Sunday, 21 August 2011

North Pickenham - Saint Andrew

"Entrance to the vault"
© Godric Godricson
 The parish Church is a rather sad looking exterior. The predictable result of Victorian re-modelling. There is an enigmatic stone cut sign on the north side which reads “Entrance to the vault” and one can only imagine what is in the vault. I imagine this is the ossuary from the ancient building at North Pickenham.

The recent works in the Church meant that the floor was partially dug up and this lead to the grisly sight of small pieces of bone being deposited on the wall as men wheelbarrowed spoil to a skip outside. 800 years or so of intramural inhumation (burials in Churches) means that there is probably a large amount of disarticulated bone in the building either under the floor  or in the backfill of various works.

The "garden shed" at Saint Andrew
© Godric Godricson
 Outside, the cemetery is rather dire although still in use with burials taking place. The monuments are not special and speak of a sort of ‘normal’ experience whereby people are born, they live and they die. Largely without memorials, the people of North Pickenham are laid to rest regularly and without fuss. When the sandstone memorials break they are placed around the wall although there is none of the mass cemetery clearances seen in other parishes.

Coffin shaped monument
covered in grass clippings
© Godric Godricson

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Litcham - All Saints

Litcham - All Saints
© Godric Godricson

Some time ago I came across the parish of All Saints in Litcham on a drive around the County of Norfolk. The village is pretty but in many ways it is unremarkable and no more or less than many other Norfolk towns and villages. However, the parish Church has wonderful brick lined graves  that represent many similar tombs around East Anglia. The graveyard is clearly of great antiquity and a dedication of the Church  to “All Saints” means that the Church is ancient. The photograph is interesting because we find two brick lined graves that are in effect giving way and succumbing to the effects of antiquity, poor workmanship and the probable effects of soil that is too soft for such structures against the base of a Church wall.

The inhabitants of the graves are less important than the narrative of their position . We have two brick lined  tombs capped by a rough ledger stone and separated by a sandstone stele of 1822.  The three hang together in a drunken fashion and are emblematic of the strange companions found in cemeteries.

The occupants of the brick tombs are clearly a ‘cut above the rest’ when it comes to burials. They are separated from the cold soil in their wait for immortality by the thickness of the brick lining and their wooden coffins. Although they were not able to afford a better quality ledger stone. In this example, we have a fairly rough sandstone ledger rather than a finer polished stone of “Tournai marble” from Belgium. Such marble is found in East Anglia and when seen in ‘intramural inhumation’ is a sign of wealth and privilege. Often with wonderful Momenti Mori the high polish of this black stone gives an elegance to the burial.  Momenti Mori are seen around the world and  we see that they stand as a warning and as an example that we should take from history.

The tombs in the cemetery at Litcham are elegant in their simplicity and speak  of people in the village who had some resources, even if they didn’t have as much as those who could afford to be buried inside. The tombs are  beginning the long descent into dereliction and decay and one wonders how long this burial will survive as the voids underneath may begin to undermine the structure of the Church itself.

Momenti Mori Necton Parish Church
© Godric Godricson

A link to a story about the searce for a brick lined family grave in Cambridge see this link

Thursday, 18 August 2011

North Walsham - The quick and the dead

House and shop
encroach on the
© Godric Godricson

There is something very urban in nature about the ways in which cemeteries (set aside for the dead) are  paradoxically sometimes close to the places where we live and shop. Europe has many experiences of  spaces originally occupied by the dead becoming colonised  and encroached upon by the living. This juxtapositioning is nothing new and we can see examples throughout the ages and across the continent.

The most apparent problem for cemeteries is the way they are ‘nibbled away’ by growing populations and the development of towns. Cemeteries are sometimes reduced in size by road widening, the development of railways and by the re-modelling of Church buildings themselves. Cemeteries are always seen as being a resting place for eternity although the idea of eternity changes all the time.

