Victorian Mourning Clothes

This came from the Billion Graves blog and covers the complex issue of mourning etiquette in the Victorian era. The fact that black mourning clothes were dipped in arsenic may have contributed to the mortality rate in itself. This article has such wonderful photos and also covers men’s mourning wear and rules and the use of human hair in mourning jewellery amongst other items. This may seem a little creepy to us thes days but then it was considered a lovely memento of the one that had passed.

 Cathy Wallace1 month ago  

Victorian mourning clothes may have been hanging in your ancestor’s closet during the 1800s – a black dress with a high neck, black leather button-up shoes, a black top hat, and more. And when death brought those black clothes out of storage, your ancestors may have worn them for years at a time.

England’s Queen Victoria, who was crowned June 20, 1837, set the standard for Victorian mourning clothes. She was the second-longest reigning monarch in British history and she is also known for deep grief at the passing of her husband, Prince Albert.

Queen Victoria with Empress Frederick BillionGraves, ancestors, family history, Victorian era, Victorian mourning clothes, funeral. mourning, cemetery, grave, GPS, cemetery documentation, gravestone photos

The couple had been married for 21 years and had 9 children together when Albert suddenly passed away. He died of typhoid fever in 1861 at the age of 42. Victoria was so devastated that she entered into a deep state of mourning and wore black for the rest of her life.

Victoria’s behavior was so influential that it impacted entire nations, causing a shift in funeral customs and mourning clothes.

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Mourning dress consisted of entire outfits intended to inform onlookers of the person’s state of grief. The fabrics and colors changed over time to mark how long it had been since the death of the loved one.

Since mortality rates were high during the Victorian era, mourning dress was often be worn for most of their lives.

Victorian Mourning Clothes Were a Must

Following Albert’s death, Queen Victoria dressed in full mourning clothes for three years. And she continued to wear black in some form until the day she died – a full forty years!

Mourning clothes were considered an outward expression of one’s inner grief. It was considered disrespectful to break with traditional standards. Going out without your black silk weeping veil or carrying a handkerchief with too narrow of a black border could signify that you did not love your departed family member deeply enough.

Mourning ensemble, silk/wool, silk, American BillionGraves, ancestors, family history, Victorian era, Victorian mourning clothes, funeral. mourning, cemetery, grave, GPS, cemetery documentation, gravestone photos

Earlier societal groups used clothing as a symbol of mourning, but Victorian mourning clothes rituals were especially strict. If someone was in doubt as to what was appropriate, they could consult the Cassell’s Household Guide.

Prior to the Victorian era, mourning clothes were not put on until the day of the funeral. But during the Victorian era, it was customary to put on mourning clothes as soon as possible after someone died.

mourning clothes ad

When family members died there wasn’t time to go shopping for mourning clothes. They had to put on right away! So mourning clothes were purchased in advance in case death came to their household.

Who Wore Mourning Clothes?

In our day, it is still fairly common to see nearly everyone at a funeral wearing black or dark colors. But in the Victorian era, mourning clothes were reserved for close family members of the deceased.

In fact, it was considered rude for anyone outside of the family to wear mourning clothes to a funeral.

There was a purpose to this social norm. An entire community would know to rally around a grieving family when they saw them wearing mourning garb.

Victorian Mourning Clothes for the Ladies

A Victorian woman was expected to remain in deep mourning for a year and a day during which she wore only simple black clothing.

Mourning dress, silk, glass, French

This was followed by six to nine months of “second mourning” which lasted six to nine months and allowed for some use of trim and small jewelry.

Next came three to six months of “half-mourning” which allowed for more elaborate fabrics and jewelry. Colors like gray and lavender were permitted as long as there was minimal ornamentation.

Dress, Mrs. F. M. Carroll (American), silk, mother-of-pearl, American

During the entire mourning time, a woman was expected to refrain from attending any social events, especially weddings.

The Victorian Lady’s Mourning Dress

Deep mourning required dressing entirely in black. A woman’s ensemble was called “widow’s weeds”.

Mourning ensemble, silk, American

The body was to be completely covered with a lusterless fabric that would not reflect light, such as crepe. The process used to remove the sheen from crepe fabric caused it to have a strange odor which some found offensive. But wear it, they must!

Mourning ensemble, silk, American

Women who couldn’t afford special black mourning clothes dyed their everyday clothing black.

During the later stages of mourning, dresses could be grey or shades of violet with black decorative designs and trim.

The Victorian Lady’s Mourning Veil

It was considered inappropriate to show emotion in public so veils were a way to allow a grieving family member to keep their tears to themselves.

Widows in deep mourning wore a black silk weeping veil or “widow’s cap” covering their faces for 3 months after their husband’s death.

Passion for the Past: 19th Century Mourning Practices BillionGraves, home, house, family history, genealogy, victorian home, Victorian era, funeral, preparing Victorian homes, cemetery, grave, gravesite, cemetery, BillionGraves

Veils were sometimes a woman’s full height and were secured in place with a hat. Crepe veils were incredibly heavy. They were difficult to breathe through and difficult to see through.

Mourning ensemble, silk, American

It was considered vain to wear dresses that were smooth or shiny during the mourning period so the fabric was treated with chemicals to make it matte and crinkly. Many of the substances used were toxic. One of the most common was arsenic. (Yes, deadly arsenic!!)

By the 1880s, medical journals were reporting on the ill health effects of heavy crepe veils.

The New York Medical Journal noted “the irritation to the respiratory tract caused by minute particles of poisonous crepe”.

The North-Western Lancet called the mourning veil “a veritable instrument of torture” in hot weather. It left stains on women’s faces, caused acne, headaches, and filled their lungs with toxic particles.

Fashion magazines published advice like this for women who were doomed to wear the black veil:

“It is a thousand pities that fashion dictates the crepe veil, but so it is.  It is the very banner of woe, and no one has the courage to go without it.  We can only suggest to mourners wearing it that they should pin a small veil of black tulle over the eyes and nose, and throw back the heavy crepe as often as possible, for health’s sake.” (From Polite Life and Etiquette or What is Right and The Social Arts, written by Georgene Corry Benham, 1891)

The Victorian Lady’s Mourning Bonnet

As a woman moved into “second mourning”, black crepe bonnets replaced veils.

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After three months, a widow’s veil was moved to the back of their bonnet.

They continued to wear the veils for approximately one year and the rest of their mourning attire for a total of two years.

The Victorian Lady’s Ostrich Feather Hat

As the “half-mourning” period was entered women could wear fancier hats.

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Ostrich feathers and jewelry could be added to their black hats.

The Victorian Lady’s Mourning Parasol

Fashion accessories such as parasols were black during deep mourning. They did not have any lace or other decorations.

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Parasols for later mourning periods could be gray or lavender with black trim.

The Victorian Lady’s Black Button Trim

The use of jewelry was forbidden during deep-mourning but dulled black jet buttons were fine.

Mourning dress, silk, glass, French

So buttons gradually made their way onto collars and became a new form of trim!

The Victorian Lady’s Mourning Handkerchief

Even handkerchiefs showed the world the stage of mourning a woman was in.

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Wide black borders represented the deep-mourning stage.

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Later mourning stages called for narrower borders.

The Victorian Lady’s Mourning Gloves

During the Victorian era ladies were strongly encouraged to wear gloves not only outdoors, but indoors as well. Gloves were an indicator of a person’s social and economic status.

BillionGraves, ancestors, family history, Victorian era, Victorian mourning clothes, funeral. mourning, cemetery, grave, GPS, cemetery documentation, gravestone photos, black leather gloves

Long black kid-skin gloves were worn during the deep mourning phase.

There were no mass-produced gloves. After a measuring and fitting session, each pair was custom-made so they would fit perfectly.

It was scandalous at any time for a woman to be seen outside of her home without gloves on and this was especially true for a widow.

The Victorian Lady’s Mourning Fan

feathers, fan, BillionGraves, ancestors, family history, Victorian era, Victorian mourning clothes, funeral. mourning, cemetery, grave, GPS, cemetery documentation, gravestone photos, ostrich feathers

During the Victorian era, black ostrich feathers showed up on women’s fans.

