Symbol of the Month – The Harp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ancient Egyptian wall painting depicting a harp being played.

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

8th century Pictish carving of a harp.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

1880 photo of Henry Brinley Richards
Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

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

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

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

‘To my dear sister Sarah Russell,

‘Soeur bien aimee reposee en paix’ 

which translates as:

‘Beloved sister rest in peace.’

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

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

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

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

References and further reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s in front of you! The Chaldon Doom painting is on youtube

Happy 2020!

 

The Chaldon Doom – Pinterest

 

Welcome to a new year and a short piece on how part of one of my blog posts became part of a youtube film.

I have to say that, after a cursory glance,  that ‘Look it’s behind you! The Chaldon Doom painting’’is undoubtedly my most popular post with 4,205 views since it’s publication in 2018.   It was a post about what may the oldest wall painting in England which is on the back wall of the church of St Peter and St Paul in Chaldon, Surrey.  This is an out of the way place as there’s no real village there.  But the church is very picturesque and popular as a destination for walkers especialluy during the summer when there is cake and tea on sale on Sunday afternoons.

The actual title of the painting is the Purgatorial Ladder and was painted in order to instruct the congregation to live a righteous life. After death they were either destined for heaven or hell depending on if they had lived a righteous life. It’s an impressive piece and I did wonder how it might have felt when praying or listening to a sermon with the painting and its angels and demons behind you.

A man called,Richard Gandon from a film company called Eyedears contacted me last year as he’d created an animated explanation of the Chaldon Doom and posted it on youtube.  He asked for permission to use my introduction from my blog post on the painting with accreditation.  It is a short and accessible explanation of the painting’s elements such as the Seven Deadly Sins  and well worth a look at.

The link is: https://youtu.be/_lUW8ThhxL4

Let me or Richard know what you think!

© Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

It’s behind you! – The Doom painting of Chaldon Church

The priest’s sermon has made you feel a little drowsy as you sit in your pew.  Then, as your eyelids begin to droop, suddenly you can smell burning and hear crackling flames….faint screams as well and devilish chuckling interspersed with angels singing…..there’s a sudden warmth behind your back and when you turn around, you’re confronted with gleeful demons faces on the whitewashed wall. Is one turning round and beckoning to you? Instantly you’re wide awake again with a nudge from your mother to sit up straight and you turn to face the priest again. But you can still hear the flames and the laughter…..

Chaldon’s Doom painting, or mural as the church prefers to call it, is reputed to be the oldest in England and has been dated to at least the 12th century.  It’s believed to be the work of an anonymous artist monk.    Until the 17th century it taught the local parishioners which was the right path to follow if you wanted to be going upwards to eternal bliss instead of down to hell for endless torment. The mural’s  official title, according to the church’s website  is The Purgatorial Ladder, or Ladder of Souls, with the Seven Deadly Sins.  However tastes and doctrines change and after the Reformation many of England’s Dooms were whitewashed over.  It was felt by zealous reformers that they didn’t follow strict Bible doctrine and were also considered to be ‘Popish’.

But Dooms have a habit of re-surfacing and so it was with the Chaldon Doom.  In 1869, the then Rector, Reverend Henry Shepherd was having the church walls prepared for whitewashing when he suddenly noticed signs of colour and halted the work. The mural was then cleaned and preserved.  There was a further conservation in 1989 by the Conservator and Director of the Canterbury Wall Paintings Workshop.

According to the painted church website, Dooms were the most commonly painted subject in the Middle Ages. Dooms were often placed on a church’s west wall as a reminder to parishioners as they were leaving the church.  But, as at Chaldon, they were also on the back wall or at the front on the chancel arch as at St Thomas’s Salisbury.  The Chaldon mural has the disturbing effect of constantly looking over your shoulder when you turn your back on it…..