The living move into the cemetery
© Godric Godricson

So, how do we find the places where the living now encroach on the dead? Well, there is archive based research and the well designed archives in Norwich have a splendid collection of papers relating to the parish Churches in the County. It is possible to trace the changing shape of cemeteries whereby parish cemeteries have grown by the acquisition of new land. This growth of cemeteries happens most often in the 18th and 19th Centuries. The story of cemetery growth in London is expanded on and developed in an excellent web site on cemeteries and the experience of London  In this site we can see an exploration of the urban experience in which the living encroach on the dead. The article relating to St. Martin’s le Grand and the finding of ‘lost tombs’ is a metaphor for the experience of town dwellers and their relationship with the dead and cemeteries. This site goes on to describe the growth and expansion of the living……..

Three years later, the cemetery was consecrated by Beilby Porteous, the Bishop of London. But its life was not a peaceful one: someone always had their eyes on this desirable bit of land. In 1817, permission was granted to build almshouses on an unused part of the ground: these survive to this day. In 1854, further permission was granted for development on the site, including demolition of the existing buildings.”

Clearly, urban communities have always ebbed and flowed in size and design and although London as a capital city is not typical;  it is an excellent example of the means by which cemeteries have developed. London is an example of how cemeteries change their shape and change their function within the town. Equally, it is clear from London’s experience that cemeteries may also disappear from the landscape of the town and be covered up by later development.

Whilst the experience of London gives a clear example of how cemeteries are eclipsed by later urban development we can also see how smaller towns also have a similar experience and response to change and development.

The living ignore the dead
© Godric Godricson

Even Saint Nicholas Church  which sits at the heart of the original Saxon town of North Walsham has an experience of change. From an early date,  houses and shops moved onto the original cemetery site and took up residence. The town hemmed the Church into its current space and then proved to be a greedy neighbour. Doors opened to the rear of properties onto the cemetery and the living used the consecrated space. Pathways were cut across the cemetery as one side of the town connected itself with the other. Eventually, the headstones themselves were destroyed or removed and cleared away by the ever eager Anglican Authorities who are always  ready to turn their cemetery into an 'easy-care' parkland. The Authorities have been so ruthless that this urban park is totally clear of memorials on one side of the building and on the other side the memorials are neatly laid out and used as regimented boundary markers.  The memorials are separated from the original burial and any meaningful narrative is destroyed.

The shops in the small town have taken over from small houses and the properties, often one room wide,  creep into the Church yard presumably with the permission of the Authorities in the 17th Century and before that. The former Authorities connived at this ‘encroachment’ and witnessed the confrontation of the living and the dead.

Young couples recline on the roughly cut grass on hot sunny days in the shadow of the ruined tower as if they were in a Victorian municipal park and yet under their feet are a thousand years of burials. The cemetery forms little more than an urban open space. The development of a soulless concrete shopping precinct to one side of the cemetery only makes the situation worse as the concrete and steel of the new development hems the cemetery into its place without sympathetically reflecting the original purpose of the site or referencing the departed that lay in repose so close by.

Up to the kitchen wall
© Godric Godricson

The experience of North Walsham is not unique and has many of the dynamics seen in other urban cemeteries. There is probably folly, greed and desperation forming  human decision making relating to the cemetery and it has to be acknowledged that contemporary Church Authorities do at least ensure that the Church is open during the day and that the Church is open to receive visitors.

In North Walsham,  we can see the living and dead sharing an intimate geographical place. Even if the departed are forgotten as individuals and ancestors; they cannot be ignored completely  as they cling onto their place within the town environment and their own limited share in immortality.

South Pickenham - All Saints

The Porch South Pickenham
© Godric Godricson

South Pickenham is a wonderful parish church built of flint and rubble and it is part of a fine Norfolk village.  The village itself has  reduced in size over the past thousand years and is little more than a collection of  cottages and the 'big house' built in the Edwardian period.  The church itself sits on a cross road as the small country road  starts to rise away from the village centre.  The round Tower marking the Church out as a site of special historical interest.  I haven't been to a service taken at South Pickenham but I can't imagine many people go to the services in the church.  It is just too far away from Swaffham or other local towns to attract people.

