenger indicating that a visitor or loved one is about to arrive. In Japan, they are traditionally associated with geishas due to their associations with beauty and delicate femininity.

Butterfly & Chinese wisteria by Xu Xi Early Sing Dynasty c970. By Xü Xi (Scanned from an old Chinese book) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Butterfly & Chinese wisteria by Xu Xi Early Sing Dynasty c970.
By Xü Xi (Scanned from an old Chinese book) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Chinese see them as good luck and a symbol of immortality. Sailors thought that if they saw one before going on ship it meant that they would die at sea .  In Devon it was traditional to kill the first butterfly that you saw or have a year of bad luck as a result. In Europe the butterfly was seen as the spirit of the dead and, in the Gnostic tradition, the angel of death is often shown crushing a butterfly underfoot.   In some areas in England, it’s thought that butterflies contain the souls of children who have come back to life. A butterfly’s colours can also be significant. A black one can indicate death and a white one signifies the souls or the departed. It’s also a spiritual symbol of growth in that sometimes the past has to be discarded in order to move forward as the butterfly sheds its chrysalis to emerges complete. So it can indicate a turning point or transition in life. There are also shamanistic associations with the butterfly’s shapeshifting and it has also been claimed as a spiritual animal or totem.

Brompton Cemetery, tomb unknown

This example with its wings outstretched is from Brompton Cemetery in London.   Alas, the epitaph appears to have vanished over time and the surrounding vegetation was so luxuriant  that I will have to return in the winter to investigate further.  Note the wreath of ivy that surrounds it.  Ivy is an evergreen and is a token of eternal life and memories.  The wreath’s ribbons are also nicely carved.

The Gordon monument, Kensal Green

The second one is perched on the tomb of John Gordon Esquire, a Scotsman from Aberdeenshire who died young at only 37.  As the epitaph states   ‘it was erected to his memory as the last token of sincere love and affection by his affectionate widow’.    Gordon came from an extended family of Scottish landowners who had estates in Scotland and plantations in Tobago amongst other interests.  The monument is Grade II listed and is made of Portland stone with a York stone base and canopy supported by the pillars.  There was an urn on the pedestal  between the four tapering stone pillars but this was stolen in 1997.

The butterfly also has an ouroboros encircling it so, not only a symbol or resurrection,  but also of eternity with the tail devouring snake.  It is a little hard to see but it is there.

The butterfly symbol of the roof of the Gordon monument Kensal Green Cemetery. copyright Carole Tyrrell
The butterfly symbol of the roof of the Gordon monument Kensal Green Cemetery.
copyright Carole Tyrrell

The pharaonic heads at each corner are Egyptian elements within an ostensibly  classically inspired monument. Acroteria, or acroterion as is its singular definition, are an architectural ornament.  The ones on this monument are known as acroteria angularia. The ‘angularia’ means at the corners.

The entire monument is based on an illustration of the monument of the Murainville family in Pugin’s Views of Paris of 1822 and also on Moliere’s memorial which are both at Pere Lachaise in Paris.

The Gordon memorial incorporates elements  of the Egyptian style and symbolism that influenced 19th century funerary monuments after the first Egyptian explorations. Kensal Green contains many significant examples and there are others to be found in Brompton, Highgate and Abney Park.  The Victorians regarded the Egyptians highly as it was also a cult of the dead.

So when you next see a butterfly fluttering on the breeze or even perched on a memorial for eternity remember its importance within the tradition of symbols, religions and cultures.  Who knows it might be one of your ancestors…..

© Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

References:

http://www.gardenswithwings.com/butterfly-stories/butterfly-symbolism.html

http://www.whats-your-sign.com/butterfly-animal-symbolism.html

http://www.spiritanimal.info/butterfly-spirit-animal/

http://www.pure-spirit.com/more-animal-symbolism/611-butterfly-symbolism

http://www.shamanicjourney.com/butterfly-power-animal-symbol-of-change-the-soul-creativity-freedom-joy-and-colour

http://www.bbc.co.uk/london/content/articles/2005/05/10/victorian_memorial_symbols_feature.shtml

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

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

https://www.reference.com/world-view/butterfly-symbolize-cf9c772f26c7fa5

https://www.reference.com/world-view/butterflies-symbolize-19a1e06c9c98351c?qo=cdpArticles

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

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

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

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1191024

Clare Gibson, How to Read Symbols, Herbert Press 2009

Douglas Keister, Stories in Stone, A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography, Gibbs Smith, 2004

J C Cooper, Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols, Thames & Hudson 1978.

