Symbol of the Month – The Winged Soul

A lovely example from St Peter & St Paul, Shoreham, Kent.
©Carole Tyrrell

The skull and crossbones. One of the central motifs of 18th century Memento Mori and intended to be a stark and macabre  reminder of the viewer’s inevitable destination.  This would be all that would remain of you after death.

However it wasn’t a very comforting message to either the loved ones left behind or to the living.

But fashions and tastes change, even in funerary symbolism, and the skull and crossbones had served their purpose.

Instead they were replaced by the winged soul. This consisted of a small child’s head flanked by a pair of wings or a garland of leaves.  They have the faces of babies with big, round eyes, plump cheeks and pouting lips and resemble Renaissance putti which are child-like.  Putti represent the sacred cherub as they are known in England.

The winged soul may have been intended to be a more comforting image as the wings represented the soul of the deceased ascending to heaven.  This could also give hope of a resurrection to those left behind.  According to headstone symbols:

‘In the USA the winged soul is known as a soul effigy.’

It was immensely popular and in my explorations of medieval Kent churches and their churchyards I found many examples. In fact, in one or two churchyards they outnumbered the skull and crossbones symbol. They mainly had one winged soul on a headstone but there were sometimes  two or three clustered together as in these examples:

They can also appear in several combinations with other classic memento mori symbols as here:

In addition, every mason seemed to have his own interpretation of feathers as they can be carved as typical fluffy feathers, resemble broad leaves or be very stylised.

With wings in general they are an important symbol of spirituality.  They express the possibility of flying and rising upwards to heaven.  For example, in the Hindu faith, they are:

the expression of freedom to leave earthly things behind…..to reach Paradise.’

New Acropolis

 

However, as the full flowering of the Victorian language of death in the 19th century began to appear the emblems of memento mori were retired. Although a couple, such as the hourglass and ouroboros, were revived.   But I did find two modern examples of the winged soul in the churchyard of St Martin of Tours in Eynsford, Kent.

I had always previously thought of the winged soul as being a more general symbol and just a decorative feature.  I called them winged cherub heads or death heads and never considered that they might have had a specific meaning or purpose.  It was exciting to see so many variations and interpretations sometimes within the same churchyard.  But it depended on the skills of the mason as to how well they were carved and whether they were 2 dimensional or 3 dimensional.

But as a message of comfort it is one of the most poignant in memento mori. The other central motifs emphasise time running out, think about your life now and this is all that will be left. The winged soul suggests an eternal life and a more uplifting message.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading:

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

https://headstonesymbols.co.uk/headstone-meanings-and-symbols/deathheads/

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

https://www.boston.gov/departments/parks-and-recreation/iconography-gravestones-burying-grounds

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

https://library.acropolis.org/the-symbolism-of-wings/

http://www.speel.me.uk/gp/wingedcherubhead.htm

https://gravelyspeaking.com/2012/12/29/winged-cherubs-head/

https://www.sacred-texts.com/lcr/fsca/fsca11.htm

 

 

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In a lonely place………a visit to the Darnley Mausoleum, Cobhma, Kent – Part 2 the resurrection

A view of the Darnley Mausoleum and its vandal proof fence.
©Carole Tyrrell

 

So what can you do with a ruined, vandalised building in the middle of a wood?

Hope that it falls down and solves the problem?

Forget about it, let nature take its course and make it into a romantic ruin?

Wait for someone else to finish the job and try and blow it up again?

Luckily for the Mausoleum, there were local people who cared about it and knew what a jewel they had in their midst. They were determined to save it.  So in 2001, Gravesham Council took the bold step of buying it and Cobham wood from HM Government and, with funding from Union Railways, the Cobham Ashenbank Management Scheme or CAMS for short was formed. This included several stakeholders such as the National Trust and English Heritage and with a £6million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund they carried out the restoration. They were lucky that Wyatt’s original drawings still existed as well as James Wraight RIBA’s 1946 full drawing with measurements which were invaluable resources. In 2010 the project won at the Kent Design Awards and the National Trust took over in 2013.  It must have been a real challenge to turn a ruin back into the glorious building that it is again. It opened to the public in April 2014.