The moderately sized churchyard is entered through an inconspicuous country gate which leads from the road to the 18th-century porch and on into the Church proper.  With particular interest to graveyard monuments it is interesting how the levels of the cemetery have risen to the point where the path is probably at least 12 inches below the general level of the modern surface in some places.  Even with smaller contemporary populations of people living in the village we can see that continuous burials over a thousand years can lead to the surface level changing overtime.  The grass that covers the cemetery is fairly rough and quite clearly does not receive a lot of attention.  This is a churchyard that is rural and traditional in nature and bears none of the hallmarks of a manicured exterior.  There is a seat on the south side of the Church and it is marvellous to sit there on a bright and sunny day to reflect on the nature of the building and of the place.  It is good to pray for the dead and  to wonder what it was like to live in South Pickenham.

Some of the Putti surviving
at South Pickenham
© Godric Godricson

The memorials in the cemetery are varied and cover at least a 200 year period. We find the usual sandstone stele with putti in full flight looking down on the occupant and this seems to be the starting point of this cemetery in terms of memorials.  Everything that went before has either been removed or has returned to the land  with nothing of note from an earlier period.  Wooden monuments, if they were evident,  are no longer present and there is no noble family living in the village to make its mark in terms of memorials.  So, sandstone monuments are the beginning for South Pickenham in terms of memorials.  Before that time it is as if the people themselves did not exist and their passing has been forgotten.

Concrete utilitarianism
© Godric Godricson

Subsequent to the sandstone memorials, so popular in Norfolk, we find a few Victorian monuments before they themselves yield to the hard concrete crosses that became popular in the early part of the 20th century.  Often without ornament or adornment in any way;  the hard concrete is stark and impervious in both nature and conceptualisation. 

Utilitarian design and function surged forecfully into this cemetery and swept away all the joy  found in earlier sandstone and in the process destroyed evidence of a belief in the Providential God.  Strangely enough here at South Pickenham we do find two large memorials from the early 20th century that are imposing and speak of an almost Stalinist determination for immortality.


Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Sophia Ann Goddard - Died Norwich 1801

"This Stone is dedicated to the Talents and Virtues of Sophia Ann Goddard, who died 25 March 1801 aged 25. The Former shone with superior Lustre and Effect in the great School of Morals, the THEATRE, while the Latter inform’d the private Circle of Life with Sentiment, Taste, and Manners that still live in the Memory of Friendship and Affection".

John Amies Died . April 24th 1837

John Amies April 24th 1837
Aged 78 years
© Godric Godricson

"Dealings with the Dead" (1856) warns us against  burying the dead in vaults in the urban environment. However,  John Amies  in Trunch was buried a few years before the Sextons admonishment and is evidence of a trend towards burials within Churches. John Amies was laid to rest (like so many before him) in the floor.

Public health messages took time to become entrenched. The 'Gentleman' could still be buried within the parish Church along with his ancestors and in effect built up a cultic centre of ancestor worship.

Monday, 15 August 2011


© Godric Godricson

The Maltese people have a way of marking the passing of the dead with a dignity that is hard to surpass. They acknowledge the passing of the dead and at the same time they live their own lives in the hot Mediterranean sunlight. They are not a melancholy people and they incorporate the sadness of death with the happiness of this world. the flowers on shrines and monuments are bright and joyful and integrated into a lively existence. The wayside shrines are a way of remembering the dead and a way of remembering the saints.

The Gateway - Malta

The gateway
© Godric Godricson

The entrance to Maltese vaults are often ornate and a public witness to the descent into the underworld. This picture represents is a sort of 'marker' to the place where the living descend to the world of the dead. The humid air rises from the vaults as you descend to the depths and the sound of talkative visitors becomes more hushed as they are aware of the change in location and atmosphere. We are visiting our collective ancestors!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Friday, 5 August 2011

HYDRIOTAPHIA (Ch 2) - Sir Thomas Browne (1658)

Sir Thomas Browne
THE solemnities, ceremonies, rites of their cremation or interment, so solemnly delivered by authors, we shall not disparage our reader to repeat. Only the last and lasting part in their urns, collected bones and ashes, we cannot wholly omit or decline that subject, which occasion lately presented, in some discovered among us.

In a field of Old Walsingham, not many months past, were digged up between forty and fifty urns, deposited in a dry and sandy soil, not a yard deep, nor far from one another. Not all strictly of one figure, but most answering these described; some containing two pounds of bones, and teeth, with fresh impressions of their com- bustion; besides the extraneous substances, like pieces of small boxes, or combs handsomely wrought, handles of small brass instruments, brazen nippers, and in one some kind of opal.