Symbol of the Month – Simply To Thy Cross I Cling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are its lyrics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes just the phrase is enough as here:

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

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

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

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

Modern version on a 16 year year old girls' grave in Beckenham Cemetery at Elmers End. ©Carole Tyrrell
Modern version on a 16 year year old girls’ grave in Beckenham Cemetery at Elmers End.
©Carole Tyrrell

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

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

©  Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Symbol of the Month – The Woman from Samaria or a Greek goddess?

The Caryer headstone in 2011 , All Saints Frindsbury Photo Kent Archaeological Society

I featured part of this symbol on the Caryer headstone in an earlier Symbol of the Month – the All seeing Eye.    The Kent Archaeological Society website had given me the epitaph and also a reference to the Woman of Samaria with a  question mark next to it.

In March 2020, I visited All Saints, Frindsbury where the Caryer headstone is and looked at it and my photos and wasn’t quite sure if they were right.   Then I looked again at their photo of it taken in 2011 and what a difference 9 years makes!

As you can see, erosion has blurred a lot of the fine detail seen in the 2011 photo and it’s now hard to make out the image of the woman with such clarity now.  It doesn’t help that the headstone is leaning over so making it quite hard to get a decent photo.    In the 2020 image some of the detail has been lost. The stone is darker but. despite the erosion, it is a wonderful example of the stone carver’s art and skill.  This would have been an expensive headstone.

So what have we got? In the 2011 photo, A glamorous, somewhat scantily clad woman who was really well carved. She wears classical style diaphanous robes and wisps of lie across her exposed leg. She has her hair up in a Classical hairstyle and is sitting side on to the viewer wearing a pensive expression. She seems to be sitting on pebbles – is she at a river or at a beach? She holds a water jug and there are clouds above her.  The all seeing eye of God is on the other side of the headstone which may have been comforting to those left behind.

The reference to the Woman from Samaria being a possible source  is. I think, that the lady is holding a water jug and seems to be near water. So does she carry the waters of eternal life that Christ promised in the Bible? Or is she just a scantily clad woman holding a water jug?

The Woman from Samaria appears in the Gospel of John 4: verses 4-26.   Here they are:

There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink.

 (For his disciples were gone away unto the city to buy meat.)

 Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.

Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.

The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water?

Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle?

Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:

But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.

The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw. King James Version

The meeting between the woman and Christ has inspired many artists and here are two interpretations.   But I had my doubts.   For instance, there’s no well visible on the headstone and, although she could be seen as bathing in the water of eternal life, the living waters referred to in the Bible, with a clear reference to resurrection it just didn’t feel right.   It also felt a bit tortuous to try and fit it all in.

Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807) Shared under Wikipedia Creative Commons
Jesus at the Samaritan Woman – Gervais Drouet Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

But there are other images of female water bearers and one of the most obvious is associated with the Zodiac sign of Aquarius.  She is often depicted holding a water jug aloft or pouring from it.  But no, I carried on looking. Sometimes researching symbols is like detective work!

But there is another symbol that involves a woman as water bearer and that is the Zodiac sign of Aquarius.  In fact it is known as the water bearer.  

However, there is also the Greek goddess, Hebe, or the cup bearer. She was the daughter of Zeus and was the cupbearer for the gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus.  Hebe served nectar and ambrosia to them until she married Heracles.  She also had influence over eternal youth and the ability to restore youth to mortals.  In fact, Hebe comes from the Greek word meaning youth or prime of life.

Statue of Hebe Antonio Canova (1757-1822) Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

She was a popular subject in art during 1750-1880 and that would fit in with the date of the headstone. Hannah was the first to buried there and she died in 1809.   There many depictions of Hebe and in fact it was well known that all that was needed to summon her was a floaty white dress, some flowers in the hair and cup to hold. A setting in the clouds helped as well and maybe our Frindsbury lady isn’t sitting on pebbles but on puffy clouds.  In some portraits of Hebe a degree of nudity was allowed.    She was often depicted with wings which can be seen behind the figure on the headstone.  In art Hebe often appears with an eagle. Hebe also had her own personal cult and figures of her were popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries for fountains.

