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

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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 Choice

The Full view of Alice Stone’s headstone in All Saints churchyard, Staplehurst, Kent
©Carole Tyrrell

You never know what little gems you might find in a country churchyard and I discovered one while exploring in Staplehurst.  All Saints has a commanding hilltop position and looks down on pretty half-timbered houses.  Since 1100 it has stood on this site and has several ancient features such as the remain s of an anchorite’s cell..

The churchyard was far larger than I expected and led to a more modern section at the back of the church.  But as I explored the older part of the churchyard I turned around and came face to face with this unusual symbol on a white headstone.

Alice’s epitaph – a little ineligible in parts.
©Carole Tyrrell

It’s dedicated to Alice Stone, wife of James Stone of Sheerness.  There is no date of birth recorded but she died on 5 February 1787 aged 27.  Alice may have died in childbirth which was a frequent cause of death for women in past eras or maybe she was a victim of an epidemic. We’ll never know.  However, there is some barely legible lettering above the inscription which I have been unable to sufficiently enhance in order to read it so this may well warrant a second visit.

The deceased arises and casts off their shroud.
©Carole Tyrrell

The scene at the top of the tombstone is almost like a miniature Doom painting.  My interpretation of it is that it’s Judgement Day and the deceased has awoken from their eternal slumber.  They appear to be in a burial chamber and lying on a ledge or on a shelf within a vault.  They have partly cast off their burial clothes and appear to be slightly decayed.  Ribs are visible and the head appears skull-like.

But where are they destined to go next?  What will be their fate?

There’s only the choice of two final destinations for them – Heaven or Hell which are depicted on either side of the figure.

The devil standing over a skeleton that’s lost it’s crown.
©Carole Tyrrell

On the right hand side is a magnificently winged demon, or The Devil himself, standing over a grinning skeleton whose crown has fallen from his head.   The crown is a very significant symbol in that it can indicate the passage from the earthly life into the divine and I have written it about in a previous Symbol of the Month.  The demonic figure appears to be holding what looks like a besom or maybe it is a three pronged fork or even a large arrow.  Although there are no flames, here the Devil is triumphant in his domain.

 

 

 

 

Closer view of the angel in the clouds and his trumpet.
©Carole Tyrrell

On the left-hand side, an angel appears to be floating within clouds while blowing a large trumpet in the direction of the newly awoken deceased.   Underneath the angel is a brick house with an entrance or a small narrow gateway (I have to say the entrance does resemble a fireplace).   I interpret this as being a depiction of God’s House and there are numerous references to it within the Bible such as Matthew 7:13-15:

‘Enter through the narrow gate,

For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction,

And many enter through it’

 And also in Genesis 28: 16-17:

 ‘When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought,

“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”

 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

 It was difficult to find a specific Biblical verse that mentioned the Devil and Hell but I did find a reference in Matthew 10:28 :

‘And fear not them which kill the body,

But are not able to kill the soul:

But rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.’

(King James Version)

 I am not a particularly religious person but the parishioners of All Saints at the time would have recognised the quotations.

The scene would have been a prompt to the passing viewer or mourner to live their lives in a righteous manner or face the alternative for eternity.   It’s very dramatic and, as Alice died at an early age, this reminder would have very pertinent at a time when the average life expectancy was far lower.

So far I have not been able to find out more about Alice or James but for now she rests within part of the quintessential English country churchyard.  She’s amongst ancient stones, some protected or obscured by mosses and lichens, and the bright wildflowers of late Spring.    However, I would like to know more about her and what may have inspired the little scene on her headstone.

R I P Alice Stone.

©Text and images Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

https://www.kentarchaology.org.uk/Research/Pub/ArchCant/009%20-%201874/009-11.pdf

https://www.kentarchaeology.org.uk/Research/Pub/ArchCant/009%20-%201874/009-11.pdf

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+10%3A28&version=KJV