Near the same plot of ground, for about six yards compass, were digged up coals and incinerated substances, which begat conjecture that this was the  or place of burning their bodies, or some sacrificing place unto the  which was properly below the surface of the ground, as the and altars unto the gods and heroes above it.

© Godric Godricson
That these were the urns of Romans from the common custom and place where they were found, is no obscure conjecture, not far from a Roman garrison, and but five miles from Brancaster, set down by ancient record under the name of Branodunum. And where the adjoining town, containing seven parishes, in no very different sound, but Saxon termination, still retains the name of Burnham, which being an early station, it is not im- probable the neighbour parts were filled with habitations, either of Romans themselves, or Britons Romanized, which observed the Roman customs.

Nor is it improbable, that the Romans early possessed this country. For though we meet not with such strict particulars of these parts before the new institution of Constantine and military charge of the count of the Saxon shore, and that about the Saxon invasions, the Dalmatian horsemen were in the garrison of Brancaster; yet in the time of Claudius, Vespasian, and Severus, we find no less than three legions dispersed through the province of Britain. And as high as the reign of Claudius a great overthrow was given unto the Iceni, by the Roman lieutenant Ostorius. Not long after, the country was so molested, that, in hope of a better state, Prastaagus bequeathed his kingdom unto Nero and his daughters; and Boadicea, his queen, fought the last decisive battle with Paulinus. After which time, and conquest of Agricola, the lieutenant of Vespasian, pro- bable it is, they wholly possessed this country; ordering it into garrisons or habitations best suitable with their securities. And so some Roman habitations not im- probable in these parts, as high as the time of Vespasian, where the Saxons after seated, in whose thin-filled maps we yet find the name of Walsingham. Now if the Iceni were but Gammadims, Anconians, or men that lived in an angle, wedge, or elbow of Britain, according to the original etymology, this country will challenge the emphatical appellation, as most properly making the elbow or of Icenia.

That Britain was notably populous is undeniable, from that expression of Caesar. That the Romans themselves were early in no small numbers—seventy thousand, with their associates, slain, by Boadicea, affords a sure account. And though not many Roman habitations are now known, yet some, by old works, rampiers, coins, and urns, do testify their possessions. Some urns have been found at Castor, some also about Southcreak, and, not many years past, no less than ten in a field at Buston, not near any recorded garrison. Nor is it strange to find Roman coins of copper and silver among us; of Vespasian, Trajan, Adrian, Commodus, Antoninus, Severus, &c.; but the greater number of Dio- clesian, Constantine, Constans, Valens, with many of Victorinus Posthumius, Tetricus, and the thirty tyrants in the reign of Gallienus; and some as high as Adrianus have been found about Thetford, or Sitomagus, mentioned in the of Antoninus, as the way from Venta or Castor unto London. But the most frequent discovery is made at the two Castors by Norwich and Yarmouth at Burghcastle, and Brancaster. Besides the Norman, Saxon, and Danish pieces of Cuthred, Canutus, William, Matilda, and others, some British coins of gold have been dispersedly found, and no small number of silver pieces near Norwich, with a rude head upon the obverse, and an ill-formed horse on the reverse, with inscriptions  whether implying Iceni, Durotriges, Tascia, or Trinobantes, we leave to higher conjecture. Vulgar chronology will have Norwich Castle as old as Julius Caesar; but his distance from these parts, and its Gothick form of structure, abridgeth such antiquity. The British coins afford conjecture of early habitation in these parts ficia fere Gallicis consimilia."Caesar de Bello.  though the city of Norwich arose from the ruins of Venta; and though, perhaps, not without some habi- tation before, was enlarged, builded, and nominated by the Saxons. In what bulk or populosity it stood in the old East-Angle monarchy tradition and history are silent. Considerable it was in the Danish eruptions, when Sueno burnt Thetford and Norwich, and Ulfketel, the governor thereof, was able to make some resistance, and after endeavoured to burn the Danish navy.

