Thursday, 15 September 2011

Cultic centre

© Godric Godricson

In this blog I'll return to the idea of the cemetery as being a site of special significance for the community and also for individuals.  I will also return to the idea of the monuments for the dead as being 'cultic' centres for the living. Such places are where the living and the dead come together and have a sort of communion. We see the integration of a belief in the saints with the memorial of the dead and an association with living communities. The Maltese  have these shrines all over the place in a positive and happy way. Such places are not gloomy and, instead, they are joyous.

Friday, 9 September 2011

The Draper Chantry - Christchurch Priory

Courtesy : Project Gutenburg

"The Draper Chantry This monument has occupied its present position only from 1791,—it previously stood in the north transept.

The east end of the south choir aisle is occupied by the chantry chapel of John Draper II., the last of the priors and titular bishop of Neapolis in Palestine, near the ancient Shechem in Samaria; it is dated 1529, and is formed by a screen of Caen stone stretching across the aisle. There is a central doorway with a depressed arch at the top, and canopied niches over it, and on either side are two transomed four-light unglazed windows under arches of the same character as that over the doorway; along the top of the screen runs a battlementedPiscina in the Draper Chantry.

Within the chantry, on the south wall, is a very beautiful piscina, the finest in the church. Just outside the screen is a square-headed doorway. Along the south wall of this aisle, as along the north wall of the corresponding north aisle, a stone bench-table runs. On the north side the panelled wall on which the Countess of Malmesbury's altar tomb stands is decorated with carvings of angels; the largest of these holds a shield with a death's-head. Farther to the west, beyond the steps leading down from the choir, is a Perpendicular chantry, known as the Harys chantry; it has open tracery above cusped panels, canopied niches, and a panelled bench table. Robert Harys was rector of Shrowston, and died in 1525; his rebus, a hare under the letter R, may be seen on the panels. On the opposite side of the aisle is the doorway leading into what is known as the sacristy. This is a thirteenth-century addition to the church, and is of irregular shape, as it is wedged in, as it were, between the apsidal chapel on the east side of the transept and the south wall of the choir aisle. In the south wall are triple sedilia with Purbeck shafts and foliated heads; in the north wall is a square opening or squint".

Monday, 5 September 2011

HYDRIOTAPHIA (Ch 3) - Sir Thomas Browne (1658)