The Victorian Lady’s Mourning Cape

Some capes were for warmth but many were just for added adornment as the mourning period came to a close.

Mourning cape, Abraham & Straus, silk, American

This cape, with its purple ribbon and lace, was an example of a half-mourning evening garment.

ostrich feather cape, BillionGraves, ancestors, family history, Victorian era, Victorian mourning clothes, funeral. mourning, cemetery, grave, GPS, cemetery documentation, gravestone photos

This elegant black ostrich feather cape was also a half-mourning accessory.

Victorian Lady’s Human Hair Jewelry

Keeping a lock of someone’s hair was considered a sentimental thing to do during the 1800s. It was commonly done when someone moved away or when they died.

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The lock of hair was often placed in a locket.

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It could even be woven into a bracelet or a necklace.

hair, BillionGraves, ancestors, family history, Victorian era, Victorian mourning clothes, funeral. mourning, cemetery, grave, GPS, cemetery documentation, gravestone photos

Or intricately placed in a golden brooch.

To us, human hair jewelry seems rather odd. But to our Victorian ancestors, it was a sweet, tender way to remember those they loved.

Queen Victoria’s Human Hair Headdress

This human hair thing really took off with Queen Victoria.

QueenVictoriaInMourningGown.jpg

She carried this custom to the extreme by wearing an entire mourning headdress made of blond hair.

File:Queen Victoria white mourning head-dress.JPG hairpiece, royalty, mourning traditions

Just lovely, isn’t it?! Ummmm . . .

Victorian Mourning Clothes for the Gentlemen

For men, funeral fashion was much easier – they simply wore dark suits with black gloves, hatbands, and cravats.

The period of mourning for men was also different. A husband was expected to mourn a wife for just three months. During that time, they could still undertake business and attend social events.

The Victorian Gentleman’s Mourning Suit

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Victorian men who were in mourning wore plain black suits.

The Victorian Gentleman’s Mourning Hat

Victorian mourning clothes for men included a silk black top hat. The width of the hat-band depended on how close the person who wore it was to the person who died.

top hat, man, silk, Victorian

If the top hat was worn by the husband of the deceased then the band was expected to be about seven inches wide.

Hats worn by fathers for sons, or sons for fathers, were about five inches wide.

For other degrees of relationships, the width of the hat-band varied from two and a half inches to four inches.

The Victorian Gentleman’s Mourning Cravat

The cravat was the forerunner of today’s necktie. It was a short, wide strip of fabric worn around the neck and tucked inside a shirt or overcoat.

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Most of the time Victorian cravats were white but during the mourning period, they were black.

Victorian man, vintage photo

A tiny pin sometimes held the cravat in place.

The Victorian Gentleman’s Mourning Gloves

Men’s mourning gloves were black leather and had long cuffs.

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It was customary to present a pair of mourning gloves as a gift to the person who officiated at the funeral whether that was the local religious leader or the undertaker.

Why did the Victorians Wear Mourning Clothes?

Mourning clothes let our Victorian ancestors tell the world that they were grieving without them having to say a word about it to anyone.

It was so unacceptable to speak of the loss of a loved one that they let their clothes do the talking.

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The following sketch from a women’s magazine published in 1831 shows why Victorian mourning clothes were so important to people of that era.

“The mourning habit is a sacred shield against that intrusive curiosity . . . which would otherwise urge inquiries about why the countenance was sad . . .”

For example . . . “The brother of Miss B. had been dead only ‘three little weeks’– but there are duties which make it indispensable she should go abroad. If mourning apparel were prohibited, she may go forth in the same dress she would have worn had her dear brother been the companion of her walk.

“She meets a friend just arrived in the city, and who consequently knows not her loss. His salutation is cordial but it is repelled by a sad and chilling expression of countenance in Miss B.

“She is shocked at his levity and he is stung by her coldness or indifference. Their feelings are mutually wounded . . .

“Reverse the picture. Let the mournful apparel of Miss B. show that she has a reason for her sadness. The friends meet. The tale of sorrow is told and compassion is felt.” (from the Ladies’ Magazine and Literary Gazette, 1831, p. 115)

Will this Never End?

Some women could end up wearing mourning clothes for decades if they lost several close family members in succession. This was often the case during the American Civil War.

But ending the mourning period too soon was considered disgraceful.

In the 1939 film Gone with the Wind, widow Scarlett O’Hare drew criticism by dancing with Rhett Butler at a ball while still wearing her mourning clothes.

Packing Away the Victorian Mourning Clothes

At the end of the mourning period, deep black dresses and suits were packed away. Family members gradually transitioned from dark colors to lighter ones.

Black ostrich feathered hats and top hats went into storage trunks. Black parasols and leather gloves were laid away on closet shelves.

ball gown, happy woman, dance

Social events again became a part of our ancestor’s lives. Black cravats were traded for white. Ball gowns replaced mourning dresses. Smiles swept away sadness.

And after the First World War with its mass carnage no one had time for these rules. (ed)

Symbol of the Month – the grapevine.

This is a previous symbol of the month from 2017 and it is a very popular one as I see grapevines in a lot of cemeteries.

A closer view of the Salmon cross ©Carole Tyrrell

This is another less well known symbol but, in my opinion, a very attractive one. I found two examples of a grapevine climbing up a cross during a recent visit to Kensal Green cemetery together with another that only featured grapes as decoration and a fourth which had trailing vine leaves on a Celtic cross.  The first two in Kensal Green really make good use of the cross on which they are carved to its fullest advantage with the vines sinuously climbing up the stem and then the leaves almost hanging from the crosspiece. In fact the form of a grapevine almost resembles a cross with the long stems stretching up and then branching out horizontally with the grapes hanging from them. I also found a cross in Brompton Cemetery which had a design of grapes and vine leaves as a border around its edges.

For the source of this symbol we have to go back to the ancient Greeks and the god Dionysus.  He was also known to the ancient Romans as Bacchus and both of them are always represented in paintings and sculptures as holding grapes.  The latter were often depicted on Greek wine cups in tribute to Dionysus. Both of them were seen as the god of the vine and were associated with wine-making, celebration and ecstasy. Dionysus was also associated with rebirth in that, after his dismemberment by the Titans, he came back to life in an echo of the winter pruning of grapevines so they may bear fruit again during the next year. He was unique in that he could bring a dead person back from the underworld.

As you may imagine, the early Christians adopted the less bacchanalian side of Dionysus and Bacchus.  There are many similarities between Dionysus and Jesus in that both were supposed to have been born from a mortal woman but fathered by a god, to have returned from the dead and to have transformed water into wine. The early Christians took the latter and transformed it into a miracle.  They also used the powerful symbol of the grapevine with Christ calling himself ‘the vine.’   In John 15:5 there is the famous quotation:

‘I am the vine and you are the branches.  If a man is in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.’

In fact a vine and its branches are traditionally seen as depicting Christ and his followers, the Church and its faithful. He also uses the analogy of the Kingdom of Heaven as being similar to that of a manager hiring workers for his vineyard. The grapevine was also adopted by the ancient Roman Christian converts and appears on their graves and in their mosaics.

Grapes are an abundant crop and are one of the earliest cultivated crops known to us.  It bears fruit for the harvest and so is associated with celebration and good times.  The artofmourning website has suggested that there is also an element of birth/rebirth with the representation of the grapes and also a connection with victory.

‘The ripe harvest shows the promise of the fruits rewards being reaped and turned into the production of sustenance for the future.’

An interesting theory within the context of a funerary symbol as it hints at resurrection. There is also the theme of sacrifice. Wine, which comes from the grape, has always traditionally been seen as representing the blood of Christ and this is particularly symbolic during the service of Holy Communion within the Catholic church.  Also, during the Last Supper, Christ gave wine to his disciples and told them to drink it in remembrance of him.

But what does this age-old symbol mean within a Victorian London cemetery? As I see it, it can be a representation of the deceased becoming part of an eternal vineyard i.e. the Kingdom of Heaven or that their earthly lives were full of abundance and achievement.  But it can also be a motif of resurrection in that the grapes are crushed underfoot to be reborn as wine and this would be highly appropriate for use within a cemetery. In fact I’m surprised that it doesn’t appear more often as it is very eye-catching amongst more restrained classical symbols especially when combined with a cross.