Painting of Hebe – Jacques Louis Dubois (1768-1843) Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

So I think that the figure is a classical one and probably based on Hebe.  Our glamorous lady in the floating draperies may be a reference to the deceased always remaining eternally young in death.  Hannah was only 30 when she died but that wasn’t unusual in an age of low mortality.   She is protected by the watchful Eye of God. It’s interesting to see a pagan symbol beside a more conventionally Christian one.

We will never know the inspiration behind the image used on this headstone.   It may have been skillfully copied from a printed image or painting and may have had personal significance to her husband who is also buried there together with their young son.  It would have been the height  of Classicism and it’s interesting to find it in a country churchyard.  It is sad to see much it has eroded over the years but one see the confidence of stone masons at that time in tackling subjects such as this.

So, in my opinion, our lady may not be the Woman from Samaria but a representation of Hebe.  But of course she could just be another elegant lady showing a bit of leg as she sits for all eternity above the Caryer family.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

References and further reading

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samaritan_woman_at_the_well#:~:text=The%20woman%20appears%20in%20John,was%20sitting%20by%20the%20well.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John%204%3A7-29&version=KJV

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebe_(mythology)

Symbol of the Month – The All Seeing Eye

Poking about in churchyards as is my wont is how I discover symbols to write about. So it was while exploring 2 churchyards in Kent that I discovered this month’s symbol.

This is the All Seeing Eye, also known as The Eye of Providence, and is usually depicted as a single realistic eye within a triangle or within a burst of light. I’ve always associated it with Freemasons as it appears on their documents.  But neither of these headstones had any other symbols often linked with Freemasons such as the square and compass.  So what did it mean?

The one in the churchyard of St Martin of Tours in Eynsford had what looked like two snakes bordering it together with other familiar memento symbols. Sadly the epitaph is now illegible. 

The second one is in the churchyard of All Saints in Frindsbury and this intriguing version on the grave of the Caryer family.   The Kent Archaeological Society thought that it might represent the Woman of Samuria as featured in John 4.4-26 but I’m not sure about that.  The epitaph reads:

‘Sacred

To the memory of

Hannah wife of John Caryer

Died 9th Sept 1809 aged 30 years

Also Robert her son

Died 28th June 1801 aged 8 years

Also the above John Caryer

Died 11th March 1814 aged (4)2 years.’

The Supper at Emmaus by Jocopo Pontormo dated 1525, shared under Wiki Creative Commons

The earliest known representation of The Eye is in a painting called ‘The Supper at Emmaus’ by the Italian painter Jacopo Pontormo in 1525. This was painted during the Renaissance and it depicts the second part of the Second Appearance story in Luke 24: verses 13.35: 

And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further.

But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them.

And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them.

And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight.

As you can see the Eye is above Christ’s head which shows that God is watching the event and so can be seen as a Christian symbol.  On the Ancient Origins website it’s claimed that

‘the elements surrounding the eye also have a Christian meaning. For example, the triangle surrounding the eye also have a Christian meaning in that it’s a clear reference to the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The burst of light is meant to symbolise divinity, holiness and God himself’

Within the Bible there are many references to The Eye in the context of God keeping watch and observing in Proverbs and Ecclesiasticus and also from  Psalms 33: verse 18:

‘The LORD is in his holy temple, the LORD’s throne is in heaven:
his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men.

Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon them that fear him,
upon them that hope in his mercy . . . . 

The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous,
and his ears are open unto their cry.’

The Wadjet/udjat Eye of Horus pendant, Cairo Museum, Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

But older religions and faiths such as Hinduism and the Ancient Egyptians also had an eye symbol that was central to their beliefs.

In Egypt it was known as the Eye of Horus. Even today it’s still used as an emblem of protection and good health. The Eye was also known as a wadjet (the whole one), wedjat or udjat.  Sailors would often paint the Eye of Horus on the prows of their ships to ensure a safe voyage. I’m sure that I’ve seen this on a boat or two in some of Hollywood’s classic sword and sandal epics!  The depiction of the Eye of Horus is said to resemble the markings on a falcon’s eye due to the teardrop marking which is sometimes found below the eye as here.  This would make sense as Horus is usually shown as a falcon. There are several myths about Horus and his eye. For instance, in one of them Horus fought with Set who gouged out Horus’s left eye which was later restored by the goddess Hathor.

The All Seeing Eye on a US one dollar bill. Shared under Wiki Creative Commons.