© Godric Godricson
How the Romans left so many coins in countries of their conquests seems of hard resolution; except we consider how they buried them under ground when, upon barbarous invasions, they were fain to desert their habitations in most part of their empire, and the strict- ness of their laws forbidding to transfer them to any other uses: wherein the Spartans were singular, who, to make their copper money useless, contempered it with vinegar. That the Britons left any, some wonder, since their money was iron and iron rings before Caesar; and those of after-stamp by permission, and but small in bulk and bigness. That so few of the Saxons remain, because, overcome by succeeding conquerors upon the place, their coins, by degrees, passed into other stamps and the marks of after-ages.

Than the time of these urns deposited, or precise antiquity of these relicks, nothing of more uncertainty; for since the lieutenant of Claudius seems to have made the first progress into these parts, since Boadicea was overthrown by the forces of Nero, and Agricola put a full end to these conquests, it is not probable the country was fully garrisoned or planted before; and, therefore, however these urns might be of later date, not likely of higher antiquity.

And the succeeding emperors desisted not from their conquests in these and other parts, as testified by history and medal-inscription yet extant: the province of Britain, in so divided a distance from Rome, beholding the faces of many imperial persons, and in large account; no fewer than Caesar, Claudius, Britannicus, Vespasian, Titus, Adrian, Severus, Commodus, Geta, and Caracalla.

A great obscurity herein, because no medal or em- peror's coin enclosed, which might denote the date of their interments; observable in many urns, and found in those of Spitalfields, by London, which contained the coins of Claudius, Vespasian, Commodus, Antoninus, attended with lacrymatories, lamps, bottles of liquor, and other appurtenances of affectionate superstition, which in these rural interments were wanting.

© Godric Godricson
Some uncertainty there is from the period or term of burning, or the cessation of that practice. Macrobius affirmeth it was disused in his days; but most agree, though without authentic record, that it ceased with the Antonini, most safely to be understood after the reign of those emperors which assumed the name of Antoninus, extending unto Heliogabalus. Not strictly after Marcus; for about fifty years later, we find the magnificent burning and consecration of Servus; and, if we so fix this period or cessation, these urns will challenge above thirteen hundred years.

But whether this practice was only then left by emperors and great persons, or generally about Rome, and not in other provinces, we hold no authentic account; for after Tertullian, in the days of Minucius, it was obviously objected upon Christians, that they con- demned the practice of burning. And we find a passage in Sidonius, which asserteth that practice in France unto a lower account. And, perhaps, not fully disused till Christianity fully established, which gave the final extinction to these sepulchral bonfires.

Whether they were the bones of men, or women, or children, no authentic decision from ancient custom in distinct places of burial. Although not improbably conjectured, that the double sepulture, or burying-place of Abraham, had in it such intention. But from exility of bones, thinness of skulls, smallness of teeth, ribs, and thigh-bones, not improbable that many thereof were persons of minor age, or woman. Confirmable also from things contained in them. In most were found sub- stances resembling combs, plates like boxes, fastened with iron pins, and handsomely overwrought like the necks or bridges of musical instruments; long brass plates overwrought like the handles of neat implements; brazen nippers, to pull away hair; and in one a kind of opal, yet maintaining a bluish colour.

Now that they accustomed to burn or bury with them, things wherein they excelled, delighted, or which were dear unto them, either as farewells unto all pleasure, or vain apprehension that they might use them in the other world, is testified by all antiquity, observable from the gem or beryl ring upon the finger of Cynthia, the mistress of Propertius, when after her funeral pyre her ghost appeared unto him; and notably illustrated from the contents of that Roman urn preserved by Cardinal Farnese, wherein besides great number of gems with heads of gods and goddesses, were found an ape of agath, a grasshopper, an elephant of amber, a crystal ball, three glasses, two spoons, and six nuts of crystal; and beyond the content of urns, in the monu- ment of Childerek the first, and fourth king from Pharamond, casually discovered three years past at Tournay, restoring unto the world much gold richly adorning his sword, two hundred rubies, many hundred imperial coins, three hundred golden bees, the bones and horse-shoes of his horse interred with him, accord- ing to the barbarous magnificence of those days in their sepulchral obsequies. Although, if we steer by the conjecture of many a Septuagint expression, some trace thereof may be found even with the ancient Hebrews, not only from the sepulchral treasure of David, but the circumcision knives which Joshua also buried.
Some men, considering the contents of these urns, lasting pieces and toys included in them, and the custom of burning with many other nations, might somewhat doubt whether all urns found among us, were properly Roman relicks, or some not belonging unto our British, Saxon, or Danish forefathers.