The Chaldon Doom is large and measures 17ft x 11ft and stands out against the plain white washed walls. It’s painted entirely in red whereas other Dooms are in full colour. However it’s the only image in England of the Ladder of Salvation although it’s common in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. It’s behind the pews and would have been a constant reminder to the parishioners to be thinking of the afterlife.   A medieval congregation would have been illiterate and the Doom would have resembled a picture book or public information film on what could happen to sinners in eternity. They needed to prepare for the Final Judgement and, due to a shorter lifespan, the afterlife was much more to the forefront of the medieval mind than ours. A Doom is a traditional English term for a pictorial rendition of the Last Judgement or Doomsday which is the moment when Christ decides the eternal destination of human souls.  This is because the Church was very concerned with how to portray the afterlife in a visual way that could be easily understood.  After all a picture is worth a 1000 words…

There are roughly 40 surviving Dooms in Britain but in the 1880’s over 100 were recorded. They can often combine several themes: the parable of the sheep and the goats, assorted Biblical prophecies and other medieval traditions.  The Chaldon mural uses the Seven Deadly Sins.

There’s only two choices for the dead as they arise from their graves to go up to Heaven and sitting around on clouds playing harps or down to Hell and the eternal flames.  However Purgatory was also uppermost in the medieval mind as people believed that, prior to going to Heaven, a soul would have to spend time there before going up to Heaven. Chaldon’s Ladder represents Purgatory.

To interpret the Chaldon Doom and its crowded canvas you need to begin at the lower right of the painting and look for the serpent in the tree of life which is a metaphor for the fall of man.  This is a rough guide from a Chaldon church pamphlet and imagine the priest using it to preach to his flock:

Detail of Chaldon Doom showing the bridge of spikes over which dishonest tradesmen have to walk over with a moneylender sitting in flames with Envy and Lust on either side of him.
©Carole Tyrrell

Two demons hold up a bridge of spikes over which dishonest tradesmen have to cross. These include a blacksmith, spinner, potter and mason who are all missing essential tools. The cheating milkman is about to climb the ladder with a brimming bowl of milk due to having given short measure in life.

Then we come onto the 7 Deadly Sins:

Avarice: A moneylender sits in flames as two demons hold him upright. He’s blind and money pours from his mouth. He has to count it all as it flows into his pouch.

Envy: There are two figures on the right hand side of the moneylender.  One of them has longer hair than the other.

Lust: On the moneylender’s left hand side are two figures embracing.

On the left hand side of the ladder a demon plucks souls from the ladder of salvation.

Pride: A woman is beside a demon as a devil wolf gnaws at her hands.  This could indicate either pride in her hands or that she fed her pets too well in life while ignoring the starving.

Anger: Above the woman two figures fight over a hunting horn.   Two demons throw what are considered to be murderers into a cauldron.

Detail of Chaldon Mural. Glottony clutching hi bottle of wine.
©Anne Mitchell. Used without permission

Gluttony: A drunken pilgrim lies at the feet of a demon.  He’s sold his cloak or badge of office in order to buy wine.

Sloth: At the far left 3 women dawdle.

A cloud bisects the picture to form a cross and the foot of the Ladder is the symbol of life.  The Archangel Michael is weighing the good and bad deeds as the Devil slyly has a hand on the scales trying to weigh it down with bad deeds as he holds a rope dragging souls to hell.   A penitent tries to point out to St Michael what the Devil is up to.  The 3 Marys are being led to Heaven by an angel as another one above them helps a remorseful thief ascend to the Pearly Gates.

Detail of Chadon Mural. The Weighing of the Souls. Three naked women walk towards the Ladder as an angel points the way.
©Anne Mitchell. Used without permission

Elijah and Enoch are also going upwards to bliss on the right of the ladder as an angel holds up a scroll of their good deeds.   Above them another of the heavenly host hold up a scroll which says ‘open ye the gates that the righteous may enter.’

Detail of Chaldon mural. Supposedly based on the Harrowing of Hell as Satan lies on top of a huge worm like creature and an angel tranfixes him with a banner/ Redeemed souls climb the Ladder as another angel helps one climb.
©Anne Mitchell. Used without permission

On the far right the Lord is mesmerizing the Devil with his cross while welcoming Old Testament characters into Heaven and finally above the ladder is the demi figure of Christ in the act of benediction.

