Pottering about cemeteries, burial grounds and graveyards as I do while undertaking research can often lead to unexpected discoveries. As I search for symbols and epitaphs, and the occasional wildlife, I often find unusual names recorded on headstones and memorials, They’re often names that you don’t see every day and so, if you’re a writer like myself, cemeteries can often provide inspiration for naming characters especially if it’s a historical piece.
So here is a small selection from St Mary’s churchyard, Riverhead, near Sevenoaks, Kent that I saw earlier in February 2019 on a lovely Spring like day, Crocuses and snowdrops clustered around the headstones and seeing a name like Mercy Bellchambers on a headstone felt really appropriate. Now that’s a name really crying out to be used in a historical novel…..
At last the endless sorting out of boxes is over after the move. I’ve found some money I’d forgotten about, family photos and a lot of books. The Cancer r Research charity shop in the High Street is groaning under the weight of my donations and I have recycled a lot of stuff.
And now down to the important things in life – shadowsflyaway! I didn’t have an internet connection for a few weeks which was probably a good thing as it made me concentrate on emptying boxes and organising rooms.
But let’s begin with Symbol of the Month!
This month’s symbol comes from a post on Facebook’s Folk Horror Revival page and I was intrigued enough to make this one Symbol of the Month. I would describe it as a memento mori which is Latin for ‘Remember you must die.’
It’s a carving on a tombstone featuring a skeleton and a woman or girl facing the viewer. She is holding three flowers in one hand. In this photo, although the skeleton almost seems to be rising from the ground, he is actually holding a scythe in one hand and an hourglass in the other. This can be seen more clearly in the clipping from Northumberland’s Hidden History by Stan Beckensall which another reader on the strand of the post kindly attached.
She is wearing a tightly belted dress, perhaps fashionable in her time, and seems carefree despite having Death standing next to her in all his glory. I had the impression that this might have been on the grave of a young girl due to her dress and the flowers.
They reminded me of roses and I immediately thought of the famous phrase, ‘Gather ye rosebuds while you may’ which is a quotation from a poem by Robert Herrick, a 16th century poet.
The poem is entitled: To the Virgins to make much of time and the quotation comes from the first verse:
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
So this little scene could be saying Enjoy life while you can as death will soon be here.’ It sounds a little depressing but life was shorter in earlier times. In the 19th century, for example, the average life of a working man was until their late 40’s and women often died in childbirth. I wander around cemeteries a lot as you can imagine and there are many monuments and memorials to wives and often children who have died young as a result. On the other hand it can be seen as uplifting in that it encourages the onlooker to enjoy life to the fullest.
Sadly I don’t know who’s buried here but she or he was obviously much missed to have such an impressive scene carved on their tombstone.