These two fine examples come from Kensal Green cemetery and demonstrate how well a grapevine translates onto a cross. Note the three letters in the centre of the Cross which are IHS combined together. This is a Greek abbreviation for Jesus Christ, Man and Saviour which is ‘Iesus Honinum Salvator’ which translates as ‘Jesus the Saviour of Man’.

Note the IHS motif in the centre of the Moir cross in gothic lettering.
©Carole Tyrrell

The first is to Frederick Salmon and the other to George Gordon Moir. I haven’t been able to find out anything on Moir but research is ongoing. However, he obviously liked Salmon’s cross and embellishment as his is identical.

But Frederick Salmon (1796 – 1859) was a renowned and pioneering surgeon and he has a fascinating story to tell.

Salmon was a restless Victorian medical man out to make his mark and improve the lives of his fellow citizens. In many ways he was a maverick destined to rebel against and work outside the medical establishment of the time. As you can see from his epitaph he founded St Mark’s Hospital which is still in existence, based in Harrow and is part of the St Bart’s and the London NHS Trust.

Frederick Salmon founder of St Mark’s Hospital
©http://www.stmarksacademicinstitute.org.uk/about/history/

He was born in Bath in 1796 and, at 15, was apprenticed to a surgeon-apothecary. Somewhere along the line he met William White, one of the earliest surgeons to write on rectal disease. Salmon always credited White with the direction in which his own career went which was in the field of proctology.

However, the medical establishment frustrated Salmon. Training depended on money and influence as posts had to be bought and so were often earmarked for friends and relations of surgeons and physicians. In 1817 he paid £8.15s.0d to become a house surgeon at St Barts and then rose to a surgeon’s post. He also wrote a book on intestinal disease in 1828 which ran to four editions. But Salmon became part of a medical scandal when, in 1833 aged 37, he resigned with other staff members from the General Dispensary in protest. They were angry at the plans of the hospital governors to revert to a system in which posts were up for sale to those who could afford to pay. The Lancet declared in the same year that the practice was ‘one of money, of favour and of family interest.’ Salmon was now a free man and obviously one of considerable charisma and talent.  He founded St Mark’s in 1835 with the City of London providing much of the finance. It was in one room with seven beds and 2 other staff members at 11 Aldersgate Street in the City. A plaque still marks its location. It had the less than catchy name of St Mark’s Infirmary for the Relief of the Poor afflicted with Fistula and other diseases of the Rectum. But it soon acquired a nickname: The Fistula Infirmary.  Despite several moves and expansions of premises St Mark’s remained in the City until 1995 when it moved to its present location.

From the beginning St Mark’s filled a desperate need for London’s poor to be able to access treatment. Salmon was not only able to attract significant funding but also wealthy patrons and supporters. Sir William Copeland, Lord Mayor of London, was a grateful patient who became St Mark’s first President and Charles Dickens presented several autographed copies of his latest book, The Pickwick Papers, and 10 guineas in gratitude.  This was after having undergone a rectal operation without anaesthetics. Salmon was reputed to have performed 3500 operations without a single fatality which was an incredible achievement at a time when antiseptics were unknown and anaesthetics were only just coming into use.

Salmon retired, due to ill health, in 1859 and died at Ombersley near Droitwich on 3 January 1868 aged 72. St Mark’s was his lasting legacy and there is a ward named after him.  Today the hospital is one of only 14 worldwide hospitals to be recognised as a centre of excellence by the Worldwide Organisation of Digestive Endoscopy.

Salmon was a  vine that bore fruit as did John Edward Taylor (1830-1905)

Mr Taylor’s magnificent Art Nouveau style monument is tucked away on a lower path in Kensal Green Cemetery. It dwarves  the far more recent surrounding graves and headstones. Such unashamedly Art Nouveau memorials are rare within cemeteries.  There’s one in Streatham cemetery, a lovely gem in West Norwood, another in Hendon and there are undoubtedly others scattered across London.

Here the grapes are carved on the left hand side sidepiece flanking the main memorial. These reflect the Art Nouveau love of natural forms and structures. The movement used the curving, organic lines taken from plants and flowers. But, by the time Mr Taylor’s widow Martha died in 1912, Art Nouveau was about to be replaced by the angular lines of Art Deco.

Taylor was another restless Victorian man who was involved in many areas. He was the second son of John Edward Taylor senior who founded the Manchester Guardian in 1821 backed by a group of local liberals known as The Little Circle. They had successfully lobbied for parliamentary reform in the era of rotten boroughs and as a result of their efforts Parliament passed the Reform Act of 1832. Taylor senior witnessed the Peterloo massacre in 1819 but been unimpressed by its leaders. The Manchester Guardian is still in business but now renamed the Guardian and Taylor edited it until his death at the early age of 52.

After the death of his older brother, Russell, in 1848 Edward became co-owner and then sole owner of his father’s paper in 1856. He also edited it from 1861-1872.  Newspaper ink was in his blood and he also became owner and then co-owner of the Manchester Evening News until his death. He was also a philanthropist and believed in education which led him to become a trustee of Manchester College from 1854 until his death.  He founded the Manchester Aid Society in 1863, advocated temperance and free trade and was also involved in the British and Foreign Bible Society. On top of this he was also a director of the Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway Company.

Taylor remained a lifelong liberal and in 1895 he refused a baronetcy offered to him by Lord Rosebery. But he was also known as a great art collector and a generous one.  He often lent out some of his collection to local exhibitions in Manchester or at Burlington House.  After his death, Christie’s held a sale of his collection over 12 days and achieved record prices for the time. Taylor lived in London after his marriage in 1861 to Martha Elizabeth, the sorrowing wife, recorded on the monument.  The newspapers passed to other members of the extended family.

This is less ornate and, instead, features vine leaves cascading on a Celtic cross with again the very ornate combined letters of IHS in the centre of the cross, or the nimbus, with a dedication below to Matilda Morris who died on 10 December 1881.  Again I haven’t been able to find out anything about her but research is ongoing.

This is an example from Brompton Cemetery and here the grapevine and leaves form an intricate pattern around the cross. I may not be able to read the epitaph on the flat slab beneath until the winter die-off.

Of course the use of the grape and vine might just indicate that they liked a drink or two……but that’s something that we will never know…

©Text and photos unless otherwise stated Carole Tyrrell

References:

http://agraveinterest.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/religious-symbols-in-cemetery.html

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

http://www.planetgast.net/symbols/plants/plants.html

http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/c/christian-symbolism-the-natural-world/

http://artofmourning.com/2010/12/26/symbolism-sunday-the-grape/

site on mourning jewellery – well worth a look.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Edward_Taylor(senior)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Mark%27s_Hospital

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1034506/?page=1

http://www.stmarksacademicinstitute.org.uk/about/history/

http://www.crystalinks.com/bacchus.html

Symbol of the Month – the square and compass

This example is from Brompton Cemetery and is dedicated to a woman. ©Carole Tyrrell

The Square and the Compass is a symbol which is traditionally associated with the Freemasons and appears on their insignia. It’s also an important part of their teachings.  The two elements together form a hexagram which often has the capital letter G inside it to denote God.  However, the ones that I found didn’t have this so perhaps it is a regional or international variation.  But there is a another interpretation of the motif which may be more appropriate to a funerary emblem and let’s not forget that these are also an architect’s tools of the trade

The Freemason association is the most obvious and common.  They’re often seen as quite a secretive and shadowy organisation. ‘It’s all leather aprons and funny handshakes.’ seems to be the opinion of many people.  But according the Freemasons UK website they define themselves as’

‘the world’s largest and oldest non-religious, non-political, fraternal and charitable organisations…rooted in the traditions of the medieval stonemasons who built our cathedrals and castles.’

They also claim to ‘make good men better’ by encouraging to live their lives according to the Freemasons Five Values of Integrity, Kindness, Honesty, Fairness and Tolerance.’

They use the Square and Compass in Masonic rituals to teach symbolic lessons.  Wikipedia says ‘

‘they have been defined as lessons in conduct  as in Duncan’s Masonic Monitor of 1866

 in which he defines ‘The square to square our actions and the compass to define boundaries and to circumscribe and keep us within the bounds of mankind.’