© Godric Godricson
In the form of burial among the ancient Britons, the large discourses of Caesar, Tacitus, and Strabo are silent. For the discovery whereof, with other particulars, we much deplore the loss of that letter which Cicero expected or received from his brother Quintus, as a resolution of British customs; or the account which might have been made by Scribonius Largus, the physician, accompanying the Emperor Claudius, who might have also discovered that frugal bit of the old Britons, which in the bigness of a bean could satisfy their thirst and hunger.

But that the Druids and ruling priests used to burn and bury, is expressed by Pomponius; that Bellinus, the brother of Brennus, and King of the Britons, was burnt, is acknowledged by Polydorus, as also by Amandus Zierexensis in  and Pineda in his Universa Historia(Spanish). That they held that practice in Gallia, Caesar expressly delivereth. Whether the Britons (probably descended from them, of like religion, language, and manners) did not sometimes make use of burning, or whether at least such as were after civilized unto the Roman life and manners, conformed not unto this practice, we have no historical assertion or denial. But since, from the account of Tacitus, the Romans early wrought so much civility upon the British stock, that they brought them to build temples, to wear the gown, and study the Roman laws and language, that they conformed also unto their religious rites and customs in burials, seems no improbable conjecture.

That burning the dead was used in Sarmatia is affirmed by Gaguinus; that the Sueons and Gathlanders used to burn their princes and great persons, is delivered by Saxo and Olaus; that this was the old German practice, is also asserted by Tacitus. And though we are bare in historical particulars of such obsequies in this island, or that the Saxons, Jutes, and Angles burnt their dead, yet came they from parts where 'twas of ancient practice; the Germans using it, from whom they were descended. And even in Jutland and Sleswick in Anglia Cymbrica, urns with bones were found not many years before us.

But the Danish and northern nations have raised an era or point of compute from their custom of burning their dead: some deriving it from Unguinus, some from Frotho the great, who ordained by law, that princes and chief commanders should be committed unto the fire, though the common sort had the common grave inter- ment. So Starkatterus, that old hero, was burnt, and Ringo royally burnt the body of Harold the king slain by him.

What time this custom generally expired in that nation, we discern no assured period; whether it ceased before Christianity, or upon their conversion, by Aus- gurius the Gaul, in the time of Ludovicus Pius, the son of Charles the Great, according to good computes; or whether it might not be used by some persons, while for an hundred and eighty years Paganism and Christi- anity were promiscuously embraced among them, there is no assured conclusion. About which times the Danes were busy in England, and particularly infested this country; where many castles and strongholds were built by them, or against them, and great number of names and families still derived from them. But since this custom was probably disused before their invasion or conquest, and the Romans confessedly practised the same since their possession of this island, the most assured account will fall upon the Romans, or Britons Romanized.

© Godric Godricson
However, certain it is, that urns conceived of no Roman original, are often digged up both in Norway and Denmark, handsomely described, and graphically represented by the learned physician Wormius. And in some parts of Denmark in no ordinary number, as stands delivered by authors exactly describing those countries. And they contained not only bones, but many other substances in them, as knives, pieces of iron, brass, and wood, and one of Norway a brass gilded jew's-harp.

Nor were they confused or careless in disposing the noblest sort, while they placed large stones in circle about the urns or bodies which they interred: somewhat answerable unto the monument of Rollrich stones in England, or sepulchral monument probably erected by Rollo, who after conquered Normandy; where 'tis not improbable somewhat might be discovered. Meanwhile to what nation or person belonged that large urn found at Ashbury, containing mighty bones, and a buckler; what those large urns found at Little Massingham; or why the Anglesea urns are placed with their mouths downward, remains yet undiscovered

Sandstone Monuments

A range of materials are present
© Godric Godricson

In general, rural communities in Norfolk did not have stone grave monuments before the 17th Century with some rare exceptions.  