The Eye also appears on the US one dollar bill.  But it made its first appearance as a Freemason symbol on the personal seal of Robert Moray (1609-1673) who was a Scottish Freemason. Then during the 18th century it appeared again in two Freemason books, one of which was Thomas Smith Webb’s ‘Freemasonry Monitor’ and, by the 19th century, it had become part of the permanent hieroglyphical emblems of the Freemasons.    There are other associations with the Illuminati and, if you’re interested, there is more information online.

But with these two All Seeing Eye symbols I think that they were meant, as they often are, to be a comforting message.  The All Seeing Eye meant that the departed were being watched over and so were the bereaved.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

References and further reading

https://www.ancient-origins.net/human-origins-religions/eye-providence-0013057

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

https://cemeteries.wordpress.com/2006/10/18/all-seeing-eye-eye-of-providence/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_of_Providence (this has some more examples from around the world.)

https://gwmemorial.org/blogs/news/the-eye-of-providence

 

Symbol of the Month – The Winged Soul

A lovely example from St Peter & St Paul, Shoreham, Kent.
©Carole Tyrrell

The skull and crossbones. One of the central motifs of 18th century Memento Mori and intended to be a stark and macabre  reminder of the viewer’s inevitable destination.  This would be all that would remain of you after death.

However it wasn’t a very comforting message to either the loved ones left behind or to the living.

But fashions and tastes change, even in funerary symbolism, and the skull and crossbones had served their purpose.

Instead they were replaced by the winged soul. This consisted of a small child’s head flanked by a pair of wings or a garland of leaves.  They have the faces of babies with big, round eyes, plump cheeks and pouting lips and resemble Renaissance putti which are child-like.  Putti represent the sacred cherub as they are known in England.

The winged soul may have been intended to be a more comforting image as the wings represented the soul of the deceased ascending to heaven.  This could also give hope of a resurrection to those left behind.  According to headstone symbols:

‘In the USA the winged soul is known as a soul effigy.’

It was immensely popular and in my explorations of medieval Kent churches and their churchyards I found many examples. In fact, in one or two churchyards they outnumbered the skull and crossbones symbol. They mainly had one winged soul on a headstone but there were sometimes  two or three clustered together as in these examples:

They can also appear in several combinations with other classic memento mori symbols as here:

In addition, every mason seemed to have his own interpretation of feathers as they can be carved as typical fluffy feathers, resemble broad leaves or be very stylised.

With wings in general they are an important symbol of spirituality.  They express the possibility of flying and rising upwards to heaven.  For example, in the Hindu faith, they are:

the expression of freedom to leave earthly things behind…..to reach Paradise.’

New Acropolis

 

However, as the full flowering of the Victorian language of death in the 19th century began to appear the emblems of memento mori were retired. Although a couple, such as the hourglass and ouroboros, were revived.   But I did find two modern examples of the winged soul in the churchyard of St Martin of Tours in Eynsford, Kent.

I had always previously thought of the winged soul as being a more general symbol and just a decorative feature.  I called them winged cherub heads or death heads and never considered that they might have had a specific meaning or purpose.  It was exciting to see so many variations and interpretations sometimes within the same churchyard.  But it depended on the skills of the mason as to how well they were carved and whether they were 2 dimensional or 3 dimensional.

But as a message of comfort it is one of the most poignant in memento mori. The other central motifs emphasise time running out, think about your life now and this is all that will be left. The winged soul suggests an eternal life and a more uplifting message.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading:

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

https://headstonesymbols.co.uk/headstone-meanings-and-symbols/deathheads/

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

https://www.boston.gov/departments/parks-and-recreation/iconography-gravestones-burying-grounds

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

https://library.acropolis.org/the-symbolism-of-wings/

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

https://gravelyspeaking.com/2012/12/29/winged-cherubs-head/

https://www.sacred-texts.com/lcr/fsca/fsca11.htm

 

 

Symbol of the Month – The Empty Chair

Mary Emden’s empty chair, Highgate West cemetery.
©Carole Tyrrell

When out exploring large Victorian cemeteries you may see the welcome sight of an empty chair on top of a grave.  However, please don’t give into the urge to perch yourself on it for a quick rest but instead, ponder on its meaning.

An empty chair is intended as a reminder of loss, absence and a memory of someone dear who has now gone.

It’s one of the most poignant symbols of loss and is a staple of old Hollywood movies and also some soap operas. There’s a large family gathering, preferably at Christmas, and everyone’s round the table. Then, in the middle of all of the jollity, the camera pans down to an empty space set with cutlery and china and a vacant chair. Then it all grows quiet as everyone looks at it and remembers the absent family member.