He has the sun on his right hand side and the moon on the left.

 

For a fuller explanation I can recommend: http://www.paintedchurch.org/chaldon.htm

 

Chaldon church is near Coulsdon in Surrey and its correct name is St Peters & St Pauls.

View of Chadon church, Surrey.
©Carole Tyrrell

It’s a lovely picture, postcard church with a candle snuffer tower but it’s in the middle of nowhere except for a scattering of nearby houses. There’s no village attached to it and it’s on the notorious Ditches Lane which leads off Farthing Downs.    This can be a lonely road for walkers as there are no houses along it until you reach the church.  Chaldon church is rumoured to have been built on a pagan site and there has been a church here since 1086 AD.  Its foundations have been dated back to 727AD.   I find it strange that such a magnificent and dramatic mural was located in such an out of the way place.  It really took me by surprise when I first saw it as it’s so in your face. But as I turned away from it I thought I heard devilish sniggering and wondered what it must have look like under flickering candlelight.

There are other Doom paintings to be seen in England and these are:

South Leigh, Checkendon and Coombe – Oxfordshire

Wenhaston, Sufoollk

Dauntsey, Wilts

Patcham, Sussex

Penn, Bucks

Oddington, Glos

Symington, Beds

Lutterworth, Leics

Stratford upon Avon, Worcs (this is in glass)

York Minster  (a crypt carving)

St Thomas’s church, Salisbury

I have seen the one in Salisbury and was really impressed. It’s in full colour and is over the chancel arch to greet worshippers.  Christ sits on a rainbow at the centre of the chancel arch with the godly rising from their graves with angels whereas on the left the sinners are being helped by demons to go down below. This again was whitewashed over and then re appeared. Here are a small selection of images from it:

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

Reference and further reading

Dooms with a  View, Cathy Howard, FONC News Summer 2007

Chaldon Church mural leaflet

Restoration Village, Philip Wilkinson, English Heritage, 2006

Restoration Village, Philip Wilkinson, English Heritage, 2006

http://www.stthomassalisbury.co.uk/documents/history-heritage/9-the-doom-painting-guide/file

http://www.paintedchurch.org/doomcon.htm

http://www.paintedchurch.org/sleig7ds.htm – South Leigh Oxfordshire 7 Deadly Sins

http://oxoniensia.org/volumes/1972/long.pdf – overview of medieval wall paintings in Oxfordshire including Dooms

http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/suffolk/suffolk_three/wenhaston/index.html

http://www.paintedchurch.org/dauntdoo.htm

http://www.allsaintspatcham.org.uk/page9.html

http://www.medievalchurchart.com/2017/10/the-penn-doom-buckinghamshire.html

http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/cotswolds/gloucestershire/gloucestershire_two/lower_oddington/index.html

http://www.paintedchurch.org/mmoret1.htm – Marston Moretaine, Beds

https://www.leicestershirechurches.co.uk/lutterworth-church-st-marys/

https://www.stratfordguildchapel-friends.org.uk/the-wall-paintings

http://www.mondes-normands.caen.fr/angleterre/archeo/Angleterre/sculpture/doomstone.htm

https://www.quora.com/What-were-medieval-doom-paintings-and-what-were-they-used-for-What-is-their-importance

http://www.paintedchurch.org/doomcon.htm

http://www.lazerhorse.org/2014/06/08/medieval-doom-paintings/#

http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/cambridgeshire/hi/people_and_places/religion_and_ethics/newsid_8605000/8605860.stm

 

 

 

 

 

Symbol(s) of the Month – the exuberant 18th century symbols of St George’s churchyard

One of the skulls at base of blank cartouche on one side of large chest tomb, St George’s.
©Carole Tyrrell

It’s often on a winter’s night, just as dusk begins to fall and the lamp lights in St Georges churchyard come up, that  the fine selection of 18th century tombstones are at their best. Carved skulls leer at you, an hourglass emphasises time passing and the gravedigger’s tools stand ready for the next interment.  And perhaps there is still a phantom schoolteacher using his sculpted globe to teach geography to his spectral students.