Sir Thomas Browne
PLAISTERED and whited sepulchres were anciently affected in cadaverous and corrupted burials; and the rigid Jews were wont to garnish the sepulchres of the righteous. Ulysses, in Hecuba, cared not how meanly he lived, so he might find a noble tomb after death. Great princes affected great monuments; and the fair and larger urns contained no vulgar ashes, which makes that disparity in those which time discovereth among us. The present urns were not of one capacity, the largest containing above a gallon, some not much above half that measure; nor all of one figure, wherein there is no strict conformity in the same or different countries; observable from those represented by Casalius, Bosio, and others, though all found in Italy; while many have handles, ears, and long necks, but most imitate a circular figure, in a spherical and round composure; whether from any mystery, best duration or capacity, were but a conjecture. But the common form with necks was a proper figure, making our last bed like our first; nor much unlike the urns of our nativity while we lay in the nether part of the earth,|| and inward vault of our microcosm. Many urns are red, these but of a black colour somewhat smooth, and dully sounding, in which begat some doubt, whether they were burnt, or only baked in oven or sun, according to the ancient way, in many bricks, tiles, pots, and testaceous works; and, as the word is properly to be taken, when occur- ring without addition and chiefly intended by Pliny, when he commendeth bricks and tiles of two years old, and to make them in the spring. Nor only these con- cealed pieces, but the open magnificence of antiquity, ran much in the artifice of clay. Hereof the house of Mausolus was built, thus old Jupiter stood in the Capitol, and the statua of Hercules, made in the reign of Tarquinius Priscus, was extant in Pliny's days. And such as declined burning or funeral urns, affected coffins of clay, according to the mode of Pythagoras, a way preferred by Varro. But the spirit of great ones was above these circumscriptions, affecting copper, silver, gold, and porphyry urns, wherein Severus lay, after a serious view and sentence on that which should contain him. Some of these urns were thought to have been silvered over, from sparklings in several pots, with small tinsel parcels; uncertain whether from the earth, or the first mixture in them.
Among these urns we could obtain no good account of their coverings; only one seemed arched over with some kind of brickwork. Of those found at Buxton, some were covered with flints, some, in other parts, with tiles; those at Yarmouth Caster were closed with Roman bricks, and some have proper earthen covers adapted and fitted to them. But in the Homerical urn of Patroclus, whatever was the solid tegument, we find the immediate covering to be a purple piece of silk: and such as had no covers might have the earth closelypressed into them, after which disposure were probably some of these, wherein we found the bones and ashes half mortared unto the sand and sides of the urn, and some long roots of quich, or dog's-grass, wreathed about the bones.
No Lamps, included liquors, lacrymatories, or tear bottles, attended these rural urns, either as sacred unto the, or passionate expressions of their surviving friends. While with rich flames, and hired tears, they solemnized their obsequies, and in the most lamented monuments made one part of their inscriptions.Some find sepulchral vessels containing liquors, which time hath incrassated into jellies. For, besides these lacrymatories, notable lamps, with vessels of oils, and aromatical liquors, attended noble ossuaries; and some yet retaining a vinosity and spirit in them, which, if any have tasted, they have far exceeded the palates of antiquity. Liquors not to be computed by years of annual magistrates, but by great conjunctions and the fatal periods of kingdoms. The draughts of consulary date were but crude unto these, and Opimian wine but in the must unto them.
© Godric Godricson
In sundry graves and sepulchres we meet with rings, coins, and chalices. Ancient frugality was so severe, that they allowed no gold to attend the corpse, but only that they allowed no gold to attend the corpse, but only that which served to fasten their teeth. Whether the Opaline stone in this were burnt upon the finger of the dead, or cast into the fire by some affectionate friend, it will consist with either custom. But other inciner- able substances were found so fresh, that they could feel no singe from fire. These, upon view, were judged to be wood; but, sinking in water, and tried by the fire, we found them to be bone or ivory. In their hardness and yellow colour they most resembled box, which, in old expressions, found the epithet of eternal, and perhaps in such conservatories might have passed uncorrupted.
That bay leaves were found green in the tomb of S. Humbert, after an hundred and fifty years, was looked upon as miraculous. Remarkable it was unto old spectators, that the cypress of the temple of Diana lasted so many hundred years. The wood of the ark, and olive-rod of Aaron, were older at the captivity; but the cypress of the ark of Noah was the greatest vegetable of antiquity, if Josephus were not deceived by some fragments of it in his days: to omit the moor logs and fir trees found underground in many parts of England; the undated ruins of winds, floods, or earth- quakes, and which in Flanders still show from what quarter they fell, as generally lying in a north-east position.
But though we found not these pieces to be wood, according to first apprehensions, yet we missed not altogether of some woody substance; for the bones were not so clearly picked but some coals were found amongst them; a way to make wood perpetual, and a fit associate for metal, whereon was laid the foundation of the great Ephesian temple, and which were made the lasting tests of old boundaries and landmarks. Whilst we look on these, we admire not observations of coals found fresh after four hundred years. In a long-deserted habitation even egg-shells have been found fresh, not tending to corruption.
© Godric Godricson
In the monument of King Childerick the iron relicks were found all rusty and crumbling into pieces; but our little iron pins, which fastened the ivory works, held well together, and lost not their magnetical quality, though wanting a tenacious moisture for the firmer union of parts; although it be hardly drawn into fusion, yet that metal soon submitteth unto rust and dissolution. In the brazen pieces we admired not the duration, but the freedom from rust, and ill savour, upon the hardest attrition; but now exposed unto the piercing atoms of air, in the space of a few months, they begin to spot and betray their green entrails. We conceive not these urns to have descended thus naked as they appear, or to have entered their graves without the old habit of flowers. The urn of Philopoemen was so laden with flowers and ribbons, that it afforded no sight of itself. The rigid Lycurgus allowed olive and myrtle. The Athenians might fairly except against the practice of Democritus, to be buried up in honey, as fearing to embezzle a great commodity of their country, and the best of that kind in Europe. But Plato seemed too frugally politick, who allowed no larger monument than would contain four heroick verses, and designed the most barren ground for sepulture: though we can- not commend the goodness of that sepulchral ground which was set at no higher rate than the mean salary of Judas. Though the earth had confounded the ashes of these ossuaries, yet the bones were so smartly burnt, that some thin plates of brass were found half melted among them. Whereby we apprehend they were not of the meanest caresses, perfunctorily fired, as sometimes in military, and commonly in pestilence, burnings; or after the manner of abject corpses, huddled forth and carelessly burnt, without the Esquiline Port at Rome; which was an affront continued upon Tiberius, while they but half burnt his body, and in the amphitheatre, according to the custom in notable malefactors; whereas Nero seemed not so much to fear his death as that his head should be cut off and his body not burnt entire.
Some, finding many fragments of skulls in these urns, suspected a mixture of bones; in none we searched was there cause of such conjecture, though sometimes they declined not that practice.—The ashes of Domitian were mingled with those of Julia; of Achilles with those of Patroclus. All urns contained not single ashes; without confused burnings they affectionately compounded their bones; passionately endeavouring to continue their living unions. And when distance of death denied such conjunctions, unsatisfied affections conceived some satisfaction to be neighbours in the grave, to lie urn by urn, and touch but in their manes. And many were so curious to continue their living relations, that they contrived large and family urns, wherein the ashes of their nearest friends and kindred might successively be received, at least some parcels thereof, while their collateral memorials lay in minor vessels about them.

