Symbol of the Month – Lion’s Paws

 

This month’s Symbol is a little bit of fun.

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 Cozens monument in the Rosary cemetery, Norwich. It’s made from cast iron which was originally painted black. It records Jeremiah Cozens and other members of the Cozens family.
© Recording Archive for Public Sculpture in Norfolk and Suffolk

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.

This sarcophagus was used as a grave for an Archbishop of Ravenna. The lion’s paws were added after the 15th century although the sarcophagus dates from the 5th century.
©://www.romeartlover.it/Ravenna4.html

 

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.’

He is buried in Demerara where there is a monument to him. This is the link to the wikipeadia page about him: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Lyle_Carmichael

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!

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=X3FjAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA143&lpg=PA143&dq=paw+foot+furniture&source=bl&ots=adue3S9yfZ&sig=VPhDuMvb76W8LHyy02CZ-wzZKNE&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi0yOu48NvYAhWjKMAKHWLfDFo4ChDoAQhRMAk#v=onepage&q=paw%20fo

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

https://www.si.edu/ahhp/smithsons_symbolism

https://www.google.com/search?q=lsarcopahgi+with+lions+paws&tbm=isch&ved=2ahUKEwiYy63th9LnAhXF_IUKHZLEAy8Q2-cCegQIABAA&oq=lsarcopahgi+with+lions+paws&gs_l=img.3…190039.196641..197488…0.0..0.62.1335.27……0….1..gws-wiz-img…….0i67j0j0i131j0i5i10i30j0i5i30j0i24j0i10i24.peZ9RteRhGY&ei=IBtHXpi7GcX5lwSSiY_4Ag&bih=969&biw=1920#imgrc=r4Ue1MRSDSt5KM

https://www.romeartlover.it/Ravenna4.html

http://www.racns.co.uk/sculptures.asp?action=getsurvey&id=940

https://fineartamerica.com/featured/elmwood-cemetery-lions-paw-jon-woodhams.html

Advertisement

Symbol of the Month – The Urn

Another draped urn on the Richard Mosley monument, West Norwood.
©Carole Tyrrell

This month’s symbol is one that you frequently see in cemeteries. In fact, in most Victorian cemeteries you’re never more than a few steps from an urn… or two… or three……

These elegant sculptures are usually placed on top of a monument or can appear in 2D relief on a tombstone.

In marble, stone or plaster, they may also be draped with a sculpted piece of cloth or a flower garland. Urns may also have two handles, no handles or what looks like a lid to emphasise its use as a container. In Nunhead Cemetery there is a particularly elegant example with a lovely tassel on the sculpted drapery.

The Victorians loved urns which is why their cemeteries are clustered with them.  They are examples of the Classical movement which was very much in vogue at the time when these large municipal cemeteries were created.  This was an echo of the Greek and Roman eras but the urn as a funerary symbol was known long before them.  However, according to theartofmourning website:

‘…the word ‘urn’ comes from the Latin word ‘uro’ which  translates as ‘to burn’  so no matter what shape the vessel was, its title was always ‘urn’.

Urn was, therefore, the umbrella name for containers of ashes.  It may have been a small box or an elegant vase but as the above quotation says, it was always known as an urn.  Cremation was an early form of preparing the dead for burial as ancient civilisations cremated their dead and put the ashes into containers. In fact, some urns found in China have been dated to 7000BC.  In Central Europe there was what has been described as an Urnfield culture from 1300BC – 750BC which is due to the large cemeteries of urn burials that have been excavated.

The Greeks adopted the use of urns in around 1000BC and the scattering ashes blog has suggested that this may have been:

‘because of soldiers dying abroad in wars or campaigns abroad and this was the only way to return their bodies home to their loved ones.’

After the Greeks, the Romans used cremation as a method to bury the dead until it was superseded by interment within a sarcophagus. But, even then, the urn maintained its status as a symbol of death and the body’s decay into dust. A reminder that, ultimately, we will return to the dust from which we were originally created. So the urn is also a link to the ancient world and its burial practices However, there is an alternative theory put forward on the Lakewood cemetery website in which it’s suggested:

‘The urn is also a symbol of a house or dwelling.  When it’s draped this indicates a house of mourning.’

But, ironically, the Victorians weren’t all that enthusiastic about cremation, despite their love of urns,  until at least the late 1880’s. This is when it was introduced into large London cemeteries such as Kensal Green and West Norwood.

But why are some urns draped?  I often feel it’s almost as though the folds of the drapery are protecting the deceased from the world until Judgement Day although there’s nothing in the urns.   The artofmourning website considers it to be an indication of the death of an older person but I’m not sure that I’d agree with that due to its prevalence in Victorian cemeteries.

The draped cloth has also been seen as the division, the impenetrable curtain if you like, between life and death.  Some drapes can almost resemble shrouds and this can indicate that the soul has departed from the shrouded body.

The urn also appears as a popular motif in mourning jewellery and George Hepplewhite also used it as a symbol on neo classical influenced furniture. It was an indication of taste and of a classical education.

So the next time you’re in a Victorian cemetery why not try and count how many urns you can see or how many times a draped urn appears? It’s a simple symbol to sculpt with and calls down the millennia to our Prehistoric forefathers as they buried their dead in the same way that we do. The ones that I featured in this blog post nearly all came from West Norwood cemetery and were within a short distance of each other. I was spoilt for choice as to which ones I decided to feature.

And you’ll be pleased to know that I’ve managed to refrain by working in the classic Morecambe and Wise joke on a Greek urn….