There has been a church on this site since the 14th century and in one place in the graveyard  the number of burials over the centuries has made the ground rise up on both sides.  But, as well as 18th century examples of funerary symbolism, there are also some wonderful 19th century ones as well.  Inside the church there’s also a good selection of impressive wall monuments dedicated to prominent local families dating back to the 1600’s.  They are  buried in the vaults beneath the church.  St George’s also has the country’s oldest lych gate in that the current one incorporates elements from  a far older one. The churchyard is a pretty one for a short walk through to the bustling High Street  especially when the spring flowers begin to appear, carpeting the grass between the stones with bluebells and flitting butterflies.

 

However for this month’s Symbols post I will concentrate on the 18th century memorials within the churchyard. These  tombstones  are topped with classic memento mori symbols.  This is Latin for ‘remember me.’  They are the visual accompaniment to the immortal epitaph from Dundee’s Howff graveyeard:

Remember Man as you pass by

As you are now so once was I

As I am now so must you be

Remember man that you must die.’

 

Graveyard symbolism, according to Douglas Keister, began when the well to do  could no longer be buried with in their local church due to lack of space. Instead, they took up their eternal residence in the newly consecrated burial grounds outside and surrounding the church walls. These were often known as’God’s Acres’ and gave the wealthy the opportunity to erect a lasting memorial or tombstone in their memory.

 

St George’s churchyard became the last resting place of prominent local familes, some of whose descendants still live in the area. The oldest tombstone dates from 1668 and the 18th century ones  are nearest to the church walls which in effect meant that they were  ‘‘Nearer my God to Thee.’

 

I’ve always enjoyed walking through the churchyard as it can feel like walking through a gallery of funerary symbols.  There’s something very exuberant about these 18th Century motifs of mortality even though some have eroded and only one epitaph is still fully readable.  However, the skull and crossbones, the Death’s Heads and others have, in several cases, lasted better than the epitaph below them.

 

The skull and crossbones are an effective, if macabre, reminder of what is left of a body after it decomposes and there are several good examples in St Georges.

 

This one is near the church entrance and features a skull and crossbones with what appear to be protruding palm fronds.  It also seesm to be resting on something whch may be a shield.  All that can now be read on the epitaph is…who dep….’

 

The skull and crossbones, a winged hourglass and a set of sexton’s tool on the left hand side.
©Carole Tyrrell

Nearby is another skull and crossbones with a winged hourglass above it.  This is a reminder that ‘Time flies’ or ‘Tempus Fugit’ and that the onlooker will soon be bones and dust and it’s important to make the most of their time on earth. On the left hand side is a pick and shovel.  These are a sexton’s tools which made me wonder if this was a sexton’s grave but the epitaph is now illegible.  The sexton’s role not only encompassed maintaining and looking after the church but also the churchyard.  In larger graveyards the sexton would have been more of a manager but in smaller ones he would have had sole responsibility for preparing the ground, digging and closing the grave, mowing the lawn and also maintaining the lawn and paths.

Skulls also feature prominently on two other tombstones on the other side of the church very near the wall. One seems to have a very sharp pair of horns and a  definite smirk.  On each side of it there appear to be small trumpets but it’s too weathered to see if anyone’s blowing them.  Maybe he’s keenly anticipating the Last Day of Judgement.

 

Somersaulting skulls and hourglass
©Carole Tyrrell

 

Nearby is a large tombstone with what seem to be two somersaulting skulls on them although one is more eroded than the other.  Below them is a small worn hourglass.  I believe that these two examples of skulls may be unique to St Georges as I’ve haven’t yet seen them anywhere else.

 

Douglas Keister has suggested that the skull and crossbones slowly began to be replaced by the much less stark and macabre  ‘Death’s Head.’  This is a human face with wings on either side of it.  I’ve always known it as the ‘winged cherub’ and there are also several good examples within the churchyard.

