Symbol of the Month – The Mourning Woman

 

A fine example from Kensal Green Cemetery on the Isabella Shaw memorial.
©Carole Tyrrell

 

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.).

A full view of the mourning woman as she rests on a cross on the Herbert Warren memorial, West Norwood Cemetery.
©Carole Tyrrell

 

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.

Wikipedia

 

Here is a 6th century depiction of ancient Greek professional mourning women in full flow:

Body lying in state attended by family members with the mournign women ritually tearing their hair, Terracotta plaque – late 6th century BC. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, USA
Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

 

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.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading:

https://victorianmonsters.wordpress.com/victorian-funerary-practices/https://victorianmonsters.wordpress.com/victorian-funerary-practices/

https://www.ancient.eu/article/96/the-roman-funeral/

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

http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA*/Funus.html

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/understanding-grief/201802/professional-mourners-ancient-tradition

https://biblehub.com/jeremiah/9-17.htm

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

http://www.lachrymatory.com/History.htm

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

http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA*/Funus.html

 

 

 

 

Advertisement

Symbol of the Month – The Shrouded Cross

The Shrouded Cross on the family grave of the Beckley family, St Nicholas church, Sevenoaks
©Carole Tyrrell

This month’s symbol is a rare one and I discovered it in my local churchyard, St Nicholas in Sevenoaks. It’s on the grave of the Beckley family.

A draped cross in West Norwood Greek section.
©Carole Tyrrell

However, I have also previously seen crosses with real cloth draped on them in two big London cemeteries One was in the Greek Section of West Norwood.  At that time I thought that perhaps it was to commemorate an anniversary or a particular religious festival. However, during my research for this post. I have discovered that the colour of the   West Norwood cloth, white,  is associated with Easter Sunday.

As you can see from the above photo of the Beckley headstone, the cloth is wrapped loosely around the cross  and, according to my research, it’s a resurrection symbol.  In fact it’s known as the Resurrection Cross or the Shrouded Cross. Some of its other names are: the Draped Cross, the Empty Cross, the Risen Cross or the Deposition Cross. The latter is a further reminder of Christ’s descent from the cross

It’s intended to be a representation of Jesus no longer being on the cross. Although there are also plain crosses on graves unless they have the cloth they are not Resurrection crosses. The cloth is a supposed reference to Christ’s grave clothes or shroud that were found in the tomb after he rose from the dead. It emphasises to the bereaved left behind that death isn’t the end.

Within the church calendar, the cloth draped around a cross during important dates in the Christian calendar particularly Easter has special significance according the colours of the fabric. These are white, purple – the colour of royalty, and black.  The latter is used from Palm Sunday (the week prior to Easter) until Good Friday and denotes mourning after Christ’s death on the cross.

The shrouded cross on the Beckley headstone is a striking image which caught my attention and really stood out in a churchyard containing several headstones with fascinating symbols on them.

So this one may be an affirmation of faith on behalf of the deceased  or a strong belief in the afterlife with death being seen as the beginning of a new life.

 

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

 

References and further reading

https://www.seiyaku.com/customs/crosses/shrouded.html

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

https://answers.yahoo.com/question/ind?qid=20170406140444AAUuXdc

The mysterious mourner of West Norwood Cemetery

 

Spring time view of the Howard monument 21 April 2018 – note daffodils on ledge.
©Carole Tyrrell

Where do you go to grieve when there’s no memorial with which to remember them?

I can’t recall exactly when I first spotted the floral tribute in a jam jar placed on a ledge of the Howard monument in West Norwood Cemetery.  The memorial is near the columbarium and over the last 2 or 3 years I began to make a habit of looking to see what flowers would be in the jam jar this time.  There were never any accompanying cards or identification, just the flowers and sometimes a tea light. They were always fresh.

The bright colours of the flowers always stood out against the pale plaster on the monument behind them and often provided a wonderful photo opportunity.

The Howard monument is a handsome and large one with two magnificent downturned torches on each of its four sides and a fulsome epitaph above the flowers.

 

But who put them there? A mysterious mourner like the black clad visitor to Edgar Allan Poe’s grave? A descendant of the family marking a special day?

It was at the West Norwood Open Day in July 2018 I finally met the mystery mourner.  As I walked past on my way to the columbarium, she was arranging a new bunch of flowers in their jam jar and we got chatting.

She was a local woman, let’s call her Mary, and was nothing to do with the Howards at all. Instead her flowers and tea lights commemorated a loved one who’d been cremated a long way away.  We talked about where do you go to grieve if you have no permanent memorial or your deceased loved one is too faraway to visit.