There is also a further, somewhat florid definition on the Masonic Lodge of education website which may make for further reading. As they point out, the square is often used in everyday language such as in ‘getting a square deal and, possibly a mason’s comment, ‘squaring off.’ It also appears in earlier texts such as Confucius. However, the square and the compass aren’t exclusive to the Freemasons as they are also used by several other fraternal organisations both in the UK and abroad.

But I prefer the definition of the symbols project in which they point out that both the square and the compass are measuring instruments and so represent judgement and discernment. The compass draws circles which are a symbol of eternity and also infinity. However the square can be viewed as being material and representing ‘fairness, balance, firmness’ and also:

something that is stable and a firm foundation to build upon’

They are a union of the material and of the spirit represented by the hexagram that they form.  So perhaps this is the spirit leaving the earthly plane and going into eternity i.e. from earth into heaven. It’s certainly another way to look at it.

But who knows? The people who chose to use the Square and the Compass on their tombstone may have been Freemasons or maybe not.  There was only one that I felt might have been one because of the quotation above the motif on his cross but this turned out to be a quotation from an 18th century hymn. With the others it was impossible to say.

You don’t see this symbol all that often although I discovered one in Brompton Cemetery and a sprinkling of them in Beckenham Cemetery recently. Interestingly, this is also a cemetery with several Salvation Army burials as well. Here is a gallery of the ones I found within Beckenham Cemetery:

This is from Beckenham Cemetery and is dedicated to a holder of the Victoria Cross which was for ‘conspicuous bravery at the Somme.’ ©Carole Tyrrell
The Kidd tombstone Beckenham Cemetery. ©Carole Tyrrell
Closeup of Square and Compass on the Hopper headstone, Beckenham Cemetery. ©Carole Tyrrell
This one is at the base of a cross on the Cecil Essex monument, Beckenham Cemetery ©Carole Tyrrell

I enjoyed researching this symbol as, although it seemed to be have an obvious association, it was also fascinating to find out other suggestions.

©Text and photos unless otherwise stated Carole Tyrell

Further reading and references:

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

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

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

https://symbolsproject.eu/explore/human/hobby-/-leisure-/-affiliation-/-membership/compass-and-carpenters-square.aspx

http://www.masonic-lodge-of-education.com/square-and-compasses.html

http://www.richardcassaro.com/square-compasses-unveiled

Long-winded but worth a look

The Quest to Honor Disabled Patients Buried in Anonymous Graves

This is a post from Atlas Obscura which discusses the burial places of large institutions in the US which were left behind when they closed. Patients records may have been lost and when they are buried anonymously how do their families know where they are? When I visited Netherne Hospital cemetery and also St Lawrence’s burial ground, there were very few markers but in recent years relatives have been reclaiming their loved ones. I thought this was an interesting post in light of disability rights campaigns. It also reminds us that these people are not fogotten.

Historically, institutions often interred their dead with simple markers. In Massachusetts, researchers are learning about the patients’ lives and the facilities’ fraught legacies.

BY ASIA LONDON PALOMBAJULY 1, 2021The Quest to Honor Disabled Patients Buried in Anonymous GravesThis marker in the MetFern Cemetery denotes the burial of Robert Comeau (1943-1959).This marker in the MetFern Cemetery denotes the burial of Robert Comeau (1943-1959). ASIA LONDON PALOMBAIn This StoryDESTINATION GUIDEWaltham

IT’S QUIET. The afternoon sky is draped in a blanket of clouds and a breeze weaves its way through the trees. Down a winding dirt path in the woods of WalthamMassachusetts, is a clearing peppered with hundreds of small, gray slabs of concrete. They sink into the earth as if pulled down by invisible hands.

These uneven stumbling stones serve as crass grave markers for the hundreds of people who died in two nearby institutions for people with disabilities. The cemetery is shared by the Metropolitan State Hospital, a former psychiatric hospital, and the Walter E. Fernald Developmental Center, the oldest state-run institution of its kind in the United States.

Between 1947 and 1979, these institutions buried 296 of their patients in simple, anonymous graves on a plot of former marshland now called the MetFern Cemetery, a portmanteau of the two institutions’ names. The grave markers are sunken and toppled, and have only two things etched onto their concrete slabs: “C” or “P,” for Catholic and Protestant (though records indicate that a Muslim man and two Jewish patients may have been buried there as well), and a number that denotes the order in which the patient was interred.

One of the buildings on the Walter E. Fernald Developmental Center campus, pictured in February 2020.
One of the buildings on the Walter E. Fernald Developmental Center campus, pictured in February 2020. ASIA LONDON PALOMBA

For the past seven years, Alex Green, a local disability historian, has worked to identify and research the lives of those buried at MetFern. By combing through birth and death certificates, he has come to know their names and stories. Today, most of Green’s advocacy focuses on working alongside the state to make the cemetery more dignified.RELATEDWhen Chinese Americans Were Blamed for 19th-Century Epidemics, They Built Their Own HospitalThe Chinese Hospital in San Francisco is still one-of-a-kind.Read more

The burial ground is a powerful symbol for the people who grappled with the institutions’ legacies. “It kind of provides a safe, central place where everyone agrees to come back together around it,” says Green, an adjunct lecturer in public policy at Harvard University. “People are sharing stories more for the first time.”


THE WALTER E. FERNALD DEVELOPMENTAL Center, also referred to as the Fernald School, was originally called the Massachusetts School for Idiotic and Feeble-Minded Youth. Founded in South Boston in 1848 by Samuel Gridley Howe, it opened as a small experimental school to teach children and teens with intellectual disabilities life skills so they could live independently. Due to the popular perception that children with disabilities couldn’t learn, it proved to be the most progressive and radical institution of its era, says Green.

By 1888, the institution had moved to a sprawling, 196-acre campus in Waltham under the direction of superintendent Walter E. Fernald, where it quickly became the model for other institutions in the state and country. By the late 19th century, Fernald had become a custodial facility where those with disabilities might be locked away for life.

The national peak of institutionalization for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the U.S. was in 1967, when nearly 200,000 people were incarcerated in more than 350 large, state-run institutions. An additional 30,000 people were living in state psychiatric facilities, according to the National Council on Disability, an advisory agency on disability policy.

Protestant grave markers in the MetFern Cemetery, photographed in June 2021.
Protestant grave markers in the MetFern Cemetery, photographed in June 2021. ASIA LONDON PALOMBA

The Metropolitan State Hospital, also known as MetState, opened in 1930 and was the state’s last large-scale institution. Between 1924 and 1947, patients were buried in Waltham’s Mt. Feake Cemetery or were sent back to their original towns—though some are unaccounted for, and Green suspects there were additional burials around the institutions’ grounds. By 1947, both the Fernald School and MetState had fallen apart, and would eventually shutter (MetState in 1992, and Fernald in 2014). The onset of major crises such as the Great Depression and both World Wars caused the institutions to become severely underfunded and short-staffed. As conditions declined, an increasing number of patients suffered premature deaths, leading the institutions to open a shared cemetery, says Green.

Patients were buried in institutional cemeteries for a number of reasons. Some had no living family or couldn’t afford a proper burial. Institutions usually did a haphazard job of contacting family members about deaths, and in many cases families didn’t make an effort to collect their relative’s body. The unnamed gravestones were likely a measure taken to protect a family’s reputation in an era of overwhelming social stigma surrounding disabilities.

This was the case at similar institutions all over the state and country, and in the past few years, grassroots movements have been gaining traction from Utah to Minnesota to Georgia, aiming to bring recognition and justice to those buried under unnamed graves. These movements emphasize marking and preserving the final resting grounds of institutional patients.

“To ask for this history is not enough.”

Adam Rosenblatt, a professor at Duke University, has been studying this phenomenon for a book he’s writing—titled Cemetery Citizens and slated for publication in 2022—on people who care for places of the marginalized dead. One of his chapters focuses specifically on MetFern.

“The movement to try to commemorate mental hospital cemeteries is something that’s been around since the 1990s and seems to be slowly but gradually spreading,” he says. “There is a desire to contextualize and commemorate….even by just filling in the gaps on sites like findagrave.com with pictures of each grave.” Rosenblatt says there’s now “a lot of energy” around unearthing information and restoring dignity to deceased people who have long been overlooked.