© Godric Godricson
Antiquity held too light thoughts from objects of mortality, while some drew provocatives of mirth from anatomies, and jugglers showed tricks with skeletons. When fiddlers made not so pleasant mirth as fencers, and men could sit with quiet stomachs, while hanging was played before them.# Old considerations made few. A barbarous pastime at feasts, when men stood upon a rolling globe, with their necks in a rope and a knife in their hands, ready to cut it when the stone was
mementos by skulls and bones upon their monuments. In the Egyptian obelisks and hieroglyphical figures it is not easy to meet with bones. The sepulchral lamps speak nothing less than sepulture, and in their literal draughts prove often obscene and antick pieces. Where we find it is obvious to meet with sacrificing  and vessels of libation upon old sepulchral monuments. In the Jewish hypogaeum and subter- ranean cell at Rome, was little observable beside the variety of lamps and frequent draughts of Anthony and Jerome we meet with thigh-bones and death's-heads; but the cemeterial cells of ancient Christians and martyrs were filled with draughts of Scripture stories; not declining the flourishes of cypress, palms, and olive, and the mystical figures of peacocks, doves, and cocks; but iterately affecting the portraits of Enoch, Lazarus, Jonas, and the vision of Ezekiel, as hopeful draughts, and hinting imagery of the resurrection, which is the life of the grave, and sweetens our habitations in the land of moles and pismires.
Gentle inscriptions precisely delivered the extent of men's lives, seldom the manner of their deaths, which history itself so often leaves obscure in the records of memorable persons. There is scarce any philosopher but dies twice or thrice in Laertius; nor almost any life without two or three deaths in Plutarch; which makes the tragical ends of noble persons more favourably resented by compassionate readers who find some relief in the election of such differences.
The certainty of death is attended with uncertainties, rolled away, wherein, if they failed, they lost their lives, to the laughter of their spectators in time, manner, places. The variety of monuments hath often obscured true graves; and cenotaphs con- founded sepulchres. For beside their real tombs, many have found honorary and empty sepulchres. The variety of Homer's monuments made him of various countries. Euripides had his tomb in Africa, but his sepulture in Macedonia. And Severus found his real sepulchre in Rome, but his empty grave in Gallia.
© Godric Godricson
He that lay in a golden urn eminently above the earth, was not like to find the quiet of his bones. Many of these urns were broke by a vulgar discoverer in hope of enclosed treasure. The ashes of Marcellus were lost above ground, upon the like account. Where profit hath prompted, no age hath wanted such miners. For which the most barbarous expilators found the most civil rhetorick. Gold once out of the earth is no more due unto it; what was unreasonably committed to the ground, is reasonably resumed from it; let monuments and rich fabricks, not riches, adorn men's ashes. The commerce of the living is not to be transferred unto the dead; it is not injustice to take that which none com- plains to lose, and no man is wronged where no man is possessor.
What virtue yet sleeps in this and aged cinders, were petty magic to experiment. These crumbling relicks and long fired particles superannuate such expectations; bones, hairs, nails, and teeth of the dead, were the treasures of old sorcerers. In vain we revive such practices; present superstition too visibly perpetuates the folly of our forefathers, wherein unto old observation this island was so complete, that it might have instructed Persia.
Plato's historian of the other world lies twelve days incorrupted, while his soul was viewing the large stations of the dead. How to keep the corpse seven days from corruption by anointing and washing, without extentera tion, were an hazardable piece of art, in our choicest practice. How they made distinct separation of bones and ashes from fiery admixture, hath found no historical solution; though they seemed to make a distinct collection and overlooked not Pyrrhus his toe. Some provision they might make by fictile vessels, coverings, tiles, or flat stones, upon and about the body (and in the same field, not far from these urns, many stones were found underground), as also by careful separation of extraneous matter composing and raking up the burnt bones with forks, observable in that notable lamp of Galvanus Martianus, who had the sight of the or vessel wherein they burnt the dead, found in the Esquiline field at Rome, might have afforded clearer solution. But their insatisfaction herein begat that remarkable invention in the funeral pyres of some princes, by incombustible sheets made with a texture of asbestos, incremable flax, or salamander's wool, which preserved their bones and ashes incommixed.