Douglas Keister has suggested that these memorials can often be found on childrens graves  with a tiny pair of shoes attached  and one usually on its side.  He considers that they are obviously associated with the death of a child or young person and, in his book, Stories in Stone, he cites a poem by Richard Coe, Jr that appeared in Godey’s Lady’s Book in January 1850.

THE VACANT CHAIR

by Richard Coe, Jr.

When we gather round our hearth,
Consecrated by the birth
Of our eldest, darling boy,
Only one thing mars our joy:
‘Tis the dreary corner, where
Stands, unfilled, the vacant chair!

Little Mary, bright and blest,
Early sought her heavenly rest.
Oft we see her in our dreams ­
Then an angel one she seems!
But we oftener see her, where
Stands, unfilled, the vacant chair.

But ’twere sinful to repine;
Much of joy to me and mine
Has the gentle Shepherd given.
Little Mary is in heaven!
Blessed thought! while gazing where
Stands, unfilled, the vacant chair.

Many parents, kind and good,
Lost to them their little brood,
Bless their Maker night and day,
Though he took their all away!
Shall we, therefore, murmur, where
Stands, unfilled, one vacant chair!

Little Mary! angel blest ‘
From thy blissful place of rest,
Look upon us! angel child,
Fill us with thy spirit mild.
Keep o’er us thy watchful care;
Often fill the vacant chair.

There is also a famous Civil War ballad dedicated to an 18 year old, John William ‘Willie’ Grant who was killed at Balls Bluff, Virginia in October 1861. This also mentions ‘the empty chair’ in the context of a departed loved one.

I haven’t yet seen one dedicated to a child or young person in my explorations of UK cemeteries. Instead, the examples that I have seen are dedicated to adults both men and women.  But I’m sure that I will see one dedicated to a child sooner or later.

Full view of Mary Emden’s empty chair in Highgate West cemetery.
©Carole Tyrrell

This is in Highgate West Cemetery in London and is dedicated to Mary Emden (1853-1872). She was a 19 year old soprano who died young of TB.  Mary’s real name was Marie and she and her husband, Walter, had only been married a year and a glittering career would have lain ahead of her.  He was a successful architect of theatres and these include the Royal Court, the Garrick and the Duke of York’s theatres which are still standing today. Mary’s chair sits under a Gothic canopy with a sculpted stole draped across it as if she had just got up out of the chair and left it there intending to return.  To read more about Mary’s life please visit: https://misssamperrin.blogspot.com/search?q=mary+emden

These come from Kensal Green Cemetery in London and are on the graves of two distinguished men.

The empty chair or throne on MP Charles Middleton’s grave, Kensal Green Cemetery.
©Carole Tyrrell

This is almost a magnificent throne it’s so large! Sadly the epitaph is long gone although there appears to be a coat of arms at the top. I have been told by the Friends of Kensal Green that it’s dedicated to Charles Middleton MP. However the only Charles Middleton MP that I have found so far died in 1813 which is long before Kensal Green Cemetery was created.  But it is so imposing and dramatic.  When things are easier I will go back and see if I can get a better picture of the coat of arms as that may help.

Henry Russell’s empty chair in Kensal Green Cemetery.
©Milky

This elegant chair is on the grave of Henry Russell and his wife Hannah. He was a prolific composer and one of his most celebrated works is still performed today. He was born in Sheerness on Sea in Kent which seems appropriate for the composer of ‘A Life on the Ocean Wave’.  Henry grew up in the Anglo-Jewish community of Blue Town and he started his musical carer early at the age of 3.  However, at 10 he was working in a local apothecary’s shop. This didn’t last long as it’s rumoured that he

‘gave a customer sufficient Epsom Salts to bring down an elephant’ www.jtrails.org.uk/trails/henry-russell-and-life-on-the-ocean-wave-at-sheerness

Clearly the apothecary shop wasn’t his calling in life. But music was in his blood and, after his voice broke, he travelled to Italy to study under Rossini. On his return to England he took up the post of chorus master at Her Majesty’s Theatre.

Henry Russell. Print shows Henry Russell, half-length portrait, facing slightly right, with right hand resting on piano keyboard, open sheet music in the foreground and a shipwreck on storm tossed waves in the background. Includes six lines of text from poem “Wind of the winter night, whence comest thou?” Shared under Wiki Commons.