She mentioned the mourning process and said that she used to come everyday but now it was less often. ‘It doesn’t mean that you don’t think about them but it’s not quite so raw. You start to move on.’ she said and added ‘You can get caught up in it.’  I mentioned Queen Victoria’s extended mourning period after Prince Albert died. At some point, at which only the mourning would know, they will become a cherished memory  and the outward mourning begins to fade. I didn’t ask her why she’d chosen that particular monument but maybe she had her own reasons.

When my father unexpectedly died, it had been difficult for me to grieve as I had nowhere tangible to go and so, like Mary, I did adopt an angel in a nearby Victorian cemetery as my mourning place.  There was something about being in a place where the outpouring of grief was unashamed and open with the need to have a permanent memorial that said I was here.  It felt more appropriate that the neatly trimmed municipal cemeteries. I felt drawn to it although he’d never been there.

But the old cliché is true in that time is a great healer, life does go on and the dead live in our hearts in the ways in which we choose to remember them.  With me I became a blood donor in my father’s memory as he had also been one.

One day Mary may no longer feel the need to leave a floral tribute to her departed friend and it will have served its purpose. I will miss passing the Howard monument to see what flowers are in the jamjar this time.

RIP Mary’s friend whoever and wherever you were.  I hope you know that Mary always remembered you and that you were not forgotten.

Fresh flowers at the Howard monument. July 2018
©Carole Tyrrell

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

Part 3 – a nurse’s enduring love and a patient’s remarkable artistic legacy – Netherne Hospital cemetery Aug 17.

One of  the most poignant stories from Netherne Cemetery is  that of Jean Barboni. He was an 8 year old who died in the hospital in 1915 and whose death haunted his nurse, Elizabeth Martin, for the rest of her life.   Ms Martin’s niece, Edith Kelly,  contacted her local paper to share her aunt’s memories and her own outrage at the then state of the cemetery.   Elizabeth had shared her still vivid memories of Jean with Edith 30 years later after his death.  She had devotedly nursed Jean who was born with what we would now call learning difficulties but then was classed as mentally defective.  Edgard Barboni, his father, was an officer in the French army and a physicist engaged in top secret chemical warfare work during the First World War.  They had had another little boy named Pierre and were finding it difficult to cope as Jean required specialist care.   Eventually he was admitted as a private patient in a house for the ‘mentally subnormal’ as the Victorians classed him at Netherne.  Edith discovered, through her aunt’s diaries that she had always felt that she had contributed to Jean’s death by allowing him to be put in a pauper hospital, Netherne, where he contracted TB.  After Jean’s  parents returned to France with Pierre Elizabeth tended Jean’s grave until her own death. Edith was quoted as saying

‘ For as long as I could remember, she regarded him as her own child.  I suppose the emotional involvement must have been that much greater because the parents were in France and possibly never visited the grave again.’

As I left the cemetery and walked back around the border of the field again I noticed the large number of flints on the ground.  I was tempted to take one home as a souvenir but it was too heavy. However, the local flints provided inspiration for a Netherne patient, Gwyneth Rowlands, who painted faces, usually of women directly onto the ones that she found in the fields around the hospital. She might have even found some in this very field.

Sadly, I could discover very little about Gwyneth, despite her work being on display at the Wellcome Collection recently.  She was admitted as a patient in 1946 and stayed there for 35 years probably until it closed in the 1990’s. But on a recent visit to the Wellcome Collection Reading Room I spoke with one of the volunteers, Rock, who told me that Gwyneth may still be alive and she had been in contact with a staff member up until 3 or 4 years ago.  She is considered to be part of the Outsider art movement.   Gwyneth’s technique was to paint directly onto the flint using watercolour, indian ink and varnish.

Art therapy which subsequently  became part of the Outsider or Art Brut movement began at Netherne in 1948 when the pioneering Edward Adamson (1911-1996) became the first artist to be employed full time as an Art Director.

Edward Adamson
Shared under Wikipedia Creative Commons licence.

He formed a huge collection of over 4000 pieces of artwork which is now housed at The Wellcome Collection in London. He believed that the creation of art was a healing process especially for those who could not speak or express themselves in any other way.  However, Adamson wasn’t a teacher or someone who used the artworks as a diagnostic tool.  Instead his approach was as a facilitator artist.  He worked at Netherne until his retirement in 1981. Art therapy was also called  ‘psychiatric art’ . The Outsider Art movement is concerned with artists who are outside the mainstream, usually self-taught and often living within institutions.  It often has no meaning except to the artist themselves although the raw power and emotion of some of these artworks can be really impressive as with Gwyneth’s flint heads.