SOME OF GREEN’S ACTIVISM INVOLVES working alongside students—especially 11th graders he once taught part-time at Gann Academy, an independent Jewish high school tucked between Fernald and MetFern. In 2017, Green, Yoni Kadden, and Kevin Levin—two history teachers at Gann—created a disability history curriculum focused on MetFern, Fernald, and MetState. Over the years, students have parceled through census data to research the individual lives of those buried at MetFern. In 2020, the students created a memorial book and an official website, coded by a 2020 Gann graduate, to house the names and biographies of each person buried in the cemetery. The website led to some relatives finally learning where their loved ones are buried after decades of speculation. In this way, these institutional cemeteries are “two-way streets to the past and into the present,” Green says. “They help [us] process the trauma and grief around them.”

When students learned about the burial ground’s legacy they “were horrified. They wanted to know more,” says Kadden. “A lot of them tied this to our responsibility to talk about other injustices.” Kadden will be leading another disability history class at Gann in the fall of 2021.

Alex Green and students.
Alex Green and students. COURTESY ALEX GREEN

The work surrounding MetFern echoes elements of the deinstitutionalization movement that gained steam in the early 1970s. The movement was spearheaded by a large number of parent advocacy groups who witnessed the squalid living conditions in these facilities and demanded court-mandated safeguards for those living in institutions. This work coincided with a rise in self advocacy, where people with disabilities agitated for their own rights, and was compounded by support from institutional staff members who witnessed the human rights abuses in these facilities up close. This advocacy reverberates into the present as activists continue to fight for this dark and overlooked part of American history.

“There is an enormous growing coalition of disability rights people who see this is a galvanizing example of why denying us the access to our history is in of itself a form of cruelty,” says Green, who has a history of mental illness which has closely tied him to his work and helped inform the way he processes what he learns. “I see another history where I’m just another person in that graveyard. There is a personal level.”


MASSACHUSETTS’S DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION AND Recreation (DCR) manages MetFern, and its groundskeepers trim the grass regularly and erected the cemetery’s first two signs in the early 2000s. These explain what the markings on the gravestones mean, and list the years the cemetery was operational. A makeshift shrine has been erected at MetFern’s center where family members and passersby leave statues, coins, and notes to the deceased.

In the summer of 2019, George Darcy, a Waltham City Councilor, applied for a $80,000 city preservation grant to restore MetFern. Over the coming year, the goal is to transfer those funds to the DCR through a matching grant program; if approved, the DCR will use the $160,000 to restore the cemetery with community input. Darcy’s grant aims to regrade the land, reset the headstones, and place signage at the cemetery’s entrances. Based on designs by Gann students, the signs will offer a brief history on the institutions, list patients’ names, and provide instructions on how to identify each person.

The DCR plans on keeping the gravestones as they are instead of installing new ones with names, as was done at other institutional cemeteries across the state. Being able to see these unmarked stones is fundamental to understanding how these institutions fit into the larger fabric of American society, explains Green.

The Metropolitan State Hospital's administration building, pictured here in October 2019, is the facility's last building standing. The rest were torn down in the 1990s to make way for luxury condos.
The Metropolitan State Hospital’s administration building, pictured here in October 2019, is the facility’s last building standing. The rest were torn down in the 1990s to make way for luxury condos. ASIA LONDON PALOMBA

In February 2021, a bill was introduced into the Massachusetts State House to study the history of institutions for people with disabilities in the state. Co-authored by Green alongside Representative Sean Garballey and Senator Michael Barrett, the bill proposes a disabled-persons-led commission tasked with locating records and graves and issuing a formal report. Green hopes this bill will help reconcile the different approaches taken at various cemeteries across the state to find the best way forward for MetFern.

While MetFern is just one of many institutional cemeteries across the country, it is emblematic of an era and an attitude that continue to exert influence. For Green and other activists, these defunct institutions and their cemeteries are not merely relics of a bygone era, but reminders that the past is never truly far behind us.

“To ask for this history is not enough, ” says Green. “To fight for this history as our history, as disabled people, is to fight for respect for [our] fundamental rights.”

©Asia London Palambo/Atlas Obscura

Symbol of the Month – the Pyramid

St Anne’s Limehouse copyright Carole Tyrrell

It was on a cold, wet day in April when I visited St Anne’s church in Limehouse, East London.  Again, I had been enticed there by ‘strange symbols’ according to a reader in Fortean Times.  Headstones and altar tombs sulked in the abundant cow parsley as the traffic sloped along Commercial Road.  It didn’t appear to be very gentrified there – yet.

Headstones lined the churchyard walls, piled up three deep.   I could just about discern symbols and scenes on them but maybe on a sunnier day they would be more obvious.  The churchyard is now a park with the aforementioned altar tombs and urns in one area near the road. 

St Anne’s is one of London’s six Hawksmoor churches and was sadly closed when I visited.   It is a very large church and was consecrated in 1730.  After it was gutted by fire in 1850 it was restored to its original beauty and has a Baroque style interior from what I could see from photos on the church’s website.

Hawksmoor’s Pyramid copyright Carole Tyrrell

Then I saw the pyramid – well, I could hardly miss it as it’s 9 feet high and nestles up to a tall tree.   No one’s sure if it’s an actual grave marker or was originally intended to be the pinnacle on top of the church tower.  It is reputed that the builders may have just left it there. 

On one side it has an eroded crest and coat of arms with ‘the Judgement of Solomon’ inscribed on it in both English and Hebrew.   Nicholas Hawksmoor, who designed St Anne’s, was known as ‘the Devil’s architect’ and worked with Christopher Wren on various buildings.

Coat of arms on the pyramid copyright Carole Tyrrell

However, It wasn’t the only pyramid that Hawksmoor designed as he’s also responsible for the Pyramid at Castle Howard in Yorkshire.

The Pyramid, Castle Howard. copyright Gordon Hatton. Shared under Wiki Commons

He designed it in 1728 and it contains the

‘colossal bust of Lord William Howard, the 3rd Earl’s great, great, great grandfather which sits on a stone plinth.’

David Castleton says in his fascinating blog post on pyramid tombs that,

‘Hawksmoor was a noted Freemason and fond of peppering his buildings with pagan symbols such as obelisks and pyramids.’

The Solomon reference could be a nod to King Solomon who Freemasons revered.  Again, according to David Castleton

‘Hawksmoor apparently made plans for a full reconstruction of Solomon’s Temple, a monument that was thought to express the universe’s secrets with its geometry.’

It would have been an amazing building!

As I said in my post on the Darnley Mausoleum, the pyramid fascinated architects of the 18th century.  They may have been inspired by the tomb of Caius Cestius in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome. 

The Pyramid of Caiius Cestius in Rome – shared under Wiki Commons

There is also a building with a pyramid roof in the background of a 1647 painting by Nicholas Poussin, ‘The Sacraments of Ordination’. He was a highly regarded painter in the 18th century and may have been one of the inspirations for the Darnley Mausoleum.   

Nicolas Poussin – the Sacraments – Ordination 1 – shared under Wiki Commons

According to symbolsage:

‘The word ‘pyramid’ may have come from the Egyptian hieroglyph for pyramid which was ‘MR’ which was often written as mer, mir or pimar. However, another theory is that it may come from the Roman word ’pyramid’ which itself came from the  Greek word ‘puramid’ which meant ‘a cake made out of roasted meat’.  The Greeks were mocking the Egyptian burial monuments as resembling stony cakes.’

Pyramids can also be seen as representing the struggle to reach the top either in earthly ambition or the ascent to Heaven. They are also supposed to represent enlightenment and spiritual attainment.

However, the one that I like best is that a pyramid shaped tomb prevented the devil from reclining on a grave and you can’t argue with that!

We’ll never know why Hawksmoor placed his enigmatic symbol in St Anne’s churchyard so it is destined to remain as one of London’s little mysteries.

