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.
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.
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.
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.
These lion’s feet supporting two sarcophagi within London’s Brompton Cemetery almost look comical – it’s as if they may just get up and run away at any moment carrying their cargo!
But, if you look closely, then you can see how detailed they are especially with the hair around the ankles and the claws. They are unusual as I don’t see them that often. But there are examples to be found in other cemeteries. For example, there is one within Norwich’s Rosary Cemetery.
The sarcophagus is made from cast iron and was originally painted black. It is dedicated to the memory of Jeremiah Cozens who died aged 32 in 1849. There are other members of the Cozens family commemorated on different sides of the sarcophagus. Also, Mrs Bradley’s monument in Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis, Tennessee, USA features a magnificent set of paws.
The lion represents strength which is demonstrated by the paws supporting the sarcophagus. They have appeared as decorative devices in Ancient Greece and Rome. These were often known as ‘claw feet’ or ‘paw feet’ and were usually either a lion or a bear’s foot. They also appeared during the Renaissance and into the 17th and 18th century in French and English furniture. This magnificent example dates from the Renaissance. Although this sarcophagus has been dated to the 5th century the lions paws were added after the 15th century. It comes from Ravenna, Italy.
So the use of lion’s paws probably originated in the Classical world as did the sarcophagus form itself. It’s a stone coffin that was used for burials and the word ‘sarcophagus’ comes from the Greek for ‘flesh-eater’. With the rediscovery and use of Classicism within Victorian cemeteries such as Brompton it’s appropriate to find two elements from it. Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome motifs appeared in many Victorian cemeteries and Classicism was one of the first major artistic movements to be represented within them.
These two examples are very plain apart from the wildly extravagant carved hair on the ankles of the paws. They are both dedicated to women; Catherine Ferrall Carmichael and Charlotte Hooffstetter.
Catherine who died, aged 88, on 21 April 1853 was the widow of Major Hugh Lyle Carmichael. He was the Lieutenant Governor of British Guiana from 1812 until his death, aged 49, in 1813. According to Wikipedia:
‘He was a strong proponent of giving native Caribbean troops the same rights as ordinary British soldiers.’
Sadly, I’ve been unable to discover anything much about Catherine. There is an epitaph on one side of the sarcophagus of which I can only read two lines so she may have to be a Work in Progress.
Charlotte Hooffstetter is recorded on one side of her sarcophagus as being:
…’the 2nd wife of Charles Hooffstetter Esq
Nee Charlotte Gasquet
Obt on 31st August 1861 at 77.
According to an inscription on side of the sarcophagus she lived in Thurloe Square with Charles at what is still a swanky address. They had one daughter, Sophia, who died in 1854 and Charles Hooffstetter died on 30 September 1870. The names of other family members are inscribed on the other sides of the sarcophagus. But, again, I can find out nothing more about her. According to Find a Grave even her birth date is unknown and Charles proved to be just as illusory. So Charlotte will have to be another Work in Progress.
I also found a magnificent example on the Henniker monument within Rochester Cathedral.
The sarcophagus and lion’s feet were immensely popular and could be adapted to many other decorative uses. I found several examples of much smaller sarcophagi and lion’s paws on vintage and antique websites where they were being offered as wine coolers and collarettes amongst other uses. They would look very good on a sideboard or in a gentleman’s study.
But nowadays lion’s paws are more likely to be supporting an ‘antique’ revival bath tub which is a different container for a body altogether!
This month’s symbol is the Mourning Woman who is derived from Classicism and its association with ancient Greece and Rome. I would hesitate before describing their presence in Victorian cemeteries and churchyards as a monstrous regiment but they have mostly been on duty for over a hundred years. They patiently watch over and grieve for the departed. An eternal mourner, often with a veil covering her head and swathed in flowing robes, she keeps vigil.
The Mourning Woman can be a free standing statue on top of a monument or plinth looking sorrowfully down on the viewer. She can also be in the form of a 3D relief weeping over an urn containing the beloved’s ashes as in these examples:
At West Norwood cemetery there is this example of one resting on a lifesize cross (I hate to say it but whenever I see her I’m always reminded of the George Formby song ‘I’m Leaning on a lamp post…etc.).
Classicism held sway when London’s Magnificent Seven cemeteries were created. The anti-Catholic movement from the Georgian era was still a major influence with the cry ‘No Popery!’ loudly shouted. So no crosses, no statues of Jesus or any angels were permitted. Instead the clear cool lines of the ancient world were used as well as some of their traditions.
Mourning women were one of these as women played an integral part in the funerary ritual in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. In the latter they were paid professional mourners as the more mourners there were at a funeral the more wealthy and prestigious the departed had been in life. In the funeral procession which took place prior to the cremation the professional mourning women, who were not part of the deceased’s family, would loudly wail, rip out their hair and also scratch their faces in mourning according to contemporary records. It was felt that women could more easily express emotions as it was unacceptable for a man to weep in public.
There are several Biblical references to the mourning women. They are mentioned in Amos 5:16, Chronicles 35:25 and also in Jeremiah 9:17 as below
Thus saith the LORD of hosts,
Consider ye, and call for the mourning women,
that they may come;
and send for cunning women, that they may come: King James Bible
The reference to ‘cunning’ women means ‘skilled’ women.
They would often weep noisily and copiously spilling their tears into vessels known as tear catchers or lachrimosa. At the recent excellent Museum of Docklands exhibition, The Roman Dead, there were some on display. They were small glass vessels and were placed in tombs, presumably overflowing, after the funeral was complete. Again, if many tears were collected, it signified that the deceased was held in high esteem and those crying the most would receive a higher payment.
Incidentally the tear catchers became fashionable again in the 19th century with the Victorian cult of death. But this time the bottles had special stoppers that allowed the tears to evaporate and when they did the mourning period would be over. There is also a Biblical association with the practice of collecting tears in bottles in Psalms 56:8:
Thou tellest my wanderings:
put thou my tears into thy bottle:
are they not in thy book?
King James Bible
In ancient Greece it was again women who prepared the body and then laid it out ready for viewing on the second day.
Kinswomen, wrapped in dark robes, stood round the bier, the chief mourner, either mother or wife, was at the head, and others behind. This part of the funeral rites wasthe prothesis. Women led the mourning by chanting dirges, tearing at their hair and clothing, and striking their torso, particularly their breasts.
Here is a 6th century depiction of ancient Greek professional mourning women in full flow:
So for centuries women have been associated with, and played a major part, in the funerary process which may have been one of the reasons for the Mourning Woman appearing in cemeteries.
I feel that these women could be seen as a forerunner of the winged angels that flew into cemeteries towards the end of the 19th century. Both of them were guardians of the dead protecting them for eternity.
To end on, here is an lovely example that I unexpectedly discovered while on a Sunday afternoon stroll in the ‘secret’ graveyard behind St Nicholas’s church in Sevenoaks. She stands, surrounded by back gardens, and is a particularly elegant version. The memorial beneath her feet is dedicated to Elizabeth Dick and was erected by her sorrowing husband.
Sleep well for eternity Elizabeth and all those guarded by the mourning women.
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’.
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.
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…