Symbol of the month – The Butterfly

This is another older post about a symbol that is not common within churchyards and cemeteries and so I am always thrilled whenever I see an example.  This gorgeous example is in below is in the interior of St Nicholas’ church in Chislehurst, Kent. It’s dedicated to a woman and perfectly illustrates the use of the butterfly as a symbol of transformation and resurrection.

As the lockdown edges closer to more restrictions being relaxed, I hope to be out exploring again very soon!

Butterfly on monement, interior of St Nichols church Chislehurst, Kent, copyright Carole Tyrrell



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©Carole Tyrrell


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©Carole Tyrrell


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©Carole Tyrrell

The Gordon monument butterfly motif in all its glory. Kensal Green Cemetery. copyright Carole Tyrrell
The Gordon monument butterfly motif in all its glory. Kensal Green Cemetery.
copyright Carole Tyrrell

Cemeteries and graveyards can be happy hunting grounds for butterflies.  But not just the bright, dancing summer jewels, borne on the breeze, but also the much rarer kind which perches in them for eternity.

So far I’ve only discovered two of this particular species which were both in London.  One was in Brompton and the other was in Kensal Green.  But I have also seen others online in American cemeteries.

But I’m surprised that the butterfly symbol isn’t more widely used as it is a deep and powerful motif of resurrection and  reincarnation.  It has fluttered through many cultures which include Ancient Egypt, Greece and Mexico.

In classical myth, Psyche, which translates as ‘soul’, is represented in the form of a butterfly or as a young woman with butterfly wings.  She’s also linked with Eros the Greek God of love.   It is also a potent representation of rebirth and in this aspect, the Celts revered it.  Some of the Ancient Mexican tribes such as the Aztec and Mayans used carvings of butterflies to decorate their buildings as certain butterfly species were considered to be reincarnations of the souls of dead warriors.  The Hopi and Navaho tribes of Native American Indians performed the Butterfly Dance and viewed them as symbols of change and transformation.

The butterfly is an archetypal image of resurrection in Christianity and this meaning is derived from the 3 stages of a butterfly’s life.  These are:  1st stage = the caterpillar, 2nd stage = the chrysalis and 3rd and final stage = the butterfly.  So the sequence is life, death and resurrection.   The emergence of the butterfly from the chrysalis is likened to the soul discarding the flesh.  It has been depicted on Ancient Christian tombs and, in Christian art, Christ has been shown holding a butterfly.   It is supposed to appear chiefly on childrens memorials but the two that I’ve seen were on adult memorials.

Butterflies also feature in Victorian mourning jewellery and there is a fascinating article on this with some lovely examples at:

http://artofmourning.com/2014/10/25/butterfly-symbols-and-19th-century-jewellery/

In the 20th century, butterflies appeared in the flowing, organic lines of Art Nouveau and often featured in jewellery and silverware.

Face and butterfly on exterior of chapel. copyright Carole Tyrrell

Face and butterfly on exterior of chapel.
copyright Carole Tyrrell

This example is from the Watts Chapel in Surrey and shows the flowing lines and stylised butterfly.   They also appear in vanitas paintings, the name given to a particular category of symbolic works of art and especially those associated with the still life paintings of the 16th and 17th centuries in Flanders and the Netherlands.    In these the viewer was asked to look at various symbols within the painting such as skulls, rotting fruit etc and ponder on the worthlessness of all earthly goods and pursuits as well as admiring the artist’s skill in depicting these.  Butterflies in this context can be seen as fleeting pleasure as they have a short life of just two weeks.

Butterfly traditions

There are many superstitions and beliefs associated with butterflies.  They are often regarded as omens, good and bad, or as an advance messenger indicating that a visitor or loved one is about to arrive. In Japan, they are traditionally associated with geishas due to their associations with beauty and delicate femininity.

Butterfly & Chinese wisteria by Xu Xi Early Sing Dynasty c970. By Xü Xi (Scanned from an old Chinese book) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Butterfly & Chinese wisteria by Xu Xi Early Sing Dynasty c970.
By Xü Xi (Scanned from an old Chinese book) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Chinese see them as good luck and a symbol of immortality. Sailors thought that if they saw one before going on ship it meant that they would die at sea .  In Devon it was traditional to kill the first butterfly that you saw or have a year of bad luck as a result. In Europe the butterfly was seen as the spirit of the dead and, in the Gnostic tradition, the angel of death is often shown crushing a butterfly underfoot.   In some areas in England, it’s thought that butterflies contain the souls of children who have come back to life. A butterfly’s colours can also be significant. A black one can indicate death and a white one signifies the souls or the departed. It’s also a spiritual symbol of growth in that sometimes the past has to be discarded in order to move forward as the butterfly sheds its chrysalis to emerges complete. So it can indicate a turning point or transition in life. There are also shamanistic associations with the butterfly’s shapeshifting and it has also been claimed as a spiritual animal or totem.