© Godric Godricson
How the bulk of a man should sink into so few pounds of bones and ashes, may seem strange unto any who considers not its constitution, and how slender a mass will remain upon an open and urging fire of the carnal composition. Even bones themselves, reduced into ashes, do abate a notable proportion. And consisting much of a volatile salt, when that is fired out, make a light kind of cinders. Although their bulk be disproportionable to their weight, when the heavy principle of salt is fired out, and the earth almost only remaineth; observable in sallow, which makes more ashes than oak, and discovers the common fraud of selling ashes by measure, and not by ponderation.
Some bones make best skeletons, some bodies quick and speediest ashes. Who would expect a quick flame from hydropical Heraclitus? The poisoned soldier when his belly brake, put out two pyres in Plutarch. But in the plague of Athens, one private pyre served two or three intruders; and the Saracens burnt in large heaps, by the king of Castile, showed how little fuel sufficeth. Though the funeral pyre of Patroclus took up an hundred foot, a piece of an old boat burnt Pompey; and if the burthen of Isaac were sufficient for an holo- caust, a man may carry his own pyre. From animals are drawn good burning lights, and good medicines against burning. Though the seminal humour seems of a contrary nature to fire, yet the body completed proves a combustible lump, wherein fire finds flame even from bones, and some fuel almost from all parts; though the metropolis of humidity seems least disposed unto it, which might render the skulls of these urns less burned than other bones. But all flies or sinks before fire almost in all bodies: when the com- mon ligament is dissolved, the attenuable parts ascend, the rest subside in coal, calx, or ashes.

To burn the bones of the king of Edom for lime,seems no irrational ferity; but to drink of the ashes of dead relations,a passionate prodigality. He that hath the ashes of his friend, hath an everlasting treasure; where fire taketh leave, corruption slowly enters. In bones well burnt, fire makes a wall against itself; experimented in Copels, and tests of metals, which consist of such ingredients. What the sun compoundeth, fire analyzeth, not transmuteth. That devouring agent leaves almost always a morsel for the earth, whereof all things are but a colony; and which, if time permits, the mother element will have in their primitive mass again. He that looks for urns and old sepulchral relicks, must not seek them in the ruins of temples, where no religion anciently placed them. These were found in a field, according to ancient custom, in noble or private burial; the old practice of the Canaanites, the family of Abraham, and the burying-place of Joshua, in the borders of his possessions; and also agreeable unto Roman practice to bury by highways, whereby their monu- ments were under eye:—memorials of themselves, and mementoes of mortality unto living passengers; whom the epitaphs of great ones were fain to beg to stay and look upon them,—a language though sometimes used, not so proper in church inscriptions. The sensible rhetorick of the dead, to exemplarity of good life, first admitted to the bones of pious men and martyrs within church walls, which in succeeding ages crept into promiscuous practice: while Constantine was peculiarly favoured to be admitted into the church porch, and the first thus buried in England, was in the days of Cuthred.