Monuments that did exist would be made from wood and may have taken the form of a cross with a name inscribed simply on the monument. Such a transitory monument would decay naturally over time and would be buried with the next inhumation or burial on the same site. In the use of wood for monuments we have a philosophical acceptance of the transitory nature of life with a rapid return to the soil from which we came. The use of bio degradable materials for monuments  witnesses the idea of a burial site in the Cemetery being rented from the Church rather than being purchased in perpetuity like a house or a field. The wooden cross indicate both poverty and also the idea of communal burial where we share in death what we also shared in life. A wooden monument was arguably an acceptance of a communal fate that was shared by all in a non permanent and transient environment.  Putting it simply, humanity had little hope of permanence in a world that was poorly understood and where death was an ever present reality.

The individualised monument is a sign and symbol of the growing confidence of humanity who increasingly asserts itself in the landscape. Rather than being mere animals who are born and then disappear with only a simple wooden marker, the monument  is part of an increasing claim towards immortality. Humanity is saying that it exists, it has a right to eternity and that a record of our existence is essential. The cemetery becomes a place of grief-pilgrimage, a loci for an increasing ancestor worship and a place for the development of a rather ‘mawkish’ view of death and decomposition.

With the passing of time and the increase in affluence we find that in East Anglia, the most common type of stone used for monuments became sandstone. This soft sedimentary stone is often reddish in colour and is often confused with the harder and more expensive Limestone monument although the two are quite different. The emergence of sandstone for monuments can be seen in the 17th Century and the spread of this form of stone is widespread across the geographical region which has little (if any) quality stone quarried locally.

18th Century Putti in King's Lynn
© Godric Godricson

The sandstone memorial is often in the form of ‘momenti Mori’ or ‘skull and crossbones’ motif before that frightening design  gradually gives way to a more ‘Enlightenment’ style that comprised ‘Putti’ or smiling angels who are often portrayed as children.  A widespread acceptance of the ‘Enlightenment’ and rationality reflected in monuments is often not captured in the history books and is not captured in sculpture commissioned by the Authorities in the period. Sandstone ‘putti’ smile at us from the monuments in a serene manner  very far removed from the skull and crossbones.

How we perceive death as a society is captured in the sandstone monuments of the region. Death and the after life is culturally less frightening although it is still personally devastating for individuals and for families. Society moves from the conception of a punitive God who smites down the sinner and we start to sense a less vengeful God who is surrounded by ‘Putti’  and we move towards this Providential God in the 18th C. A  Providential God is the God of forgiveness and salvation rather than of punishment, pain and suffering and this new vision of God sets the tone for the cemetery itself which becomes lighter and more accepting as winessed by the Putti.

Cracking - rural parish mid Norfolk
© Godric Godricson

Shelling - rural parish mid Norfolk
© Godric Godricson

A perception of the Providential God conveyed in the Putti is increasingly captured in Sandstone. Such monuments are often carved without immense skill by rural craftsmen. However, whilst sandstone is accessible as a material for monuments it is also a very soft material and sedimentary by nature. Sandstone is formed from grains that easily yield to a chisel but which  finds itself similarly shaped and eroded by the wind and rain that is so evident in the English landscape. Monuments sited in hill top cemeteries are often badly eroded and the rain that falls on the monuments often leads to a sort of ‘shelling’. This action caused by the elements means that the external layer of sandstone bubbles and falls away. The monument is very much doomed from the day it is installed. We start to witness a monument that is an increasing victim to the ‘freeze-thaw’ of each  successive winter.  The words on the monument become illegible and another piece of history is lost unless a survey is carried out on the cemetery. Monuments in the UK are also subject to algae, lichen and pollution deposits, which degrade the monument and all combine to the decay of the inscription. 

Rationalism and the Enlightenment
© Godric Godricson

The  sandstone monument is everywhere in East Anglia. It pops up in the 17th century with a new affluence and a growing confidence on the part of humanity. No-longer does humanity in the region  perceive itself as a mere ‘beast of the field’ who merely rents a corner of the Churchyard. Instead, humanity becomes assertive and sure of its place in creation. We see local dynasties emerge in the way that a family would plant monuments in a row or in a prominent place within the cemetery. Whilst the landed family would have their marble tombs and elegant barley sugar columns within the parish Church, a growing bourgeoisie would have the sandstone monument in the cemetery.  Under these monument,  all in a row or in a block, the increasingly affluent population proclaimed their new wealth and power. It is as if the monuments proclaim “We are here and we have arrived!”