It’s a remarkable building which has survived because local people appreciated its beauty and importance.

Mausolus, the journal of the Mausolea and Monuments Society commented:

‘That it’s a reminder of thwarted sepulchral ambition and episcopal control’

and it is an apt description in many ways. For a funerary symbol enthusiast like myself it was a fascinating structure to walk around it and see the various motifs of death. I was so glad that I made the effort to visit at last.

If you want to visit the Mausoleum then be prepared for a walk. You can come up through the Ransford Nature Reserve which is a lovely stroll, especially if the poppy field is in bloom.  Continue walking up through it to the top of the hill and then follow the Darnley trail through the woods. I did manage to get lost on my return journey but kept following the rule of going down all the time. The alternative is to walk through Cobham village and onto Lodge Lane at the bottom and follow the directions on the map on the noticeboard.

However, I saw the Mausoleum on sunny days but on a darker, greyer day it could feel far more eerie and melancholic. A cold wind blowing around it would remind  the casual passer-by that eternal rest can be a very, very  long time. Perhaps that’s the effect that the Darnleys wanted to achieve.

But then who’s to say that maybe the ghosts of long dead Darnleys don’t drift up from the churchyard of St Mary Magdalene and take up their allotted space within the Mausoleum’s crypt? There’s enough room for 32 of them after all…….

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

References and further reading:

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/cobham-wood-and-mausoleum/features/saved-from-the-brink—the-restoration-story contains a photo of how the mausoleum looked after the arson attack.

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

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/cobham-wood-and-mausoleum/features/the-history-of-the-darnley-mausoleum

http://www.mmtrust.org.uk/mausolea/view/87/Darnley_Mausoleum

http://docs.gravesham.gov.uk/AnitePublicDocs/00294841.pdf

http://www.discovergravesham.co.uk/cobham/darnley-mausoleum.html

http://www.mmtrust.org.uk/assets/docs/articles/2009_mmt_news_march0001.pdf

http://www.mmtrust.org.uk/assets/docs/articles/2004_mmt_news_april.pdf

https://abinger-stained-glass.co.uk/portfolio-item/darnley-mausoleum/ – a piece about the creation of the lunettes.

Symbol of the Month – The Pierced Heart

A fine display of symbols on the headstone of Mr Thomas Abbott, St Marys church, St Mary Cray, Kent.
©Carole Tyrrell

I’ll be honest. I’d been out exploring churchyards just prior to the coronavirus and St Mary’s in St Mary Cray was the last on my list. I’d noticed its distinctive steeple from the train on my daily commute and it was on my list so that I could visit and cross it off.  I didn’t expect to find much and my first impression confirmed it. A few ivy clad altar tombs greeted me and then I wandered around the side of the closed church.  What a surprise!  A gallery of 18th century headstones placed in lines with some of the more familiar symbols depicted on them. Ouroboros’s, angel heads, skulls, crossbones and then this fine selection.

As you can see, it boasts a large, sharp scythe, a half open coffin with the incumbent visible, a trumpet blowing from what seems to be a heavenly cloud  and, in the centre, a heart pierced by an arrow.  We usually associate a pierced heart with the ones found on millions of St Valentine’s cards as a representation of Cupid’s love darts. You may be thinking that it doesn’t have the usual heart shape but there may be how the stonemason interpreted it.  This is the Symbol of the Month.

The headstone‘s epitaph reads:

‘In Memory of

Mr THOMAS ABBOTT

Late of this PARISH who departed this life

24 May 1773

In the 75th Year of his life

Also

Near lieth the body of

MRS SARAH ABBOTT  his wife

,,,,who departed ….22 January 1769 aged 69’

A full view of the headstone dedicated to Mr Thomas Abbott, St Marys church, St Mary Cray, Kent
©Carole Tyrrell

 

Although there are other Abbotts buried in the same churchyard I couldn’t find any sign of a headstone or monument dedicated to Sarah Abbott and there was none recorded on the Kent Archaeological Society survey of the churchyard So whether it has vanished over time we will never know.