View from Farthing Downs, 500ft up, across to Neherne Cemetry.
©Carole Tyrrell

As I walked over the top of Farthing Downs later on that afternoon heading for Sunday afternoon tea and cakes at Chaldon church I saw the cemetery on the opposite slope.   I hoped that it would always be surrounded by large green fields and that its incumbents would always rest in peace under the chestnut trees and wildflowers.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

Further Reading:

Outsider Art: From the Margins to te Marketplace, David Maclagan Reaktion Books 2009

Art as Healing, Edward Adamson, Coventure 1984

https://wellcomecollection.org/adamson-collection

http://www.mendiphospitalcemetery.org.uk/history.html

http://www.yourlocalguardian.co.uk/news/10494304.Campaign_victory_after_cemetery_with_war_dead_finally_cleared/

https://billiongraves.com/cemetery/Netherne-Asylum-Cemetery/292853

http://www.simoncornwell.com/urbex/hosp/n/e140106/1.htm

http://www.thisislocallondon.co.uk/indepth/nostalgia/8392020.Forgotten_graves_of_the_war_dead/

http://www.suttonguardian.co.uk/news/8437328.Diaries_of_Catholic_nun_reveal_tale_of_child_buried_at_Netherne_asylum/

 http://beyondthetrenches.co.uk/the-other-war-dead-asylum-patients-during-the-first-world-war/

 http://www.croydonguardian.co.uk/news/8421298.Developer_s_broken_promise_over_asylum_cemetery/

 https://www.genesreunited.co.uk/boards/board/ancestors/thread/1314646

 

 

Symbol of the month – the wheatsheaf

Another view of the Milnes monument, Kensal Green Cemetery.
©Carole Tyrrell

I was on a summer stroll in early July of this year in Kensal Green Cemetery when I noticed this symbol.  From where I was standing it resembled a mop head which had dried out and been left on top of a grave.  I was planning to carry on stalking obliging butterflies but curiosity got the better of me and I made my way over to the monument. It was then that I realised that the supposed mop head was in fact a beautifully sculpted wheatsheaf.

‘Had the deceased been a master baker?’ was my first thought as it’s a traditional symbol associated with them or perhaps a pub owner as you do see a lot of pubs called The Wheatsheaf. The epitaphs on both side of the tomb were virtually unreadable. However, on one side I could make out ‘Sarah’ and on the other ‘Milnes’. But more of the Milnes later as this family has a strong connection to Kensal Green Cemetery

A sheaf is a tied bunch of grain stalks after they have been harvested by hand with scythes. However with the advent of agricultural mechanisation it is now a bygone image. No-one has ever known the origins of this staple crop and so it has been regarded by many cultures as a gift from God.

The wheatsheaf and resurrection

However, the wheatsheaf symbol has always had strong associations with the theme of resurrection.

This seemingly humble grain has played its part in many funeral cults and mourning rites throughout ancient cultures. For example, the ancient Greeks and Romans regarded it as life springing from death or immortality. Priests are reputed to have sprinkled wheat flour on their victim’s head prior to sacrificing them.  Ceres and Demeter, the Greek and Roman goddesses of harvest and agriculture, often carried either a wheatsheaf or a harvester’s sickle.  Ancient Egypt was seen as the breadbasket of the ancient Mediterranean due to the volume of crops that it produced and Osiris, god of the underworld, was strongly associated with wheat within the context of a representation of rebirth.

Wheat is also important to the Christian religion with the Eucharist bread which represents the body of Christ and his sacrifice and also in remembrance of the Last Supper. There is the famous biblical quotation from Luke 22:19:

‘and he took bread and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: do this in remembrance of me’ King James Bible.

When wheat is harvested the ground is left to lie still during the winter and then re-sown in the spring to begin the cycle of life again. Here it represents renewal and renewal as the cycle of seasons has once more given grain for bread.  There is also the association with the harvesting of years in that Death and his scythe prepare to reap at the end of life.

So there has always been an association with the wheatsheaf of resurrection and remembrance. This is where it is at its most powerful as a funerary symbol. However, Douglas Keister has also suggested that a wheatsheaf on a tombstone can indicate someone who

‘lived a long and fruitful life of more than seventy years and one that was harvested by the Reaper when it was time’

 The wheatsheaf and the Victorian cult of mourning

This is a lovely example of a wheatsheaf motif within a piece of Victorian mourning jewellery.
I found it on Pinterest and could not find the source of the image.