Brompton Cemetery, tomb unknown

This example with its wings outstretched is from Brompton Cemetery in London.   Alas, the epitaph appears to have vanished over time and the surrounding vegetation was so luxuriant  that I will have to return in the winter to investigate further.  Note the wreath of ivy that surrounds it.  Ivy is an evergreen and is a token of eternal life and memories.  The wreath’s ribbons are also nicely carved.

The Gordon monument, Kensal Green

The second one is perched on the tomb of John Gordon Esquire, a Scotsman from Aberdeenshire who died young at only 37.  As the epitaph states   ‘it was erected to his memory as the last token of sincere love and affection by his affectionate widow’.    Gordon came from an extended family of Scottish landowners who had estates in Scotland and plantations in Tobago amongst other interests.  The monument is Grade II listed and is made of Portland stone with a York stone base and canopy supported by the pillars.  There was an urn on the pedestal  between the four tapering stone pillars but this was stolen in 1997.

The butterfly also has an ouroboros encircling it so, not only a symbol or resurrection,  but also of eternity with the tail devouring snake.  It is a little hard to see but it is there.

The butterfly symbol of the roof of the Gordon monument Kensal Green Cemetery. copyright Carole Tyrrell
The butterfly symbol of the roof of the Gordon monument Kensal Green Cemetery.
copyright Carole Tyrrell

The pharaonic heads at each corner are Egyptian elements within an ostensibly  classically inspired monument. Acroteria, or acroterion as is its singular definition, are an architectural ornament.  The ones on this monument are known as acroteria angularia. The ‘angularia’ means at the corners.

The entire monument is based on an illustration of the monument of the Murainville family in Pugin’s Views of Paris of 1822 and also on Moliere’s memorial which are both at Pere Lachaise in Paris.

The Gordon memorial incorporates elements  of the Egyptian style and symbolism that influenced 19th century funerary monuments after the first Egyptian explorations. Kensal Green contains many significant examples and there are others to be found in Brompton, Highgate and Abney Park.  The Victorians regarded the Egyptians highly as it was also a cult of the dead.

So when you next see a butterfly fluttering on the breeze or even perched on a memorial for eternity remember its importance within the tradition of symbols, religions and cultures.  Who knows it might be one of your ancestors…..

© Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

References:

http://www.gardenswithwings.com/butterfly-stories/butterfly-symbolism.html

http://www.whats-your-sign.com/butterfly-animal-symbolism.html

http://www.spiritanimal.info/butterfly-spirit-animal/

http://www.pure-spirit.com/more-animal-symbolism/611-butterfly-symbolism

http://www.shamanicjourney.com/butterfly-power-animal-symbol-of-change-the-soul-creativity-freedom-joy-and-colour

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

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

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

https://www.reference.com/world-view/butterfly-symbolize-cf9c772f26c7fa5

https://www.reference.com/world-view/butterflies-symbolize-19a1e06c9c98351c?qo=cdpArticles

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

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

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

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1191024

Clare Gibson, How to Read Symbols, Herbert Press 2009

Douglas Keister, Stories in Stone, A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography, Gibbs Smith, 2004

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

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

 

 

Symbol of the Month – The Six Pointed Star

Another view of the 6 pointed star,Brompton Cemetery.
©Carole Tyrrell

 

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.

Six pointed star in St Mary’s church, Bury St Edmunds
©Carole Tyrrell

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:

  • Power
  • Wisdom
  • Majesty
  • Love
  • Mercy
  • Justice

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.

The epitaph underneath the 6 pointed star – note Thomas Bower died.
©Carole Tyrrell

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.

6 pointed star on the Bower monument, Brompton Cemetery
©Carole Tyrrell

 

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.