Christians dispute how their bodies should lie in the grave. In urnal interment they clearly escaped this controversy. Though we decline the religious consideration, yet in cemeterial and narrower burying-places, to avoid confusion and cross-position, a certain posture were to be admitted: which even Pagan civility observed. The Persians lay north and south; the Megarians and Phoenicians placed their heads to the east; the Athenians, some think, towards the west, which Christians still retain. And Beda will have it to be the posture of our Saviour. That he was crucified with his face toward the west, we will not contend with tradition and probable account; but we applaud not the hand of the painter, in exalting his cross so high above those on either side: since hereof we find no authentic account in history, and even the crosses found by Helena, pre- tend no such distinction from longitude or dimension. To be knav'd out of our graves, to have our skulls made drinking-bowls, and our bones turned into pipes, to delight and sport our enemies, are tragical abomina- tions escaped in burning burials.

Urnal interments and burnt relicks lie not in fear of worms, or to be an heritage for serpents. In carnal sepulture, corruptions seem peculiar unto parts; and some speak of snakes out of the spinal marrow. But while we suppose common worms in graves, 'tis not easy to find any there; few in churchyards above a foot deep, fewer or none in churches though in fresh-decayed bodies. Teeth, bones, and hair, give the most lasting defiance to corruption. In an hydropical body, ten years buried in the churchyard, we met with a fat con- cretion, where the nitre of the earth, and the salt and lixivious liquor of the body, had coagulated large lumps of fat into the consistence of the hardest Castile soap, whereof part remaineth with us. After a battle with the Persians, the Roman corpses decayed in few days, while the Persian bodies remained dry and uncorrupted. Bodies in the same ground do not uniformly dissolve, nor bones equally moulder; whereof in the opprobrious disease, we expect no long duration. The body of the Marquis of Dorset seemed sound and handsomely cereclothed, that after seventy-eight years was found uncorrupt  buried in 1530, and dug up in 1608, and found perfect like an ordinary corpse newly interred. rupted. Common tombs preserve not beyond powder: a firmer consistence and compage of parts might be expected from arefaction, deep burial, or charcoal. The greatest antiquities of mortal bodies may remain in putrefied bones, whereof, though we take not in the pillar of Lot's wife, or metamorphosis of Ortelius, some may be older than pyramids, in the putrefied relicks of the general inundation. When Alexander opened the tomb of Cyrus, the remaining bones discovered his proportion, whereof urnal fragments afford but a bad conjecture, and have this disadvantage of grave interments, that they leave us ignorant of most personal discoveries. For since bones afford not only rectitude and stability but figure unto the body, it is no impossible physiognomy to conjecture at fleshy appendencies, and after what shape the muscles and carnous parts might hang in their full consistencies. A fullspread shows a well shaped horse behind; handsome formed skulls give some analogy of fleshy resemblance. A critical view of bones makes a good distinction of sexes. Even colour is not beyond conjecture, since it is hard to be deceived in the distinction of the Negroes' skulls Dante's characters are to be found in skulls as well as faces. Hercules is not only known by his foot. Other parts make out their comproportions and inferences upon whole or parts. And since the dimensions of the head measure the whole body, and the figure thereof gives conjecture of the principal faculties: physiognomy outlives ourselves, and ends not in our graves.

© Godric Godricson
Severe contemplators, observing these lasting relicks, may think them good monuments of persons past, little advantage to future beings; and, considering that power which subdueth all things unto itself, that can resume the scattered atoms, or identify out of anything, conceive it superfluous to expect a resurrection out of relicks: but the soul subsisting, other matter, clothed with due accidents, may salve the individuality. Yet the saints, we observe, arose from graves and monuments about the holy city. Some think the ancient patriarchs so earnestly desired to lay their bones in Canaan, as hoping to make a part of that resurrection; and, though thirty miles from Mount Calvary, at least to lie in that region which should produce the first-fruits of the dead. And if, according to learned conjecture, the bodies of men shall rise where their greatest relicks remain, many are not like to err in the topography of their resurrection, though their bones or bodies be after translated by angels into the field of Ezekiel's vision, or as some will order it, into the valley of judgment, or Jehosaphat

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Count Adam Karolyi 1917 – 1939

The Karolyi  family have a history that is recorded in an Isle of White newspaper and it is a history that celebrates the personal names and genealogy of the departed as well as the continuing history of Hungary. The newspaper story also mentions the nonagenarian sister of the departed and this reminds us that stories about cemeteries and the departed have to be sensitive about the needs and sensibilities of the living as well as the legacy of the departed.