A closer view of the Saxby Angel with what appears to be a faded open book on one side and a stylised flower on the other side.
©Carole Tyrrell

I am also a huge fan of calligraphy having studied it for two years at evening classes and it has undergone a revival on late 20th and early 21st century tombstones.  However 18th century calligraphy has a style all of its own and is instantly recognisable.  The only legible 18th century epitaph in St Georges is the one dedicated to a John Saxby.  It reads:

 

‘               ‘Here lyeth the body of John Saxby of the Parish who Departed this life…year of May 1731 aged 41 years. ‘

 

A fine example of a Death’s Head is on top with an open book beside it which may be the Bible or the Book of Life and there’s a stylised flower on the other side.  The open book may be a depiction of the incumbent offering their life to God for judgement as an ‘open book’. People are sometimes described as an ‘open book’ as they have their feelings and thoughts open to the world with no attempt to hide them.

Crown in clouds with small faces, presumably angels, peeping out from either side.
©Carole Tyrrell

On another memorial two small faces, presumably from the angelic host, peer out from either side of the clouds surrounding a crown.  It’s a representation of the reward that awaits the faithful in heaven.  This verse from the Bible refers to it:

 

James 1:12 New International Version (NIV)

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James%201:12

 

A very plum faced Death’s Head with an open book on one side and a skull and a long bone on the other side.
©Carole Tyrrell

A plump faced death’s head is surrounded by another open book and what I think maybe a small skull in the far corner of the stone.

 

 

 

 

But one of the most unique and impressive tombstones in St George’s, or perhaps anywhere, is that of John Kay.  He was an 18th century schoolmaster and his life and talents are recorded by the tools of his trade that have been carved on his stone. There’s a globe on a stand, a trumpet, what appears to be a cornet, an artists palette, a pair of compasses and other items which are now too indistinct to read.  He was obviously very erudite and much appreciated by his students.  Sadly his fulsome epitaph is now virtually unreadable. He lies near Mr Saxby under a spreading yew tree.

On the other side of the graveyard is a large chest tomb.  There is a dedication and an armorial on its top and I feel that some patient research in St George’s burial registers may reveal the incumbent’s identity.  There are blank cartouches on each side with death’s heads on top and two skulls beneath each one.  At one end are palm fronds which are a Roman symbol of victory which were then adapted by the Christians as a martyr’s triumph of death.  The palm as a symbol originated in the ancient Near East and Mediterranean region  and is a powerful motif of victory, triumph, peace and eternal life.  It’s traditionally associated with Easter and Palm Sunday and Christs’ resurrection and victory over death. On the other end of the tomb are what appear to be olive flowers.  The olive’s association with wisdom and peace originally came from Greek mythology when the goddess, Athena, presented an olive tree to the city that was to become Athens.  Successive Greek ambassadors then continued the tradtion by offering an olive branch of peace to indicate their goiod intentions. The olive tree is also associated with longevity, fertility, maturity, fruitfulness and prosperity.  In the Bible, Noah sent the dove out after the Flood to see if the floodwaters had receded and when it returned with an olive leaf in its beak Noah knew that the Flood had ended.  Even today the phrase ‘ offering an olive branch’ means the someone wants to make peace. But in this context the olive branch may mwean that the soul has departed with the peace of God. So one memorial incorporates powerful  motifs of mortality and resurrection.

 

St George’s has also used old tombstones to pave two of the pathways within the churchyard of which some are still readable.  It always feels as if I’m walking over someone’s grave although they are buried elsewhere in the graveyard.  However, although the 19th and 20th century memorials are rather more restrained and far more legible I prefer the more ‘in your face’  18th century symbols.  But in the case of the horned skull I can only frustratingly only guess at its meaning and the person who lies beneath…..

 

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell otherwise stated.