But America was tempting him and it was there that he would discover his songwriting talent. He would also be able to collaborate with the songwriters and poets who would provide him with the lyrics that he set to music.  He arrived in Rochester, New York and became an organist and choirmaster at the First Presbyterian Church.

In total he composed 800 songs and another of his most well-known ones is ‘Woodman Spare That Tree’ which was based on an incident in the lyricist, Charles Wood’s life. Russell also collaborated with such luminaries as Longfellow, Tennyson, Dickens and Thackeray.   However it was Dickens who re-arranged another of Russell’s well known compositions ‘The Fine Old English Gentleman’ into a parody and satire based on the Tory government at the time. You can read it here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/may/14/charles-dickens-gentlemen-poem-week

But with no copyright protection Henry didn’t reap the rewards of his success and instead it was the publishers that made the money. He had already lost the £10,000 that he had made in America by investing in the United States Bank which collapsed and took all its investors’ money with it.  However t was Henry’s performing that brought in the money as he was immensely popular.

Many of his works deal with social issues of the day such as slavery or private mental asylums and he raised over £7000 for victims of the Irish Famine.  He returned to England in 1844, married twice and gave his final performance in 1891 when he sang at a concert given in his honour.  Henry had 5 sons, two of whom followed him into the musical profession. Sir Landon Ronald Russell (1873-1938) became a conductor, pianist and composer and Henry Russell (1871-1937) who was an opera impresario.

Is it a coincidence that two of the empty chairs are on the graves of theatrical people?  The throne would have suited Macbeth! I found Mary Emden’s memorial to be the most poignant with the air of someone who had just left.

However there is a sinister side to the empty chair.  They often appear in urban explorer photos of derelict hospitals and asylums.  In these, for some reason, the chair looks menacing and if it’s lying in wait……….these two photos again come from Kensal Green and were taken by cemetery photographer, Jeane Mary.   An elegant chair in the middle of decay and dereliction why is it there? A prop for a photo shoot?  A discarded piece of furniture?

 

As I was writing this post I saw a series of photos by a photographer on the Folk Horror Revival Facebook page.  She had been out walking on a lonely moor and found a recliner style armchair sitting  in the middle of nowhere.  It could have just been just dumped there but it seemed a long way to go to do that.  The photographer emphasised that she had decided not to sit in it and it did look very creepy in her photos.

Next time I visit Kensal Green I may well be tempted to sit in the throne.  I only hope that it’s not already occupied……

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading:

Douglas Keiser, Stories in Stone, Gibbs Smith, 2004

https://www.umass.edu/AdelphiTheatreCalendar/actr.htm

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/may/14/charles-dickens-gentlemen-poem-week – this contains Dickens’ parody of Russell’s’ The Fine old English Gentleman’

http://www.traditionalmusic.co.uk/songster/05-the-fine-old-english-gentleman.htmlyrics to Henry Russell’s The Fine Old English Gentleman

https://misssamperrin.blogspot.com/search?q=mary+emden – Grave Expectations and Doyennes of Death

http://www.jtrails.org.uk/trails/sheerness-and-blue-town/articles/c-889/henry-russell-and-life-on-the-ocean-wave-at-sheerness/

 

 

However there is a sinister side to the empty chair.  They often appear in urban explorer photos of derelict hospitals and asylums.  In these, for some reason, the chair looks menacing and if it’s lying in wait……….these two photos again come from Kensal Green and were taken by cemetery photographer, Jeane Mary.   An elegant chair in the middle of decay and dereliction why is it there?

A prop for a photo shoot?  A discarded piece of furniture?

 

As I was writing this post I saw a series of photos by a photographer on the Folk Horror Revival Facebook page.  She had been out walking on a lonely moor and found a recliner style armchair

sitting there in the middle of nowhere.  It could have just been just dumped there but it seemed a long way to go to do that.  The photographer said that she had decided not to sit in it and it did look very creepy in her photos.