©Photos and text Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading:

https://stanneslimehouse.org/about/#ourbuilding

https://symbolsage.com/pyramid-symbolism-and-meaning/

https://www.davidcastleton.net/english-pyramid-tombs-mad-jack-fuller/ a wonderful selection of pyramid tombs throughout the UK.

http://www.thecemeteryclub.com/symbols.htmlhttps://churchmonumentssociety.org/resources/symbolism-on-monuments#p

https://www.castlehoward.co.uk/DB/news-archive/restoring-the-pyramid

https://www.poland.travel/en/travel-inspirations/the-fahrenheid-family-pyramid-in-rapa?fbclid=IwAR2vRFxqmIMgAlrlKOs-jdLDnhxxv8C0x5qQecjG-84gDsSjGBHAp81Bey0

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

The lure of strange symbols……a springtime saunter to St Peter’s, Bridge, Kent

View of St Peter’s from the churchyard copyright Carole Tyrrell

I was drawn to make my first church crawl post lockdown by the lure of ‘strange symbols’ at St Peter’s in Bridge, Kent.  It’s in a village, well hamlet really, where the number of pubs outnumber the shops.   The church is only open on one day of the week and, knowing only too well the vagaries of country bus services, I planned it like a military campaign with timetables etc. 

Blackthorn blossom foamed over the hedgerows and the acid yellow of rapeseed was beginning to spread over the fields. It felt good to be outside on a sunny April day.  St Peter’s church nestles at the end of the high street and I could see its distinctive ‘candle snuffer’ spire when I got off the bus.  I have missed poking about inside churches although I have had a good poke about in churchyards over the last year.

St Peter’s is a really pretty and ancient church surrounded by a small churchyard. Spring flowers were dotted around the headstones and in the remembrance section by the wall.  Bluebells were still in bud, there was the understated yellow of primroses, purple violets, dandelions and the leaves of Garlic Mustard gave colour around  the stones    There was a part of the churchyard that was overgrown and a side path led to a more modern section. But I wasn’t alone as I explored.  2 squirrels cavorted amongst the large trunks of the yew trees and from the large field beyond the churchyard wall there were many enthusiastic baaa-ings and bleats from a flock of sheep and lambs. 

According to Tim Tatton-Brown from the Kent Archaeology Society,

‘there is evidence of burials in the churchyard since 1474 but there are no markers for them.

Violets in the churchyard copyright Carole Tyrrell





Bluebells copyright Carole Tyrrell
Primroses copyright Carole Tyrrell
Dandelions on ancient lichens and stones. Copyright Carole Tyrrell

But what of the symbols?  There was a sprinkling of skulls and winged souls but no ‘strange symbols’ – yet. So I assumed that, as the book which had recommended them had been published in the 80’s, they might have eroded away.  So I went inside.

View of churchyard copyright Carole Tyrrell
A trio of skulls copyright Carole Tyrrell
View of churchyard copyright Carole Tyrrell

‘If you are here alone. Does anyone know where you are?’ announced a printed sign on the welcome  table which made me feel a little spooked.  Most of the pews were cordoned off and I was soon admiring the colourful and beautiful stained glass.  The sun shone through the chancel windows creating little patterns on the carpet.  Tom’s window, which is a recent addition from 2019, is a masterpiece of modern stained glass and is in memory to a boy who lived for 100 days.  My camera couldn’t do it justice.   The window was designed by Grace Dyson, a glass painter and conservator at the highly regarded Cathedral Studios based at Canterbury Cathedral.

A 19th century stained glass window copyright Carole Tyrrell
Modern stained glass copyright Carole Tyrrell
Tom’s window which was dedicated in 2019 copyright Carole Tyrrell
The sun shining through the chancel windows created tiny patterns copyright Carole Tyrrell
Beautiful patterned stained glass copyright Carole Tyrrell

There has been a church on this site since 1189 and it is now regarded as a chapel of ease.  St Peters became a church during the 12th and 13th centuries. There are still traces of the 12th century and again, according to Tim Tatton-Brown:

the nave may be 11th century but there’s no proof of this.  The bells in the tower may have been cast in the 14th century by William de Belyetre of Canterbury.’

Until 1850 part of the church was used as a schoolroom. St Peter’s was restored in the 19th century by the architect, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott during 1859-60 and some say that it has been over restored.   It was then that the outer walls were covered in knapped flint. However, there are still traces of the 12th century building in the nave, chancel, south aisle and tower base.   I walked up to the altar and there were the strange symbols at last!

The ‘strange symbols’ copyright Carole Tyrrell

Mounted on a wall was a carved relief with biblical scenes carved on it.  These were the strange symbols mentioned in Peter Haining’s Ghosts of Kent.  The ones that I could recognise were of Adam and Eve by the tree of knowledge with a strange bird climbing it, Cain and Abel, and Abraham sacrificing his son. The others were too damaged to read.  The figures all have little scripts issuing from their mouths  – a little like a ancient century comic strip.  Nobody’s sure if its 16th century or if it was originally set into a 12th century doorway.  I agree with the Kent Archeological Society that it was a tympanum. According to Wikipedia:

‘a tympanum is the semi circular or triangular decorative wall surface over an entrance, door or window…it often contains sculpture or other imagery or ornaments.

There’s more work to be done on this which will form a future post.

Fragments of a memorial to a previous vicar, Malcolm Ramsey copyright Carole Tyrrell

On the other wall of the chancel facing the sculpture were fragments of a relief memorial to another vicar of the church named Malcom Ramsey who died in 1538. He was the vicar of Patrixbourne and Bridge for 44 years.  The fragments form part of an inscription.

The top half of the effigy to Macobus Kasey copyright Carole Tyrrell
Lower half of effigy of Mac0bus Kasey copyright Carole Tyrrell

There is a wooden effigy, split into 2 halves, on one side of the altar which is of a 15th century priest called Macobus Kasey who died in 1512.  However, there was no guidebook to tell me anything more.

Upper half of memorial panel dated 1635 copyright Carole Tyrrell
Lower part of memorial panel dated 1635. copyright Carole Tyrrell

There is an ancient memorial set in the chancel wall on the same side as the effigy.  It has a date of 1635 on it but I am not sure if it’s a headstone or a memorial.  I wanted to take a photo but there was a chair in front of it which I decided to move. However, the chair weighed a ton and it felt as if someone was actually sitting in it.   In the end I had to drag it across the tiles but only a little way.  I took a photo of the memorial and then decided to take another one of the effigy. My camera wouldn’t focus.  It had been working perfectly before I moved the chair.  So I dragged the chair back into position and the camera worked again.  A little strange I thought.

The chair I moved by the altar copyright and a panel set into the wall. copyright Carole Tyrrell
Near the entrance there are Romanesque style arches which end in either cat or lion’s heads.  These date from 1859 and replace earlier, much cruder, ones. copyright Carole Tyrrell

I walked back towards the church door and turned round to have a last look at the church interior.  I could now hear loud sounds from the direction of the organ and the font but I hadn’t heard anyone come in.  Coincidence – who knows? The church had grown colder as well. 

But it was time to go and have a look at the field of sheep and lambs and catch a view of the church from across it. 

View of St Peter’s from across the field of sheep and lambs copyright Carole Tyrrell

 ©Photos and text Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading

http://www.bridgechurchgroup.co.uk/bridge-church.php

https://www.kentarchaeology.org.uk/01/03/BRI.htm

Symbol of the Month – The Celtic Cross

Another symbol from the archives while I finish editing my first church visit of 2021. The lure of strange symbols can lead you into all sorts of interesting places…..

The Surrey Celtic Cross Brompton Cemetery
©Carole Tyrrell

Stylised animals, sinuous snakes, Celtic knots and traditional strapwork, flowers, angels and even a cat! The decoration on Celtic crosses within cemeteries can be varied and interesting. But it wasn’t until I was exploring Brompton Cemetery with an apps designer that I really began to look at them more closely. He spotted the Viking style animals on Margaret Stevenson’s cross near the Chapel and we were soon seeing spirals and the more emblematic strapwork known as Hiberno-Saxon art or Insular art amongst others.

Celtic Crosses first appeared within cemeteries during the Celtic Revival of the 1850’s and it has since become a worldwide emblem of Irish identity.  The Revival has also been described as the Celtic Twilight and the Cross is seen as its lasting contribution to the western world’s funerary art.  The Celtic Cross has been known in Ireland since the 9th century and in mainland Britain since medieval times.