References

Stories in Stone; A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography, Douglas Keister, Gibbs M Smith, 2008

St George’s Churchyard, St George’s Parish Church, Beckenham, Revised June 2005

St George’s Parish Church, Beckenham, information leaflet,, October 2003

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

http://www.catholictradition.org/Saints/signs4.htm

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

https://www.thoughtco.com/photo-gallery-of-cemetery-symbolism-4123061

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

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

 

OLIVE: The olive is a true Biblical tree, a tree ‘full of fatness’ w

Symbol of the Month – And With The Morn Those Angel Faces Smile

 

This is the other version which is sited on the main road through the cemetery. The epitaph was difficult to read as worn but it was also to much missed children. ©Carole Tyrrell
This is the first one that I saw on a guided tour of Beckenham Cemetery.  The Foster family monument which is sited on the main road through the cemetery.
©Carole Tyrrell

Five child angels, their faces turned to each other, framed by small wings, except for one that was staring out at me, I wanted to reach out and touch them but didn’t want to damage them.   They formed a roundel at the centre of a tall cross with the phrase ‘And with the morn those angel faces smile’ inscribed at the base of its stem.  I was on a tour of Beckenham Cemetery when I first saw them.

The line that led me on my quest to find out the origin of this symbol. ''And with the morn Those Angel Faces Smile.'. ;©Carole Tyrrell
The line that led me on my quest to find out the origin of this symbol. ”And with the morn Those Angel Faces Smile.’. ;©Carole Tyrrell

Our guide didn’t comment on them but the monument is in a prominent place on the main road through the cemetery and I often wondered about this pretty and poignant memorial.

On a visit to Highgate East in 2014 I found another example but on a smaller scale on a tombstone in the name of Alfred Hack and dated 1956.  There is a distinctly 1930’s look about the angels from  their hairstyles.

I also found another version which featured cherubs faces instead of childrens on a visit to Knebworth this summer.

Then , on a more recent visit to Beckenham Cemetery,  I found another similar one which was only a short distance away from the first.  In this the child angels seem to have more definite, individual faces and the one that has her head towards the viewer is looking down instead of outwards.  Now I wanted to find out more about the quotation and the angels and my research led me to a Victorian hymn that was sung on the Titanic at its final service on board and by the inmates of Ravensbruck concentration camp as the S.S led them in.   The ‘angel faces’ is a quotation from ‘Lead, kindly Light’,  in fact it’s the penultimate line and like ‘Rock of Ages’ it caught the mood of its time.

These are the lyrics:

‘Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom
Lead thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead thou me on.
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not for ever thus, nor prayed that thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead thou me on,
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.

So long thy power hath blessed me, sure it still
Will lead me on,
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.’

 

However, the writer John Henry Newman (1801-90), always refused to reveal the meaning of the ‘angels faces’ or what the ‘kindly light’ actually was.

Originally a poem, it was written by Newman in 1833.  He was then a young theologian and Anglican vicar and was going through a challenging time in his life. Struck down by a fever which nearly killed him while travelling in the Mediterranean, Newman’s  servant was so convinced that he would die that he asked him for his last orders.  But in his autobiography, Newman told him ‘I shall not die, for I have not sinned against light’.

Newman recovered but that wasn’t the end of his troubles.  Desperate to return to England he then took a boat from Palermo to Marseilles only to end up stranded and becalmed in the Straits of Bonifacio. Exhausted and frustrated Newman wrote the poem, ‘The Pillar of the Cloud’ that, in 1845, became ‘Lead, Kindly Light’.  Newman was not happy about this as by then he’d converted to Catholicism and hymn singing wasn’t included as part of divine service.  He went onto become Cardinal Newman, one of the most important figures in English Catholicism, and also an important writer. In 1900 Elgar set Newman’s poem ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ to music.

Cardinal Newman as John Newman eventually became after his conversion to Catholicism. This celebrated portrait is by Sir John Everett Millais. In the public domain in UK - from the National Portrait Gallery wkipedia
Cardinal Newman as John Newman eventually became after his conversion to Catholicism.
This celebrated portrait is by Sir John Everett Millais.
In the public domain in UK – from the National Portrait Gallery wkipedia

 

‘Lead, Kindly Light’ has struck a chord with those in danger or about to enter the endless dark realm and needed the comfort of a light leading their way through it.  Miners awaiting rescue from deep underground  during the 1909 Durham mining disaster sang it  as did the  passengers on one of Titanic’s lifeboats  when the rescue ship, Carpathia,  was sighted the morning after.  It caught the Victorian mood perfectly as did ‘Rock of Ages’ and Queen Victoria asked for it to be read as she lay dying.  It also inspired a celebrated painting by the Scottish artist, Sir Joseph Noel Paton in 1894 in which the angels are pensive young woman.