Next time I visit Kensal Green I may well be tempted to sit in the throne.  I only hope that it’s not already occupied……

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading:

Douglas Keiser, Stories in Stone, Gibbs Smith, 2004

https://www.umass.edu/AdelphiTheatreCalendar/actr.htm

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/may/14/charles-dickens-gentlemen-poem-week – this contains Dickens’ parody of Russell’s’ The Fine old English Gentleman’

http://www.traditionalmusic.co.uk/songster/05-the-fine-old-english-gentleman.htmlyrics to Henry Russell’s The Fine Old English Gentleman

https://misssamperrin.blogspot.com/search?q=mary+emden – Grave Expectations and Doyennes of Death

http://www.jtrails.org.uk/trails/sheerness-and-blue-town/articles/c-889/henry-russell-and-life-on-the-ocean-wave-at-sheerness/

 

Symbol of the Month – The Pierced Heart

A fine display of symbols on the headstone of Mr Thomas Abbott, St Marys church, St Mary Cray, Kent.
©Carole Tyrrell

I’ll be honest. I’d been out exploring churchyards just prior to the coronavirus and St Mary’s in St Mary Cray was the last on my list. I’d noticed its distinctive steeple from the train on my daily commute and it was on my list so that I could visit and cross it off.  I didn’t expect to find much and my first impression confirmed it. A few ivy clad altar tombs greeted me and then I wandered around the side of the closed church.  What a surprise!  A gallery of 18th century headstones placed in lines with some of the more familiar symbols depicted on them. Ouroboros’s, angel heads, skulls, crossbones and then this fine selection.

As you can see, it boasts a large, sharp scythe, a half open coffin with the incumbent visible, a trumpet blowing from what seems to be a heavenly cloud  and, in the centre, a heart pierced by an arrow.  We usually associate a pierced heart with the ones found on millions of St Valentine’s cards as a representation of Cupid’s love darts. You may be thinking that it doesn’t have the usual heart shape but there may be how the stonemason interpreted it.  This is the Symbol of the Month.

The headstone‘s epitaph reads:

‘In Memory of

Mr THOMAS ABBOTT

Late of this PARISH who departed this life

24 May 1773

In the 75th Year of his life

Also

Near lieth the body of

MRS SARAH ABBOTT  his wife

,,,,who departed ….22 January 1769 aged 69’

A full view of the headstone dedicated to Mr Thomas Abbott, St Marys church, St Mary Cray, Kent
©Carole Tyrrell

 

Although there are other Abbotts buried in the same churchyard I couldn’t find any sign of a headstone or monument dedicated to Sarah Abbott and there was none recorded on the Kent Archaeological Society survey of the churchyard So whether it has vanished over time we will never know.

On Thomas’s headstone, the heart is surrounded by symbols of resurrection and the Day of Judgement when all of the dead will rise. This is the meaning of the half open coffin lid. So is the pierced heart a symbol of everlasting love which means that the Abbotts will be reunited on that day?  After all, Keister suggests that it’s a sign of matrimony which would fit in with both husband and wife being mentioned on the headstone. However, Cooper comments that the pierced heart is also a sign of contrition so perhaps Mr Abbott felt guilty or sad about outliving Sarah by 6 years.

But let’s discuss other representations and interpretations of the pierced heart as well as the heart in general. It’s one of the most powerful symbols and resonates through many cultures and faiths both ancient and modern. Without it, none of us would be alive as it pumps our lifeblood through our bodies.  This is why it has been a central part of religions and cultures since the beginning of time.

Heart symbolism is significant in, Chinese, Hindu and most religions and cultures. For example, it is one of the eight precious organs of Buddha and also the Aztecs whose rituals involved human sacrifice. In these the chests of the victims were sliced open and their still-beating hearts were offered to the gods.  The Aztecs believed that the heart was the seat of the individual and also a fragment of the Sun’s heart.

Section from the Book of teh Dead depicting the Weighing of the Heart showing the heart on one side of the scales and the feather of Maat n the other. Osiris is between them.
Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

In Ancient Egypt, the heart was considered to be the source of human wisdom and the centre of emotions and memory. It could reveal a person’s true character, even after death, and was left in the body after mummification. The ancient Egyptians believed that it would survive death where it would give evidence against or for its owner and so was integral to the afterlife.  This culminated in the Weighing of the Heart which appears in the Book of the Dead.  The heart was given to Osiris, the god of the dead and the underworld who placed it on one of a pair of great golden scales.  On the other was a feather which represented Maat the goddess of order, truth and what was right. If the heart was lighter than the feather then the deceased passed on into eternal bliss.  But if it was heavier, due to past misdeeds, then it was thrown onto the floor of the Hall of Truth where Amut, a god with the face of a crocodile, the front of a leopard and the back of a rhinoceros who was also known as ‘The Gobbler’.  Once he had devoured the heart then the individual ceased to exist. The Egyptians concept of hell was non-existence.