It’s a form of the traditional cross but with the addition of a nimbus or ring.  The latter is seen as a symbol of eternity as it has no beginning or end. The addition of the nimbus has been attributed to St Patrick who is reputed to have added it to a Christian cross, extended one of the of the lengths to form the stem and then placed it on top of a stepped base. It was this combination of a pagan symbol and a Christian one that became the Celtic Cross. It has also been described as the ‘sun cross’ by those who interpret the nimbus ring as a representation of the sun. The four arms have also been interpreted as representations of the four elements; air, earth, fire and water as well as the stages of the day or the four fixed compass directions.

The more traditional, intricately patterned bands known as strapwork are known for the unbroken lines that make up any piece.  There have been 8 basic designs that have been identified and claimed to be the basis of nearly all of the interlaced patterns in Celtic decorative art. Hiberno-Saxon art is also known as Insular art and examples appear in the Books of Kells. Here are four examples from West Norwood Cemetery.

It was in Brompton that I noticed two examples with single spirals on them. A spiral on a Celtic cross is generally drawn clockwise to represent either the sun or the direction of running water.

Detail of spiral on Celtic cross in Brompton Cemetery, Sadly the epitaph is now illegible.
©Carole Tyrrell

It is one of the most ancient symbols known to mankind.   A double spiral is more difficult to create and has been seen as a depiction of universal balance such as yin and yang or night and day.  The triple spiral or triskele is the most difficult for obvious reasons and has several meanings attributed to it. But the one that I thought was the most appropriate in a funerary context was the triskele being seen as a representation of three worlds: the spiritual, the earthly and the celestial.  The word Triskele is reputed to have come from the Greeks and it’s one of the most complex Celtic symbols.

Also in Brompton, I discovered a Celtic cross with decoration that ended in snakes heads which is interesting as snakes which were revered by the Celts. They saw them as a representation of rebirth as they shed their skins and then live again.  Notice also the Celtic knot in the centre of them.  These have been found in Scandinavia and Western Europe as well as appearing within Celtic insular art. They are supposed to represent eternity or the never ending cycle of life with the closed ends signifying unity.

A Celtic knot with snakes entwined around it from Brompton Cemetery.
©Carole Tyrrell
Stylised Viking inspired animals and a Celtic knot on a Celtic Cross.
©Carole Tyrrell

So the next time you visit a cemetery or churchyard look out for the Celtic Cross and see what you find. It’s not only Celtic inspired decoration that appears on them. These two examples are from my local churchyard – one features traditional strapwork and the other has a lovely and unusual angel with beautifully carved feathery wings and the nimbus is almost like a halo.

This is the Mills memorial from Nunhead Cemetery and features beautifully carved passionflowers, a deeply significant symbol in the language of flowers, and also the IHS in the centre of the cross.

This lovely example is the Mills memorial from Nunhead Cemetery. It features beeautifully carved passionflowers and IHS at the centre of thet nimbus.
©Carole Tyrrell

And finally, again from Brompton, one with a cat in its centre which is possibly a pun on the name of the family commemorated – Cattenach.

The Cattanach Celtic Cross from Brompton Cemetery. A probably pun on the surname with the cat at the centre of the nimbus.
©Carole Tyrrell

©text and photos Carole Tyrrell

Further reading and references

http://ireland-calling.com/celtic-symbol-spiral/

https://www.ringsfromireland.com/Article/67/Celtic-Crosses

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

https://www.myirishjeweler.com/uk/blog/irish-celtic-cross-history

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

https://www.gotquestions.org/Celtic-cross.html

http://irishfireside.com/2015/02/03/history-symbolism-celtic-cross/

Symbol of the Month – The Pelican in her Piety

This is another reblog of a n older post from when I began shadowsflyaway and it’s always been a favourite of mine.

I have been out again looking for symbols and have found one or two so looking forward to sharing them with you. I went church crawling earlier this month and visited a church in Kent rumoured to have strange symbols. It certainly did and other curiosities. You never know what you’re going to find in a church and I have often been pleasantly surprised. Beyond the churchyard wall was a field of sheep and lambs, merrily bleating and baa-ing away at each other, and it made me feel so glad to be outside again on a warm Spring day. I also visited a church in the east End of London on a wet, cold day as the tall cow parsley was rampant amongst the tombstones and found something that I didn’t expect. I’m really looking forward to researching and writing about it for next month.

A pelican in her piety. Detail of monument, The Drake Chapel, St Mary's Amersham. copyright Carole Tyrrell

A pelican in her piety. Detail of monument, The Drake Chapel, St Mary’s Amersham.
copyright Carole Tyrrell

This is a more unusual symbol to find in cemeteries and dates from  pre-Christian times.  There are two versions of the legend.  In one, the pelican pierces her own breast to feed her children with her own blood and in the second she feeds her dying children with her own blood to bring them back to life but as a result she dies herself.   In both of them the pelican is a potent motif of self-sacrifice and charity.  It’s also seen as a powerful  representation of Christ’s  Passion in that he gave his life for us and rose again.  The symbol is known as a pelican in her piety.

However, the legend of the pelican is found in Physiologies, an anonymous  Christian work from Alexandria which dates from the 2nd century.  It contained legends of animals and their allegorical interpretations  which is where the attribution of the pelican’s sacrifice to the Passion of Christ come from.   It states that

‘ the pelican is very fond of its brood, but when the young ones begin to grow they rebel against the male bird (the father) and provoke his anger, so that he kills them, the mother returns to the nest in three day, sits on the dead birds, pours her blood over them, revives them, and they feed on the blood.

The pelican in its piety was very popular during the Middle Ages and can be found on altar fronts, fonts and  misericords in churches.  Also, when tabernacles were occasionally suspended over the altar, they were shaped like pelicans as was one in Durham Cathedral.

Later, in St Thomas Aquinas’s hymn ‘Adoro te devote.’ or Humbly we adore thee’, in the penultimate verse he describes Christ as:

‘the loving divine pelican able to provide nourishment for his breast’

In  Nicholas Hilliard’s famous 1573 portrait of Elizabeth I which is known colloquially as the Pelican portrait she wears a prominent piece of jewellery which features a pelican feeding her young with her blood which symbolised her role as Mother of the Nation.

The pelican also appears in Shakespeare’s Hamlet in Act IV in which Laertes says:

‘To his good friend thus wide,

I’ll open my arms.

And, like the kind life-rendering pelican

Repast them with my blood.’

The  renowned bird appears in key Renaissance literature.  For example, Dante in The Divine Comedy refers to Christ as ‘our Pelican’. John Lyly in Euphues of 1606 also wrote:

Pelicane who striketh blood out of its own owne bodye to do others good.’

John Skelton wrote in 1529 in his Armorie of Birds:

‘They sayd the Pellycan’

When my Byrds be slayne

With my bloude I them nevyve.  Scripture doth record the same dyd as our Lord

And rose from deth to lyve.’

However, the belief that the pelican nourishes her children with her own blood is a myth.  It may have arisen from the fact that pelicans have a large pouch attached under their bill.  When the parent is about to feed its chicks, it macerates small fish in this pouch and then whilst pressing the bag against its breast, it transfers the food to the babies.

However, its use in Victorian cemeteries may indicate a resurrection motif in that the pelican gives er life to her children so that they are resurrected.   It is quite a rare one to find  although it does appear within churches especially on wall memorials, altars and fonts.

This is a sculpture from a church in Germany. copyright Andreas Praefcke
This is a sculpture from a church in Germany.
copyright Andreas Praefcke

This is a magnificent impressive pelican sculpture from a church in Germany.

There is an impressive monument in a Cuban cemetery which has a large marble pelican and children carving on it and there is also one on a memorial in Arnos Vale Cemetery near Bristol.  This is an especially poignant one as is it is to a young doctor, Joseph Williams, who insisted on treating the local workhouse inmates for cholera, during the 1849  Bristol epidemic.  Sadly, and perhaps inevitably, he succumbed to it himself and subsequently died. Here the pelican and her young are a true representation of self-sacrifice.