 

References and further reading:

www.religionfacts.com/six-point-star

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

http://www.gmct.com.au

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

http://religionfacts/six-point-star

http://star-of-david.blogspot.co.uk/2006/06/rastafarians.html

http://bbc.co.uk/religion/rastafari

http://symbolism.co/dove-symbolism.html

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

http://www.biblegateway.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 of the month – the Lamp

 

Tombstone with sculpted lamps dedicated to Marie Cordelia Winfield who died aged 19
©Carole Tyrrell

 

I was looking for butterflies, the Marbled White to be exact, on a side path in Brompton Cemetery when I found this memorial.  Should I rub one of the Aladdin style lamps and see if a genie appeared to grant me three wishes?  I was intrigued as to why they were on the stone and so began my research for this month’s symbol – The Lamp.

The grave is that of Marie Cordelia Winfield who died young at the age of 19.  There is another family member commemorated on the headstone who is called James Alfred Winfield.  But it’s very lowdown on the stone and the encroaching summer vegetation obscured it making it difficult to read.

Lamps are an unusual symbol to see in a cemetery but Light as a motif in itself has been used in many forms.  Often it’s represented by the eternal flame or a downturned/ upturned torch but lamps are rare.  Obviously now I’ve said that, I’ll see lamps in every cemetery on every tombstone but so far it’s just been this one.

The Winfield lamps appear to be oil lamps and these have been used as illumination for thousands of years. In Arabian folklore a genie’s lamp contained a magical spirit known as a djinn or genie.  This mythical being could help or hinder those who were brave enough to rub the lamp as in the story of Aladdin.

An example of an Aladdin Lamp.

In this story the lamp was seen as a gateway to another world of mystery and other gods.  The symbol of the lamp was later adopted by Christianity as many pagan motifs were and it came to symbolise Jesus as the ‘light of the world’.  There is a famous passage in the New Testament in Matthew 25:1-13 of the parable of the 10 virgins:

‘Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.

And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.

They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:

But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.

While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.

And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.

Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.

And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.

But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.

And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.

Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.

But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.

Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.

                                                                            King James version

 There are several other references to lamps in Matthew 6:22-23, Revelation 22:5 and also John 5:35 in which John the Baptist is described as

he was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.’

And let’s not forget God appearing to Moses in the burning bush.  There is also a famous quotation from Psalms 119:105:

‘Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.’

The lamp as a representation of God and faith appears in other religions including the Jewish Feast of Dedication or Festival of Lights and also Diwali which is the Hindu Festival of Lights.  Judaism sees lamps as a way of lighting the way for the righteous and the wise.  This is represented by the seven branched ritual Jewish oil lamp which is known as a menorah.  Lamps are also an integral part of the Orthodox and other Eastern Catholic churches as they are used on the Holy Table or altar and also to illuminate icons.  In Chinese religions an oil lamp is always lit at traditional Chinese shrines before either an image of a deity or a plaque in classical Chinese characters with the name of the deity.  Lamps also feature in the Koran. There is also a strong element of self-sacrifice associated with the lamp as it consumes itself in order to bring light to the world.

There is long tradition of lamps representing purity and virginity as well as love. So it’s highly appropriate for the Winfield tombstone which is dedicated to a young girl.  When I looked more closely at the Winfield memorial I noticed that both of the lamps were pointing towards the cross in the centre with what I presumed were the rays of the sun coming from behind it almost like a halo. The lamps are obviously lit as fumes are coming from their spouts and, to me, they seemed to be illuminating the way through eternal darkness towards the light of a new life.  I thought that it would have been comforting to those left behind to mourn the loss of a daughter who had been taken too soon. As the epitaph says:

Greatly loved and sadly missed.’

However,  as I explored further in Brompton I noticed actual lamps placed on top of graves or alongside them.  These were mainly on the graves of Polish people.

In Poland, there is a long tradition of lighting lamps and candles on their All Saints’ Day which is held on November 1st each year.  This is the day before the Christian festival of All Souls Day which is traditionally held on November 2nd.   I visited Brompton Cemetery on November 1st 2015 and witnessed the local Polish community’s celebration of All Saints with lit tea candles and lamps on top of Polish and non-Polish graves alike. The lights were again being used as a way to help the souls of the departed on their way and so the tradition continues.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

References:

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+25%3A1-13&version=KJV

http://www.biblemeanings.info/Words/Artifact/Lamp.htm

http://culture.polishsite.us/articles/art10fr.htm

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

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

 

 

 

Death parted them and then reunited them – The Pointing Finger Symbol update

Anderson memorial - the downward pointing hand in detail. ©Carole Tyrrell
Anderson memorial – the downward pointing hand in detail.
©Carole Tyrrell

In my  recent post on the Pointing Finger symbol I was bemoaning that I hadn’t found an example of the downward pointing version.