On Thomas’s headstone, the heart is surrounded by symbols of resurrection and the Day of Judgement when all of the dead will rise. This is the meaning of the half open coffin lid. So is the pierced heart a symbol of everlasting love which means that the Abbotts will be reunited on that day?  After all, Keister suggests that it’s a sign of matrimony which would fit in with both husband and wife being mentioned on the headstone. However, Cooper comments that the pierced heart is also a sign of contrition so perhaps Mr Abbott felt guilty or sad about outliving Sarah by 6 years.

But let’s discuss other representations and interpretations of the pierced heart as well as the heart in general. It’s one of the most powerful symbols and resonates through many cultures and faiths both ancient and modern. Without it, none of us would be alive as it pumps our lifeblood through our bodies.  This is why it has been a central part of religions and cultures since the beginning of time.

Heart symbolism is significant in, Chinese, Hindu and most religions and cultures. For example, it is one of the eight precious organs of Buddha and also the Aztecs whose rituals involved human sacrifice. In these the chests of the victims were sliced open and their still-beating hearts were offered to the gods.  The Aztecs believed that the heart was the seat of the individual and also a fragment of the Sun’s heart.

Section from the Book of teh Dead depicting the Weighing of the Heart showing the heart on one side of the scales and the feather of Maat n the other. Osiris is between them.
Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

In Ancient Egypt, the heart was considered to be the source of human wisdom and the centre of emotions and memory. It could reveal a person’s true character, even after death, and was left in the body after mummification. The ancient Egyptians believed that it would survive death where it would give evidence against or for its owner and so was integral to the afterlife.  This culminated in the Weighing of the Heart which appears in the Book of the Dead.  The heart was given to Osiris, the god of the dead and the underworld who placed it on one of a pair of great golden scales.  On the other was a feather which represented Maat the goddess of order, truth and what was right. If the heart was lighter than the feather then the deceased passed on into eternal bliss.  But if it was heavier, due to past misdeeds, then it was thrown onto the floor of the Hall of Truth where Amut, a god with the face of a crocodile, the front of a leopard and the back of a rhinoceros who was also known as ‘The Gobbler’.  Once he had devoured the heart then the individual ceased to exist. The Egyptians concept of hell was non-existence.

But the heart has an even greater significance in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. There are many references to it in the Bible with over a 100 in Psalms alone.  One of the most famous quotations is in 1 Samuel 16.7 in which it is seen as the seat of emotion:

But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.’ (King James Bible).

The heart is seen as revealing the inner person but not only as the centre of human life. It also expresses spiritual or emotional feelings, wisdom, piety and righteousness.  There is also the famous quote from Matthew 5:8;

‘blessed are the pure in heart’

However, the heart also has a darker side as an evil person is often described as being ‘blackhearted.’  In Ecclesiastes 8:11 it’s seen as evil:

‘ Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.’ (King James Bible).

In Christian iconography the heart took on a symbolic role as an indication of God and piety particularly in the Catholic church where Christ displaying a heart in his hands or on his breast is a key image. It’s known as the Sacred Heart and is one of the most practiced and well known of the Catholic devotions.  The sacred heart is seen as a symbol of ‘God’s boundless and passionate love for mankind.’ The pierced heart was also included in the five wounds that Christ suffered during the crucifixion

 

St Augustine 17th century Portuguese painting Museum of Church Paio of San Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

One saint in particular, St Augustine, has a special relationship with the pierced heart. He is often shown holding a heart, in some cases topped by a flame and in others pierced by an arrow. Another passage from the Confessions IX, 2:3 may explain the significance of the pierced heart:

‘Thou hadst pierced (sagittaveras) our heart with thy love, and we carried thy words, as it were, thrust through our vitals.’ 