According to the art of mourning website, the wheatsheaf was also a very popular motif in Victorian mourning jewellery.  In fact they have suggested that it could be seen as a memento mori in that it denotes life cut and renewal or resurrection of the soul.  Its heyday was during 1820-1860 and it also survived into early 20th century mourning jewellery just as it was going out of fashion.  The wheatsheaf was often found in mourning wreaths, brooches, lockets and rings and was an effective emblem when working with hair to create these pieces.

There is also a stained glass window featuring a wheatsheaf at St Michael & All Angels in Eaton Bishop, Herefordshire but this may be a Victorian addition by Kempe after restoration.

But who lies under the Kensal Green wheatsheaf?

Thomas Millnes and his third wife, Jessie’s grave in Kensal Green Cemetery.
©Chris Bell – a family descendant

This grave contains 2 women who were, respectively, the first and second wives of the Victorian sculptor Thomas Milnes.  He is buried with his third and final wife elsewhere within Kensal Green cemetery under a far plainer stone. He certainly lived a long life – his dates are 21 December 1810 – 6 May 1888 but there’s no wheatsheaf on top of him. Milnes completed a number of funerary monuments which can be seen in churches in Gloucestershire, Cumbria and Suffolk and also statues which still stand in Norwich and Woolwich. Milnes exhibited statues and busts at the Royal Academy after entering its schools on 21 April 1841.  He also designed another monument in Kensal Green, the horse and child on top of Alfred Cooke, which, although damaged, is still in place.

However he wasn’t destined to became a major British sculptor despite, in 1858, being invited to design and model the four lions for the base of Nelson’s column.  It would have been the commission of a lifetime but his designs were deemed ‘unsuitable’ and the commission went to Sir Edwin Landseer’s monumental symbols of Empire instead.  However, Milnes lions which are, in my opinion, more lively and playful than Landseer’s can be seen in Saltaire, near Bradford.  After that he seems to have sunk in obscurity.

The ‘Sarah’ that is still legible on one side was Milnes’ first wife: Sarah Betsey Harrad. They married in London on 19 May 1836.   Sarah died on 1 April 1867 of ‘apoplexy’ which is now known as a stroke or cerebral haemorrhage.  Frances Eidsforth became his second wife on 16 July 1867 at St Georges, Bloomsbury and she died on 16 July 1875. She is buried with Sarah.

Milnes married his third and final wife, Jessie Anne Fletcher, on 1 June 1876 but there were no children from any of his marriages

A closer view of the Milnes wheatsheaf – beautifully carved and assumed to be by Tomas Milnes himself but no direct evidence.
©Carole Tyrrell

Little seems to be known about either Sarah or Frances and it’s a real shame that their epitaphs, presumably on either side of the monument are now illegible.  However I would assume that the wheatsheaf placed on top of them is a symbol or resurrection and a hope that they would all meet again in eternity.

The wheatsheaf is remarkably well carved and has outlasted the epitaphs. It has been presumed  that it is by Milnes himself but no definite proof has been found to be able to attribute it to him with certainty.

 

 

 

There is another smaller wheatsheaf in Kensal Green which is on the Samuel Horsley memorial.

These two examples are from Oak Grove Cemetery, Fall River, Massachusetts, USA – I don’t have any further details on them unfortunately.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell otherwise stated

I am indebted to Henry Vivian-Neal from the Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery for the biographical details on Thomas Milnes.

References:

Douglas Keister, Stories in Stone: A field guide to cemetery symbolism and iconography, Gibbs Smith 2004

www.angelfire.com

https://friendsofoakgrovecemetery.org/category/victorian-funeral-symbolism/page/2/

http://artofmourning.com/2011/02/27/symbolism-sunday-wheat/

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

http://www.everlifememorials.com/v/headstones/cemetery-symbolism.htm

https://friendsofoakgrovecemetery.org/category/victorian-funeral-symbolism/page/2/

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

http://www.symbols.com/symbol/wheat

http://www.martin-nicholson.info/cemetery/cemeteryeatonb.htm

https://breadcakesandale.wordpress.com/2015/09/23/harvest-festival-wheat-sheaf-loaf/

http://sculpture.gla.ac.uk/view/person.php?id=msib7_1206548550

http://biblehub.com/luke/22-19.htm

http://www.saltairevillage.info/saltaire_history_0065_Thomas_Milnes_nearly_man_British_sculpture.html

http://www.victorianweb.org/sculpture/milnes/chron2.html