Someone must have heard me because, lo and behold, as I was pottering through Brompton Cemetery I suddenly saw one.  It was on a side path and set back from it in front of a thick clump of brambles which probably engulf it when they’re in high season.  Winter is always a good time to  look for symbols as the encroaching ivy; brambles and long grass will have died down and don’t obscure them.

The Anderson family grave headstone.in Brompton Cemetery ©Carole Tyrrell
The Anderson family grave headstone.in Brompton Cemetery
©Carole Tyrrell

There is a fascinating story behind this memorial as it’s the tale of two Irish brothers who first enlisted together at the tender age of 11.  They both had action packed lives in military service together until one died before the other at a young age.  This confirms what I said in my previous post,  that the downward pointing finger denotes an untimely, sudden or unexpected death.

The headstone   announced that it was the ‘Family Grave of Thomas Anderson’ and there are six members of the family commemorated on it.  The first one was to Andrew Anderson, who was a sargeant in the Coldstream Guards Band until died suddenly, aged 35, on August 11th 1856.   Sadly it doesn’t give the cause of death so we can only guess at what might have happened to Andrew. The epitaph also says that his death was ‘regretted by all who knew him’ so he was obviously popular and much missed.  Accident?  Heart attack? Murder?  We may never know but I may do some further investigating.

Andrew Anderson's epitaph in detail. ©Carole Tyrrell
Andrew Anderson’s epitaph in detail.
©Carole Tyrrell

Underneath  Andrew’s epitaph are recorded two more members of the Anderson family.   These are Thomas Anderson’s  ‘infant daughter’,  Alice Jane, who died at 17 months on November 19th 1859 and also his wife and Alice’s mother, Euphan.   She died on September 22 1888 aged 63.   The quotation underneath reads ‘Sleep on dear one and take thy well earned rest.’

The Anderson memorial. Andrew, his brother, and Thomas's infant daughter, Alice Jane, and his wife Euphan are also commemorated. ©Carole Tyrrell
The Anderson memorial. Andrew, his brother, and Thomas’s infant daughter, Alice Jane, and his wife Euphan are also commemorated.
©Carole Tyrrell

And then underneath is Thomas himself.  He died on 15 July 1891 aged 70 with the motto ‘His end was peace.’

Initially I presumed that Thomas was Andrew’s father.   But, after doing some online delving, I discovered a post on an Irish library forum by a respondent who claimed to be Thomas’s great, great, great grandson. He was trying to carry out his own research into the family history.

According to him, Thomas and Andrew Anderson were actually brothers, probably twins, who were both born in 1821 and came from Ennis, County Clare.  This would fit in with Andrew’s age at death and there were other coincidences  between the information on the headstone and what the great, great, great grandson  was saying. The unusual name of Thomas’s wife was helpful and this led me to the Clan McFarlane website as McFarlane was her maiden name.

The brothers were very close and, aged 11, they both enlisted in the 40th Regiment of Foot on February 2 1832 and were then both discharged on 7 September 1839 aged 18.

It was the Royal Navy that beckoned next and they set off for adventure on the high seas aboard HMS Wellesley when they enlisted in 1839.  They both played their part in the Opium War of 1839 – 1842 and, as a result, they both received the China War Medal.  This was awarded to members of the Royal Navy who had ‘served with distinction’ between 5 July 1840 – 29 August 1842.

 

After that they moved on and back into the Army which is where the Coldstream Guards connection comes in.  As you might expect they both signed up: Thomas on 8 May 1850 and Andrew on 8 May 1844.  Thomas was discharged on 17 May 1860 after becoming a  lieutenant.  We know Andrew’s story but Thomas’s is less clear.

According to the family member he was living at 6 Hospital Street in Glasgow in 1845 and married Euphan McFarlane in 1863.  She came from the Gorbals which always had a reputation as a really tough area and so good preparation for the life of an Army wife.   She and Thomas had three more daughters; Elizabeth Euphan, Rosina Edith and Rosina Elizabeth.  But there’s no mention of Alice Jane.  Both Elizabeth and Rosina Edith married.

But the family member didn’t mention Alice Jane or John so one wonders where they fit in.

Thomas supposedly died in Middlesex  but after his death he joined Andrew in Brompton Cemetery.