(The word sagittaveras means literally ‘ shot arrows’ into as in this 17th century painting.

St Valentine’s Day was originally derived from a much darker and bawdier Roman festival called Lupercalia. This took place in Rome from 13-15 February and was intended to avert evil spirits and purify the city.  However, it didn’t involve the giving of chocolates and bouquets of roses. Instead there was animal sacrifice, random matchmaking and couplings which were intended to ward off infertility.  In reality, it was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture and also to the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus.  It was finally outlawed as ‘unChristian’ in the 5th century by Pope Gelasius who declared the 14 February to be St Valentine’s Day.   There were two actual St Valentines who were both martyrs.

However, the first person to mention the famous day for lovers was actually Geoffrey Chaucer in his 1375 poem, A Parliament of Fowles (or Fowls). In this he says:

‘For this was sent on Seynt Valentyn’es day

When every fowl cometh here to choose his mate.’

During the Middle Ages it was believed in both France and England that February 14 was the beginning of the mating season for birds and so an ideal date for romance for all.

But it was during the early medieval and early Renaissance when the heart began to resemble the more stylised symbol that we know today.  It took on the shape of a converted A and represented  Amor or Love. Since the 19th century it has been associated with love and romance and the  pierced heart has also been known as the wounded heart due to Cupid’s arrows.

But, due to its placing within other potent symbols of resurrection, I interpret the pierced heart on Mr Abbott’s headstone to be a token of love.  Although he wasn’t buried with his wife he may have hoped that they would be reunited on the Day of Judgement when the angels trumpets sounded and the dead met the living again.

It was one of the most potent symbols that I have found in my explorations and I haven’t seen another one – yet.  The pierced heart has also been one of the most fascinating symbols to research because of its many connotations and associations.  Who would have thought that Chaucer might be the father of the St Valentine’s Day industry that we know so well today.

Was the pierced heart a token of love or a hope of a meeting in the after-life? We will never know but a fascinating collection of symbols for the passer-by to admire.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

References and further reading:

Stories in Stone, Douglas Keister, Gibbs Smith 2004

An illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols, J C Cooper, Thames & Hudson, 1979

 

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

https://www.kentarchaeology.org.uk/research/monumental-inscriptions/st-mary-cray

https://www.gresham.ac.uk/lectures-and-events/affairs-of-the-heart-an-exploration-of-the-symbolism-of-the-heart-in-art

https://www.midwestaugustinians.org/the-augustinian-emblem

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Samuel%2016:7&version=KJV

https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-rome/lupercalia#:~:text=Lupercalia%20was%20an%20ancient%20pagan,in%20Rome%20on%20February%2015.&text=Unlike%20Valentine’s%20Day%2C%20however%2C%20Lupercalia,off%20evil%20spirits%20and%20infertility.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3960665/#:~:text=In%20the%20weighing%20of%20the,were%20placed%20with%20the%20deceased.

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

https://www.christianiconography.info/augustine.html

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

Symbol of the Month – The Easter Sepulchre

A plain and simple Esater Sepulchre at St Mary’s Grendon, Northants
© Carole Tyrrell

I thought that for this month’s Symbol  it would be good to have one that was specifically linked to Easter. So April’s  Symbol is  the Easter Sepulchre.

Although this is a difficult time for all of us with the worldwide pandemic of COVID 19, life still has to go on despite it feeling a little strange.  Easter is one of the holiest weeks in the religious or faith calendar and in medieval times the Easter Sepulchre would have been an integral part of the celebrations.

However, there are now very few examples of these in churches and only within England and Wales. After the Reformation and Henry VIII’s break with Rome over his divorce from Catherine of Aragon most of them were destroyed. The ones that have survived are to be found in little country churches.    I discovered this lovely example completely by chance when I visited the church of St Bartholomew in Otford, Kent.