But the heart has an even greater significance in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. There are many references to it in the Bible with over a 100 in Psalms alone.  One of the most famous quotations is in 1 Samuel 16.7 in which it is seen as the seat of emotion:

But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.’ (King James Bible).

The heart is seen as revealing the inner person but not only as the centre of human life. It also expresses spiritual or emotional feelings, wisdom, piety and righteousness.  There is also the famous quote from Matthew 5:8;

‘blessed are the pure in heart’

However, the heart also has a darker side as an evil person is often described as being ‘blackhearted.’  In Ecclesiastes 8:11 it’s seen as evil:

‘ Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.’ (King James Bible).

In Christian iconography the heart took on a symbolic role as an indication of God and piety particularly in the Catholic church where Christ displaying a heart in his hands or on his breast is a key image. It’s known as the Sacred Heart and is one of the most practiced and well known of the Catholic devotions.  The sacred heart is seen as a symbol of ‘God’s boundless and passionate love for mankind.’ The pierced heart was also included in the five wounds that Christ suffered during the crucifixion

 

St Augustine 17th century Portuguese painting Museum of Church Paio of San Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

One saint in particular, St Augustine, has a special relationship with the pierced heart. He is often shown holding a heart, in some cases topped by a flame and in others pierced by an arrow. Another passage from the Confessions IX, 2:3 may explain the significance of the pierced heart:

‘Thou hadst pierced (sagittaveras) our heart with thy love, and we carried thy words, as it were, thrust through our vitals.’ 

(The word sagittaveras means literally ‘ shot arrows’ into as in this 17th century painting.

St Valentine’s Day was originally derived from a much darker and bawdier Roman festival called Lupercalia. This took place in Rome from 13-15 February and was intended to avert evil spirits and purify the city.  However, it didn’t involve the giving of chocolates and bouquets of roses. Instead there was animal sacrifice, random matchmaking and couplings which were intended to ward off infertility.  In reality, it was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture and also to the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus.  It was finally outlawed as ‘unChristian’ in the 5th century by Pope Gelasius who declared the 14 February to be St Valentine’s Day.   There were two actual St Valentines who were both martyrs.

However, the first person to mention the famous day for lovers was actually Geoffrey Chaucer in his 1375 poem, A Parliament of Fowles (or Fowls). In this he says:

‘For this was sent on Seynt Valentyn’es day

When every fowl cometh here to choose his mate.’

During the Middle Ages it was believed in both France and England that February 14 was the beginning of the mating season for birds and so an ideal date for romance for all.

But it was during the early medieval and early Renaissance when the heart began to resemble the more stylised symbol that we know today.  It took on the shape of a converted A and represented  Amor or Love. Since the 19th century it has been associated with love and romance and the  pierced heart has also been known as the wounded heart due to Cupid’s arrows.

But, due to its placing within other potent symbols of resurrection, I interpret the pierced heart on Mr Abbott’s headstone to be a token of love.  Although he wasn’t buried with his wife he may have hoped that they would be reunited on the Day of Judgement when the angels trumpets sounded and the dead met the living again.

It was one of the most potent symbols that I have found in my explorations and I haven’t seen another one – yet.  The pierced heart has also been one of the most fascinating symbols to research because of its many connotations and associations.  Who would have thought that Chaucer might be the father of the St Valentine’s Day industry that we know so well today.

Was the pierced heart a token of love or a hope of a meeting in the after-life? We will never know but a fascinating collection of symbols for the passer-by to admire.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

References and further reading:

Stories in Stone, Douglas Keister, Gibbs Smith 2004

An illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols, J C Cooper, Thames & Hudson, 1979

 

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

https://www.kentarchaeology.org.uk/research/monumental-inscriptions/st-mary-cray

https://www.gresham.ac.uk/lectures-and-events/affairs-of-the-heart-an-exploration-of-the-symbolism-of-the-heart-in-art

https://www.midwestaugustinians.org/the-augustinian-emblem

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Samuel%2016:7&version=KJV

https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-rome/lupercalia#:~:text=Lupercalia%20was%20an%20ancient%20pagan,in%20Rome%20on%20February%2015.&text=Unlike%20Valentine’s%20Day%2C%20however%2C%20Lupercalia,off%20evil%20spirits%20and%20infertility.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3960665/#:~:text=In%20the%20weighing%20of%20the,were%20placed%20with%20the%20deceased.

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

https://www.christianiconography.info/augustine.html

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

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
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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