Similarly, the sandstone monuments say that God is no longer to be feared and, instead, God becomes perceived as the Providential God who is interested in our lives and welfare. The sandstone monuments display the power of God whilst also displaying a sort of intimacy with God and His plan for eternity.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Bonchurch - Isle of Wight

17th Century inscription
© Godric Godricson
 I wanted to say something about the Old Church in the smallest village on the Isle of Wight (Bonchurch) before returning to East Anglia. The link will tell you of the size of the Church which is truly tiny. The dedication of the Church to Saint Boniface indicates that this is a very ancient Church with few dedications to this Saint in the UK and very few (if any) of recent date.

18th Century porch
© Godric Godricson

From the South side
© Godric Godricson
 The Church has a location on the side of a hill as the landscape slips into the sea. The Church is shrouded in ancient trees left alone by the Victorians who built a larger Church up the hill where the land better suited a bigger Church. However, the older Church was allowed to remain and it still has Episcopalian services through the year. The churchyard is a jewel to visit and very few people do that. On the day that I visited there were very few people there and that is the best way to experience the churchyard and the Church itself. There is a small stream that flows on the other side of the church yard and the sound of this stream heading down the hillside is wonderful. It is clear that Saint Boniface saw the potential of this site and founded the Church accordingly.

The Churchyard probably starts in the period of Saint Boniface and we can see monuments from the 17th Century until the 19th Century. Chest tombs sit side by side with broken monuments and dark, rich moss carpets the ground. The land slopes gently away and we can see how the site fits in with a secluded spot on a hillside that fitted so well with the ancient monastic ideal.

Chale - Isle of Wight

"I accept my crown!"
© Godric Godricson

I came across this unusual monument in the cemetery of Saint Andrew's at Chale in the Isle of Wight. The island is a beautiful part of the UK and somewhere to visit although the ferry can be expensive. Chale is a beautiful village and one encapsulates something of the history of the Island and its people.

The crown on a cushion is well designed and produced and in this photo is framed by an atmospheric sky as a front came in from The Solent. The medieval cemetery has a range of monuments through the last two hundred years including a European Prince who was later exhumed and re-buried elsewhere as well as people from the island.

There is a modest and understated monument in the Church to those who were killed in the last war which should not be overlooked if you visit the Church.
See also the Karoli plaque celebrating Count Michael (1917 – 1939) and Count Adam Karoli

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

King's Lynn - Millfleet (Jewish)

Camera pressed to the railings
© Godric Godricson

King's Lynn is an ancient town in the western part of Norfolk and is usually much neglected by visitors to the county and by the authorities when they produce long-term plans.  The town is full of interesting architecture and ancient monuments although the tourist authorities tend to by-pass King's Lynn in favour of Norwich which is the 'County town' or regional capital.

The ancient town has a wide range ecclesiastical architecture ranging from the ruins of the insignificant to the ruins of the  magnificent and much visited.  Somewhere, in this wide-ranging continuum  you'll find a number of places to visit all of which have a history of burials.  Unlike European cities which often have no observable cemeteries in the town centre, King's Lynn has has a medieval past where burial sites are placed 'Cheek by jowl'  with the living.  Whilst this did create important environmental health issues it also produces diverse contemporary town planning.

From the street
© Godric Godricson

When I visited Kings Lynn it mid July 2011 it was extremely wet and unseasonably windy.  The trees were blown here and there and the rain was torrential, to say the least.  Despite this the archaeological and historical sites are provocative.

Here we find the Millfleet Jewish cemetery on the edge of the public housing scheme. This is a burial site used by "Dutch Jews" until 1849 although I suspect this term "Dutch"  is really a term for 'Ashkenazi'. People pass by this small cemetery and don't seem to notice this interesting place on their doorstep. A place that that says something about migration and diversity.