Initially I thought that it was a canopied tomb without an effigy.  But the guide leaflet confirmed  that is is a particularly good example of an Easter Sepulchre and bears two symbols; the pomegranate, which was the badge of Catherine of Aragon and the Tudor Rose.  The sepulchre was made from Caen stone and has been dated to the early 16th century. The guide leaflet for St Bartholomew also suggests that the symbols could be a reference to the visit of Henry VIII and Catherine to Otford in 1520 on their way to the Field of the Cloth of Gold in France.  There is a small ledge on the right of the Sepulchre which is assumed to represent Christ’s empty tomb.  As John Vigar says:

‘It was the tomb of an individual erected on the north side of the chancel which over each Easter weekend would be used as a focus for devotion, representing the entombment and resurrection of Christ. It always had a flat surface on which the sepulchre itself would be placed.

However, the stone canopy was not the actual the Sepulchre.  This was a wooden chest containing either the cross from the main altar or a consecrated Host in an ornate container known as a Pyx. Some of the sepulchres were so small that they could only hold the Host.  The sepulchres were part of Easter church rituals from the 13th to 15th centuries and were used in both Catholic and Anglican churches. Each church was only allowed to have one. According to https://www.encyclopedia.com/:

‘In this period the ritual burial of Christ was a solemn observance. At the end of the Liturgies of Good Friday, the priest would carry the pyx and the Cross, both wrapped in linen, to the north side of the chancel where a temporary sepulchre which was usually wooden and draped with a pall had been made ready and laid them within.  The sepulchre was then perfumed with incense and lit by numerous candles as a constant watch was kept to protect the Host and Pyx.  The Host would have been consecrated on Maundy Thursday. Early on Easter morning, candles  would illuminate the church, the clergy would come to the Sepulchre, the Host was removed to the Pyx above the high altar and the Cross was raised from the sepulchre and carried in procession around the church while church bells chimed and the Resurrection was celebrated’.

Henry VIII wanted to preserve the sepulchres after the break with Rome but Archbishop Cranmer passed laws ordering their destruction.  The wooden chests were then put to other uses such as dish racks!  Soon their actual purpose was forgotten.

A more permanent form of the Sepulchre was as a recess, often canopied over a tomb chest.  Wealthy patrons or local families who wanted to be associated with the Easter mysteries often built tombs for themselves that could also be used as Easter sepulchres.  They vary from the very plain to the very ornate as with the one in Lincoln Cathedral.  Often they are not inscribed with the name of the donor and a church could only have one.  It was wonderful to see such a fine example at Otford  as I explored the interior of the church.

Here are two fine surviving examples:

Augustus Welby Pugin, the celebrated Victorian architect and designer attempted to revive the Easter Sepulchre and there is a magnificent example in St Giles, Cheadle.  But it was seen as merely decorative.

A W Pugin’s richly decorated Esater Sepulchre in St Giles Cheadle/
©stgilescheadle

I’ve always associated Easter with a time or rebirth. Spring is usually on its way by Easter time; churchyards burst forth with Spring flowers and there’s a general feeling of Mother Nature getting on with it. This rebirth has never been so important as it is in 2020 in the light of the pandemic.

Please keep well and safe.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading:

Guide leaflet, St Bartholomew, Otford, Kent

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

https://www.nationalchurchestrust.org/what-see-inside/easter-sepulchre

http://modernmedievalism.blogspot.com/2015/04/the-easter-sepulchre.html

https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/easter-sepulchre

http://elfinspell.com/AndrewsEaster.html

https://www.britainexpress.com/church-history.htm?term=Easter+Sepulchre

https://www.johnevigar.com/john-e-vigar-blog/easter-sepulchres

http://www.threeabbeys.me.uk/research.html

 

Symbol of the Month – Angel with trumpet

This month’s Symbol of the Month is later than planned due to the Coronavirus snapping at my heels.   I was determined to have a Spring saunter through three local churches while I still could.  They have now all inevitably closed.

I hope all of you can stay well during this difficult time.