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

References:

https://artofmourning.com/2011/04/10/symbolism-sunday-the-urn/

https://artofmourning.com/2011/04/10/symbolism-sunday-the-urn/

https://www.lakewoodcemetery.org/styles-sculptures-symbolism

http://historyinstone.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-draped-urn.html

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

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

https://symbolsproject.eu/explore/others/objects0/drapes-/-drapery/draped-urn.aspx

https://www.furniturelibrary.com/the-urn-logo-from-antiquity/

 

Symbol(s) of the Month – the Alpha and the Omega and the Chi-Rho

It’s a two for one offer on symbols this month folks as I feature two ancient symbols which are often combined together.  They both predate Christianity and were then  adopted by the newly emerging faith.  This was a time when Christians only communicated with fellow believers via a secret language of symbols and codes known only to each other.   Discovery would have meant death and so the codes were designed to keep outsiders away.

These symbols are the Alpha and Omega and the Chi-Rho.  They’re not all that common in cemeteries but I found these two examples in Brompton Cemetery, London.   They stood out because of their simplicity and classicism.

The Alpha and Omega

This fine example which also features the Chi-Rho is on the substantial Platt memorial in Brompton Cemetery.  I’ll write about the Chi-Rho later.   Thomas Platt was the first to be buried here in 1899 followed by his wife, Annie,  who outlived him and died in 1925. Two of their daughters are also buried and commemorated here – one died in 1935 and the other, also called Annie, in 1936. I haven’t been able to find out much about him or the family but this is a substantial memorial with space for more incumbents.  It’s made of pink granite in the classical style with a large cross on top and acroteria on each of the corners on the pedestal under the Alpha and Omega, Chi-Rho and cross.

The Alpha and Omega  are very similar in a way to an ouroboros as they both express eternity.  They are formed from the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet and represent God.  He is the first – the alpha – as there is no God before him and the last – the Omega – as there is no God after him.    The symbols also appear in several Bible verses including Revelation verses 1.8:

 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” King James version

They also appear in Revelation verses 21.6 and verses 22.13 as well as Isiah verses 44.6.

Both the Jewish and Islamic faiths use the first and last letters of the alphabet to describe the name of their God.

The Alpha and Omega  have been represented  by an eagle and an owl.   There has also been a suggestion that the Omega is an ancient representation of the Goddess Ishtar’s headdress and  that the Alpha was derived from the ox horn headdress worn by male deities and kings but I would like to see more evidence of this.  However it’s an interesting theory on how these symbols might have come into being.

Interestingly, the two motifs are known as a merism.  This is a figure of speech that articulates the beginning of something and the ending of something with the implication that it also refers to all things in between. For example,  for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer etc.

However, Douglas Fielder in ‘Stories in Stone’ has suggested the Alpha and Omega may be the representation of the beginning and end of a life and that would certainly fit in with their use within cemeteries. J C Cooper’s definition is that they denote the beginning and end of all things.

The Chi-Rho

This is a striking example from Brompton Cemetery London and is on the grave of Matthew Boyd Bredon.  He was an Irishman who served in the 3rd Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers and rose through the ranks.  He became a Lieutenant in 1875 and a Captain in 1878 and became a Major. The epitaph states that he died in Swatow, or Shantou is it was originally known, in China in 1900.  This was the time of the Boxer Rebellion in which treaty ports were imposed on China by the British and other foreign powers who wanted to open up trade. However, these ports weren’t strictly ports and instead were separate communities in which foreigners lived according to their own customs, traditions and rules of law.  Bredon was also the Deputy Commissioner of Customs in China at the time of his death.  In 1900 a brass eagle was presented to his local church, St Saviours in Co Armagh, Northern Ireland in his memory.

The Chi-Rho was created by using the first two capital letters from the Greek word for Christ:

ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ

These are Chi and Rho and this is the earliest form of christogram.  The definition of a christogram is, according to Wikipedia,

 ‘ a monogram or combination of letters that forms an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ and is a traditionally used as a religious symbol within the Christian church.’

The combination of the letters have led to claims that the Chi Rho symbolises the status of Jesus as the risen Christ as the vertical stroke of the Rho intersects the centre of the Chi.  Thus it could be seen as a symbol of resurrection when used in cemeteries.

However, it wasn’t   originally a religious symbol and was, instead, used to mark an especially valuable or relevant passage in a page.  When used like this it was known as a Chresten which meant ‘good.’  It also appeared on ancient Egyptian coins.

Missorium depicting Emperor Constantine’s son Constantius II accompanied by a guardsman with the Chi-Rho depicted on his shield (at left behind horse) photograph © Ludwig von Sybel 1909
Shared under Wiki Creative Commons – in public domain in country of origin.

The Roman Emperor, Constantine, (306-337) used the Chi Rho as part of a military standard known as a Labarum.  He had a dream in which he felt that military success would follow if he put a heavenly and divine symbol on his soldiers shields to protect them

From 350 onwards The Chi Rho began to appear on Christian sarcophagi and frescoes and has been found in the celebrated Roman catacombs.    It came to Britain via the Roman invasion and can be seen on a mosaic at Lullingstone Roman Villa, Kent, UK.

Nowadays it has been adopted as a popular tattoo symbol.

I did try and discover the significance of these two symbols to these two men who both died relatively young but a search through coats of arms and regimental cap badges in the case of Bredon and other sites with Platt yielded no new information. But they have left us with impressive examples of these early and powerful symbols.

©Text and photographs Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References;

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

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

 

http://grammar.about.com/od/mo/g/Merism.htm

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

http://www.religionfacts.com/alpha-omega

http://biblehub.com/revelation/22-13.htm

http://symboldictionary.net/?p=2883

https://library.nd.edu/about/symbols_of_christ/alpha_omega.shtml

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01332a.htm

https://www.gotquestions.org/alpha-and-omega.html

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

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

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2017/3/18/1636415/-The-Daily-Bucket-A-stroll-through-London-s-Brompton-Cemetery