Thomas Anderson's epitaph. ©Carole Tyrrell
Thomas Anderson’s epitaph.
©Carole Tyrrell

There are two more Anderson Family members recorded on the headstone; John, Thomas’s son, who died on 15 February 1925 aged 65 and John’s daughter, Isabella, but  her dates were too indistinct to read.

John Anderson's epitaph - not very readable now as it's near the base of the headstone. ©Carole Tyrrell
John Anderson’s epitaph – not very readable now as it’s near the base of the headstone.
©Carole Tyrrell

 

Family stories can change over time as they’re handed down through the generations   but this seemed to tally with the information on the headstone.   I am trying to contact the great, great, great grandson via the County Clare forum for more information.

 

 

 

 

The Anderson brothers seemed to have led exciting lives in military service and  certainly did their bit for King and Country. So rest in peace Andrew and Thomas – you have certainly earned it.

© Text and photographs Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

 

http://www.rootschat.com/forum/index.php?topic=379308.0

http://www.ourlibrary.ca/phpbb2/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=551

http://www.clanmacfarlanegenealogy.info/genealogy/TNGWebsite/getperson.php?personID=I769&tree=UL

http://www.clarelibrary.ie/eolas/coclare/genealogy/don_tran/mil_rec/rh_chelsea_clare_soldiers_service_docs.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China_War_Medal_(1842)

 

Symbol of the month – The Butterfly

 

The Gordon monument butterfly motif in all its glory. Kensal Green Cemetery. copyright Carole Tyrrell
The Gordon monument butterfly motif in all its glory. Kensal Green Cemetery.
copyright Carole Tyrrell

 

Cemeteries and graveyards can be happy hunting grounds for butterflies.  But not just the bright, dancing summer jewels, borne on the breeze, but also the much rarer kind which perches in them for eternity.

So far I’ve only discovered two of this particular species which were both in London.  One was in Brompton and the other was in Kensal Green.  But I have also seen others online in American cemeteries.

But I’m surprised that the butterfly symbol isn’t more widely used as it is a deep and powerful motif of resurrection and  reincarnation.  It has fluttered through many cultures which include Ancient Egypt, Greece and Mexico.

 

In classical myth, Psyche, which translates as ‘soul’, is represented in the form of a butterfly or as a young woman with butterfly wings.  She’s also linked with Eros the Greek God of love.   It is also a potent representation of rebirth and in this aspect, the Celts revered it.  Some of the Ancient Mexican tribes such as the Aztec and Mayans used carvings of butterflies to decorate their buildings as certain butterfly species were considered to be reincarnations of the souls of dead warriors.  The Hopi and Navaho tribes of Native American Indians performed the Butterfly Dance and viewed them as symbols of change and transformation.

The butterfly is an archetypal image of resurrection in Christianity and this meaning is derived from the 3 stages of a butterfly’s life.  These are:  1st stage = the caterpillar, 2nd stage = the chrysalis and 3rd and final stage = the butterfly.  So the sequence is life, death and resurrection.   The emergence of the butterfly from the chrysalis is likened to the soul discarding the flesh.  It has been depicted on Ancient Christian tombs and, in Christian art, Christ has been shown holding a butterfly.   It is supposed to appear chiefly on childrens memorials but the two that I’ve seen were on adult memorials.

Butterflies also feature in Victorian mourning jewellery and there is a fascinating article on this with some lovely examples at:

http://artofmourning.com/2014/10/25/butterfly-symbols-and-19th-century-jewellery/

In the 20th century, butterflies appeared in the flowing, organic lines of Art Nouveau and often featured in jewellery and silverware.

Face and butterfly on exterior of chapel. copyright Carole Tyrrell

Face and butterfly on exterior of chapel.
copyright Carole Tyrrell

This example is from the Watts Chapel in Surrey and shows the flowing lines and stylised butterfly.   They also appear in vanitas paintings, the name given to a particular category of symbolic works of art and especially those associated with the still life paintings of the 16th and 17th centuries in Flanders and the Netherlands.    In these the viewer was asked to look at various symbols within the painting such as skulls, rotting fruit etc and ponder on the worthlessness of all earthly goods and pursuits as well as admiring the artist’s skill in depicting these.  Butterflies in this context can be seen as fleeting pleasure as they have a short life of just two weeks.