This is one is in my local church, St Georges in Beckenham and appears on a monument to Dame Ann Frances Hoare who died in 1800 at 64.

And this one is from the Drake Room in St Mary’s Church Amersham.

Here is a more recent use of the Pelican in her piety on a World War II blood donor appeal.

Word war II Scottish blood donor recruitment poster. www.wikipedia

Word war II Scottish blood donor recruitment poster.
http://www.wikipedia

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

References:

http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/catholic-contributions/the-symbolism-of-the-pelican.html

Pfarr- und Wallfahrtskirche St. Philippus und Jakobus, Bergatreute Hochaltar: Vogelnest, 2007, photographer Andreas Praefcke      

http://www.infoplease.com/dictionary/brewers/pelican.html

www.thecemeteryclub.com/symbols.html

How to read symbols, Clare Gibson, 2009, Herbert Press

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

A wandering spirit and wandering bones in SE London

In darkest Eltham, there is a headstone dedicated to an Aborigine who came to England in the 18th century. It was the New World meeting the Old World. The English had begun to colonise New South Wales which had been his home although he called it by another name.  The country itself wasn’t called Australia when he left his home for England.  In fact, it wouldn’t be called that until 1804. It was known as New Holland.  He was a young man who died in England and never returned home. 

So who was he?

And why is he buried here? After all, Aborigines believe that, until the bones are returned to his ancestral homeland, he is destined to remain forever a wandering spirit, homeless and alone. If he’s actually still here.

I was out exploring, during the Christmas/New Year relaxation of lockdown. when I visited the churchyard of St John the Baptist in Eltham.  It has a fine old churchyard with a few 18th century memento mori.   Then I found this headstone by the boundary wall which is dedicated to Yemmerrawanyea, a native of New South Wales. The full epitaph reads:

‘In

Memory of

YEMMERRAWANYEA

a Native of

NEW SOUTH WALES

Who died the 18th of May 1794

In the 19th Year of his

AGE’

I was intrigued as the headstone is a substantial one and it isn’t everyday that you discover an Aborigine grave.

This is a silhouette portrait of Yemmarrawanyea which was created by William Wentworth who was his landlord during his time in London. Wentworth spelled the name as Yuremany

There are several spellings of the name but I will keep to the spelling on the headstone as it’s easier. 

In the 18th century, the British had begun to colonise what they called New South Wales and they wanted to establish relations with the Aborigines.   George III was very keen for this to happen and the first Governor of the colony, Arthur Phillip, resorted to kidnap to get one man, Bennelong, involved. There will be more on him later.

Yemmerrawanyea was a member of the Wangai tribe, part of the Eora nation of Aborigines.  They lived in the Port Jackson area on the south bank of the Parramatta river where Sydney is now.  He was known to the settlers and Capt Watkin Tench, as ’ a good tempered, lively lad who became a great favourite with us, and almost constantly lived at the Governor’s house.’  He had clothes made for him and he waited at the Governor’s table.  He was a servant.

In February 1791, aged 16, he was initiated according to Aboriginal custom, by having a front tooth and part of his jaw knocked out by a Kebba which was a stone or rock.  This allowed him to use the name Kebarrah which was only given to men who had undergone this ritual.  It was done according to Keith Vincent Smith:

‘…..in February 1791 at a bay in the Gamaragai territory on the north shore of Port Jackson.  It was Bennelong who officiated, removing the teeth with a specially cut womera or throwing stick. Though Yemmerrawanyea ‘suffered severely, losing apart of his jawbone, he ‘boasted the firmness and hardihood, with which he had endured it.’ wrote Capt Tench.

A portrait of Bennelong in Regency costume.which is signed on the back W.W. This may be William Wentworth, his landlord in London.

He came to England with Bennelong when Phillip returned home to England in 1792-93 after his first stint as the British Governor of the colony of New South Wales.  Apparently, they went on the very long sea journey ’voluntarily and cheerfully’.  Bennelong could speak English but I have been unable to discover if Yemmerrawanyea could also do so.  However, they did have English lessons during their visit.

This could be either Bennelong or Yemmerrawanyea at a fashionable gathering. I haven’t been able to find a credit for it but it came from this site: .http://britainforaussies.weebly.com/yes-but-what-about-yemmerrawanyea.html

In 1793, they arrived in Falmouth, Cornwall and then travelled onto London.  Mayfair to be precise and there they mixed in high society.  Fashionable Regency clothes were made for them and they were tutored in reading, writing, and English. There are still expense claims on file for their visit.  The men visited St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London and even went bathing in the Serpentine.  I did wonder what Regency society made of them and vice versa. 

At a fashionable gathering, Bennelong and Yemmerrawanyea performed a native song accompanied by clapsticks and you can hear a modern recreation of it here:

http://nationalunitygovernment.org/content/bennelong-and-yemmerrawanyea-singing-england

They said that the song was ‘in praise of their lovers; but the meaning of the song has been lost. Only two words have been translated and were apparently about jumping kangaroos.

Edward Jones, (1752-1824) who was in the audience, wrote down and published the words and music and called it ‘A song of the natives of New South Wales.’  It appeared in Musical Curiosities in 1811.  Jones was the composer, Welsh Harpist, folk music collector and bard to the Prince of Wales who became George IV.

However, in October 1793, disaster struck when Yemmerrawanyea fell ill and began to drastically lose weight.  After injuring his leg, his health declined even further.   He and Bennelong were taken to Eltham which was then a village and he was treated by Dr Gilbert Blane. He was the Prince of Wales’s physician.  They lodged at the house of William Kent who had been employed by the former Home Secretary, Lord Sydney. This again emphasises the circles in which the two men moved. But it was to no avail as Yemmerrawanyea died on 18 May 1794 aged roughly 19 from a lung infection.  This may have been tuberculosis but no-one’s quite sure.

Entry in St John the Evangelist parish records recording Yemmerrawanyea’s burial and death.

There are still bills preserved at the National Archives for his burial and,according to Keith Vincent Smith:

‘A gravedigger covered Yemmerrawanyea’s grave with turf at a cost of 1 shilling and 6 pence.  The headstone costs £6.16.00’,

This was a substantial cost for a headstone. 

There have  been several campaigns to have his remains returned to Australia but their current location in the churchyard is unknown.  In fact, they may no longer be there due to the practice of graves being re opened and re used for burials to reduce overcrowding. The headstone has also been moved and restored several times.

In 1982, 3 Aboriginal men made what is believed to be the first Australian Aboriginal pilgrimage to visit Yemmerrawanyea’s grave. But they were unaware that his body may have been removed and that the headstone may not even be over his grave.

Bennelong returned to what is now Sydney in 1795 and went back to the bush.  He was considered by some of Sydney’s white society to be a ‘thorough savage’ who couldn’t be tamed.  Relations between the Aborigines and the colonists were deteriorating as Keith Vincent Smith says:

‘as more and more land was cleared and fenced for farming and they were seen as savages who were unwilling to give their country and become labourers and servants to the colonists.’

Bennelong died on the 3 January 1813 and his grave has been finally been located. The New South Wales Government has announced that it has bought the house and garden in which he is buried.  It would be turned into a public memorial with a museum commemorating the impact of the European invasion on the indigenous people of the Sydney area. The site of the Sydney Opera House is located at Bennelong Point which was named after him.

These were 2 important figures in Aboriginal society and have left their traces in Australia and England.    Yemmerrawanyea’s grave is of cultural significance to the Aboriginal people and their history.   it seems sad that the stone is the only surviving trace of him in the churchyard and yet it’s it’s a reminder of the New World visiting the Old World.  So that passers-by, like me, stop and wonder who he was. how he came to Eltham and remember him.

Gwandalan Yemmerrawanyea

©Text and photos by Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading:

https://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/sites/default/files/SL_autumn2014_lr.pdf – informative article on Yemmerranyea which I have quoted from.

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

http://nationalunitygovernment.org/content/bennelong-and-yemmerrawanyea-singing-england

http://britainforaussies.weebly.com/yes-but-what-about-yemmerrawanyea.html

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

https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/music/right-back-at-us-bennelongs-song-for-1793-london-20100919-15hy3.html

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

shadows fly away

St John the Baptist, Burford,

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

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

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

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

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

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