 

But why did one line from this song inspire two monuments in Beckenham Cemetery and one in Highgate East?  I noticed that both of the Beckenham monuments were on children’s graves and that the carved angels were also children. Perhaps the mourning relatives left behind may have wanted the consolation that their beloved children would be waiting for them when their time came.

 

The first one is the Foster family monument.  The epitaph is now virtually unreadable but I could make out the name ‘Francis Frederick’ carved along the base.    There are two inscribed ‘Books of Life’ placed on top of the grave.  One is dedicated to John Francis Foster and Alice Gladys Alice Chapman and the other is dedicated to John Francis Foster and Alice Emma Foster.

The Pace monument in Beckenham Cemetery. ©Carole Tyrrell
The Pace monument in Beckenham Cemetery.
©Carole Tyrrell

 

The second one is the Pace family monument and is to the two daughters of Henry William and Elizabeth Pace.  These were Lilian Alice who died in 1888 and Grace Irene who died in 1903.  Strangely enough they both died at the same age and Elizabeth herself is commemorated here as she died at 33 in 1912.

The epitaph on the Page monument. It's dedicated to the 2 daughters of Henry and Elizabeth Page., Lilian died in 1888 and Gr ace in 1903 and at the same age. ©Carole Tyrrell
The epitaph on the Page monument. It’s dedicated to the 2 daughters of Henry and Elizabeth Page., Lilian died in 1888 and Gr ace in 1903 and at the same age.
©Carole Tyrrell

 

This is the one in Highgate East dedicated to Alfred Hack and dated 1956.

This is a much smaller version on a tombstone in Highgate East Cemetery. ©Carole Tyrrell
This is a much smaller version on a tombstone in Highgate East Cemetery.
©Carole Tyrrell

So, a line from a hymn that even its writer was unsure of its meaning, became a symbol of comfort to sorrowing families.

However the symbol has been adapted to feature cherubs as in St Mary’s, Knebworth’s churchyard. These are on the tombstone of the Lutyens family’s nanny, Alice Sleath.

But I am indebted to Douglas Keister’s Stories in Stone for the possible origins on the image of the angels.

The composition of the five heads may have been adapted from  a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA entitled ‘Heads of Angels Miss Frances Gordon’ which was painted during July 1786 – March 1787.  The sitter was the then 5 year old Frances Isabella Keir Gordon (1782-1831) who was the only daughter of illustrious parents. They were Lord William Gordon (1744-1823) and his wife Frances Ingram (1761-1841), second daughter of Charles, 9th Viscount Irvine (1727-78), who were married on 6 March 1781. Her uncle was Lord George Gordon (1751-93), whose political activities had sparked the anti-Catholic riots of 1780.

'Heads of Angels Miss Frances Gordon' by Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA 1786-1787. . This is in public domain wilki creative commons
‘Heads of Angels Miss Frances Gordon’ by Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA 1786-1787. . This is in public domain wiki creative commons

Frances’ mother outlived her by 10 years and the painting was then presented to the National Gallery.  It was enormously popular and was reproduced on numerous decorative items and photographic reproductions such as ‘The Cherub Choir.’

And so a poignant and powerful symbol was created from the combination of a great painting, an inspirational hymn and Victorian taste and led to these three lovely memorials to much missed children.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/3668066/The-story-behind-the-hymn.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lead,_Kindly_Light

http://www.thebeautybag.net/videos/angel-faces-smile/

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/reynolds-a-childs-portrait-in-different-views-angels-heads-n00182

Stories in Stone, Douglas Keister,  2006, Gibbs Smith