 

Butterfly traditions

There are many superstitions and beliefs associated with butterflies.  They are often regarded as omens, good and bad, or as an advance messenger indicating that a visitor or loved one is about to arrive. In Japan, they are traditionally associated with geishas due to their associations with beauty and delicate femininity.

Butterfly & Chinese wisteria by Xu Xi Early Sing Dynasty c970. By Xü Xi (Scanned from an old Chinese book) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Butterfly & Chinese wisteria by Xu Xi Early Sing Dynasty c970.
By Xü Xi (Scanned from an old Chinese book) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
 

The Chinese see them as good luck and a symbol of immortality. Sailors thought that if they saw one before going on ship it meant that they would die at sea .  In Devon it was traditional to kill the first butterfly that you saw or have a year of bad luck as a result. In Europe the butterfly was seen as the spirit of the dead and, in the Gnostic tradition, the angel of death is often shown crushing a butterfly underfoot.   In some areas in England, it’s thought that butterflies contain the souls of children who have come back to life. A butterfly’s colours can also be significant. A black one can indicate death and a white one signifies the souls or the departed. It’s also a spiritual symbol of growth in that sometimes the past has to be discarded in order to move forward as the butterfly sheds its chrysalis to emerges complete. So it can indicate a turning point or transition in life. There are also shamanistic associations with the butterfly’s shapeshifting and it has also been claimed as a spiritual animal or totem.

 

Brompton Cemetery, tomb unknown

This example with its wings outstretched is from Brompton Cemetery in London.   Alas, the epitaph appears to have vanished over time and the surrounding vegetation was so luxuriant  that I will have to return in the winter to investigate further.  Note the wreath of ivy that surrounds it.  Ivy is an evergreen and is a token of eternal life and memories.  The wreath’s ribbons are also nicely carved.

The Gordon monument, Kensal Green

The second one is perched on the tomb of John Gordon Esquire, a Scotsman from Aberdeenshire who died young at only 37.  As the epitaph states   ‘it was erected to his memory as the last token of sincere love and affection by his affectionate widow’.    Gordon came from an extended family of Scottish landowners who had estates in Scotland and plantations in Tobago amongst other interests.  The monument is Grade II listed and is made of Portland stone with a York stone base and canopy supported by the pillars.  There was an urn on the pedestal  between the four tapering stone pillars but this was stolen in 1997.

The butterfly also has an ouroboros encircling it so, not only a symbol or resurrection,  but also of eternity with the tail devouring snake.  It is a little hard to see but it is there.

The butterfly symbol of the roof of the Gordon monument Kensal Green Cemetery. copyright Carole Tyrrell
The butterfly symbol of the roof of the Gordon monument Kensal Green Cemetery.
copyright Carole Tyrrell

The pharaonic heads at each corner are Egyptian elements within an ostensibly  classically inspired monument. Acroteria, or acroterion as is its singular definition, are an architectural ornament.  The ones on this monument are known as acroteria angularia. The ‘angularia’ means at the corners.

The entire monument is based on an illustration of the monument of the Murainville family in Pugin’s Views of Paris of 1822 and also on Moliere’s memorial which are both at Pere Lachaise in Paris.

The Gordon memorial incorporates elements  of the Egyptian style and symbolism that influenced 19th century funerary monuments after the first Egyptian explorations. Kensal Green contains many significant examples and there are others to be found in Brompton, Highgate and Abney Park.  The Victorians regarded the Egyptians highly as it was also a cult of the dead.

So when you next see a butterfly fluttering on the breeze or even perched on a memorial for eternity remember its importance within the tradition of symbols, religions and cultures.  Who knows it might be one of your ancestors…..

© Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

References:

http://www.gardenswithwings.com/butterfly-stories/butterfly-symbolism.html

http://www.whats-your-sign.com/butterfly-animal-symbolism.html

http://www.spiritanimal.info/butterfly-spirit-animal/

http://www.pure-spirit.com/more-animal-symbolism/611-butterfly-symbolism

http://www.shamanicjourney.com/butterfly-power-animal-symbol-of-change-the-soul-creativity-freedom-joy-and-colour

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

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

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

https://www.reference.com/world-view/butterfly-symbolize-cf9c772f26c7fa5

https://www.reference.com/world-view/butterflies-symbolize-19a1e06c9c98351c?qo=cdpArticles

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

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

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

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1191024

Clare Gibson, How to Read Symbols, Herbert Press 2009

Douglas Keister, Stories in Stone, A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography, Gibbs Smith, 2004

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