This month’s symbol is one that I’ve always associated with the Jewish faith where it’s known as the Star of David. But when I spotted a prominent example in Brompton Cemetery which isn’t a Jewish Cemetery I wondered why it was on that particular monument. But on a recent visit to St Mary’s church in Bury St Edmunds I saw a six pointes tar in the East window and read in the guidebook of its significance with Christianity. The window was part of the 1844 restoration and is based on a 14th century example on the nearby Abbey Gate.
According to St Mary’s guidebook the star is an important Christian symbol as:
‘Jesus was descended from David and is the Messiah for both Jews and Gentiles, the star of David is an important Christian symbol.’
This may account for the apparently Hebrew looking writing in the centre of a six pointed start dating from the 14th century on a window in Winchester cathedral. Another one in the same building, dating from the same period on a choirstall canopy, was recorded by Pevsner.
6 pointed star from stained glass window in Winchester Cathedral
©https://www.simonarich.com – used without permissionThe six pointed star is a geometric shape and is formed from the intersection of two equilateral triangles. At the centre of the intersection is a regular hexagon. In Greek it’s known as a hexagram and in Latin it’s called a sexagram.
In Christianity it’s known as the Creator’s Star or the Star of Creation. The six points are alleged to represent the six days of the Creation and also the six attributes of God. These are:
But the six pointed star is a universal symbol. No-one is quite sure where or when it first appeared bit it’s known and revered throughout both Eastern and Western religions and faiths. For example, in Buddhism it has been found in the Tibetan Book of the Dead and has been used as decoration on Masonic temples, In Freemasonry the star is seen as a representation of the male and female. This is also an important element in Hinduism as the combination of triangles are also seen as motifs of male and female and the star becomes an emblem of Creation and divine union.
There is a darker side to the six pointed star as, in Occultism, the star is a powerful symbol for conjuring up spirits and as a talisman. In this the star is seen as representing the 4 elements:
- Fire – upwards pointing triangle
- Air – opposite upwards pointing triangle
- Water – downwards pointing triangle
- Earth – opposite triangle pointing downwards
But the Rastafarian faith also uses the Star of David or the Magen David as a central motif. Here it’s coloured either black or appears in the Rastafarian colours of red, green and gold. This is because the Rastafarians believe that their leader, the late King of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, was a divine being. He’s always been considered as being directly related to King Solomon’s father, King David, and therefore to Jesus. This is based on a visit by the Queen of Sheba to the Israelite king, Solomon, as recorded in the Book of Kings 1 Kings 10 1:13. Rastafarians believe that during the visit they slept together and a child was born. This child led to a direct line of descendants to Haile Selassie.
Although the Star of David is now seen as almost exclusively Jewish it wasn’t always so. It is reputed to have originated in ancient Arabic Kabbalistic texts in which it was known as the Seal of Solomon and became the Star of David in the 17th century. The Jews of Eastern Europe in the 19th century adopted it as a representation of their faith and Hitler used it as a badge to identify Jews during the Second World War. Today it is on the national flag of modern day Israel.
But what does it mean in funerary terms and why is it in this particular monument? I looked more closely at the first epitaph beneath it.
It was dedicated to a Thomas Henry Bowyer Bower, the son of Captain Thomas Bowyer Bower whose epitaph is lower down. Thomas died young, aged 24, at Port Palmerston, Darwin, Australia. I’m not sure if he’s actually buried there but, perhaps in this context, the star has been placed there as a symbol of the spirit that survives death. Over the centuries people have used the stars to guide their way and I thought that maybe the star was placed here as an eternal light guiding the deceased through the darkness back home again. Note the quotation on the epitaph from Deuteronomy 32.12,
‘The Lord alone shall lead him’
This may be a reference to the to North or Pole Star which is traditionally associated with Jesus.
There is a downward pointing dove placed over the star which is a symbol of the Holy Ghost, part of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
In the King James version of the Bible in Luke 3:22 :
‘And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.’
I wondered if the last words of this biblical verse referred to the father and son relationship.
My own interpretation of the star and the dove is that it may have been a final goodbye from a father to a son who died far from home and wanting him to know how much he was loved.
©Carole Tyrrell text and photos unless otherwise stated.
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