 

Full view of the du Bois headstone, West Norwood Cemetery
© Carole Tyrrell

 

It wasn’t until late in the 19th century that angels fluttered into large Victorian cemeteries and there is undoubtedly a story to be written as to how they changed sex once they had perched themselves on top of monuments.  There is a hierarchy of angels and they can be identified by what they hold in their hands; a sword, shield, a book or, in this case, a trumpet.   The angel holding a trumpet is the one that features as this month’s Symbol.

I have seen several examples and this one comes from West Norwood Cemetery.  It’s on the headstone dedicated to Edward who died aged only 13 years.  As the epitaph states,

‘Edward

THE ONLY SON

E. du Bois Esq

BARRISTER OF LAW’

 

I’ve always considered it to be a very striking, almost 3D image, with the detail on the angels wings, clothes and the clouds that surround her.  It depicts an angel blowing on a trumpet with a Biblical quotation surrounding her.  The angelic figure is definitely a woman. and it’s always intrigued me how angels which are traditionally male in the Bible became pretty, pensive young women when they appeared in cemeteries and churchyards.  The quotation reads:

WAITING

THE LAST TRUMPET (words unreadable)………

ALL SHALL RAISE AGAIN

In this case, the angel trumpeter on this headstone is a representation of the Last Judgement Day as she is the herald of the resurrection.

There are many references to angels blowing trumpets in the Bible and their association with the dead rising on the Day of Resurrection. For example in Corinthians 15:32, it says:

‘in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,

At the last trumpet.

For the trumpet will sound, and the

Dead will be raised imperishable,

And we shall be changed.’

 

There are also references in the Book of Revelation and Matthew 24:32.

However, it is the archangel, Gabriel, who is most associated with blowing a trumpet to announce the resurrection of the dead and images of this began to appear in the 14th century.  There is a very stern and definitely male angel figure holding a trumpet at the entrance to Queen Victoria’s mausoleum at Frogmore.  There is also a geometric figure known as Gabriel’s horn or Torricelli’s trumpet. It has infinite surface area but finite volume. According to Wikipedia:

‘The name refers to the Abrahamic tradition identifying the archangel Gabriel as the angel who blows the horn to announce Judgment Day, associating the divine, or infinite, with the finite. The properties of this figure were first studied by Italian physicist and mathematician Evangelista Torricelli in the 17th century.’

Angels appear in most religions and it’s appropriate that one of the most well-known is associated with communication. In fact angels are usually seen as messengers as the word ‘angel’ is derived from the Greek word, ‘angelos’, which means ‘messengers.’    They also appear in Islam as the word for messenger, Mala’ika, is the Islamic term for angel.  The Koran, like the Bible, also has references to angels especially Djibril or Gabriel nd Mikhail or Michael. According to Douglas Keister:

‘Angels appeared to grow wings in a 5th century mosaic in Rome. After all they are seen as messengers between heaven and earth.’

Gabriel is is also associated with the Annunciation.  He is, with his trumpet blowing, an obvious choice for announcing the departure of a soul and its arrival in Heaven.

I have seen an example of an angel blowing a trumpet in Tower Hamlets Cemetery and this lovely example comes from St Mary’s Catholic cemetery which nestles next to its larger neighbour, Kensal Green. She is on top of the Abreu monument.

While exploring Kent churchyards prior to the Coronavirus outbreak I found 17th headstones with angel heads on them with trumpets surrounding them.  In this one the trumpets are crossed like long bones beneath the angel head.

 

So, in many ways this is a very ancient symbol which has come down through the centuries as a message of comfort to those left behind.  The one dedicated to Edward du Bois has an epitaph that expresses his father’s grief as well as his anger at his son’s untimely death.

 

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

 References and further reading:

 

Stories in Stone, Douglas Keister, Gibbs Smith, 2004

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabriel%27s_Horn

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

https://www.cityofgroveok.gov/building/page/angel-blowing-trumpet

https://www.openbible.info/topics/angels_trumpets

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

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

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

 

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