Glittering visitors to Chale
© Godric Godricson

The story for me in the Karolyi grave is the changing fortunes of human history both in individual terms and in terms of the history of nations. The story is about how we revere the dead and how the burial places of the dead become places of either implicit or explicit pilgrimage for a long or a short time. The graves of Adam and Michael Karolyi were examples of short term 'places to revere'. People visited for a while and even then it was a select few who remembered the Karolyi in England. The family continue to have a significance in Hungary that far eclipsed their identity in the United Kingdom. The Karolyi grave in Chale also says something about the effect on the cemetery, the grave, and even reverence when there are no lineal descendants of the departed to celebrate the memory of the departed, recognise their achievements or maintain the grave.

The Grave of Adam and Michael was a rather wonderful example of glittering visitors to an island parish cemetery normally full of people from the parish of Chale with more links to Hampshire than to Hungary.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

"Through a glass, darkly" - 1 Corinthians 13:12

"Through a glass, darkly"
An overused phrase!
© Godric Godricson

I am not given much to speculating on the works of Paul who I generally dislike for the way that he argusably mislead Christian thought. In retrospect, Paul seems a ‘Johnny come lately’ who came to dominate the followers of Jesus through his ‘activism’ and came to adversely influence Western Christology.

Yet, in the phrase, "Through a glass, darkly", Paul does capture something of the human experience of life on Earth and our search for immortality and that reflects on the cemetery and burials. We jointly and collectively have an experience of life that abruptly and sometimes without warning takes us from this world of the living to the world of the dead. We do, in fact, see "Through a glass, darkly" and we perceive little of the world that comes ahead which is always 'the other world'. However, just because I accept Paul's statement on one level it doesn’t mean that I accept Paul on all levels.

Momenti Mori Malta
© Godric Godricson

Paul seems determined not to understand the world of the living in all its confusion and magnificence. Instead, Paul seeks to positively compare the life ahead to the one we have now. Paul so much believes in the idea of the heavenly Kingdom that he devalues life on Earth and Paul presents a positive life as being narrow and uncomfortable. Like a permanent hair shirt, Paul tries to ensure that human existence is so uncomfortable that we desire the freedom of the afterlife. Paul was probably a man without joy in his life and without the love of his fellow citizens. I suspect that Paul was feared by his associates rather than loved by them and his denigration of pleasure and joy probably became accepted rather than being an idea that was warmly embraced.

The tendency to idolise the afterlife as evidenced in Pauline literature is sometimes mirrored in popular culture. The film “Casper” witnesses  the ghost having fun and the film sets aside sadness at an early death in favour of a happy and idyllic existence. “Casper” is an example of the living having an inferiority complex when compared to the dead. In this film we desire the freedom of death so that we too can have fun and be like Casper. This is a great shame and I would suggest that as an alternative perspective, humanity should be determined to enjoy this world for what can be experienced.

A place for transitions
© Godric Godricson

Seeing "Through a glass, darkly" often begins in the cemetery as a place where the living and the dead come into contact and where we begin to say our ‘goodbyes’. We collectively start to reflect upon our humanity and we begin to reflect upon our mortality. Regrettably, this is also the place where Paul’s statement is used uncritically by ministers of religion often without analysis. Quite often, we listen without comment even if we disagree.

In reality, the cemetery is a complicated crossover place of transitions and a site that has often existed for a very long time. In England, cemeteries are often a thousand years old although more modern cemeteries serve the same function. In simplistic terms, the living lay to rest their dead in the cemetery and we see this as a sort of parting of the ways. We can also see the cemetery as a sort of hygiene tool that separates the corruption and decay of death in favour of the garden. In more complex terms, we can also see the cemetery as a metaphysical jump-off point into eternity where we are committed to the geographical location and to the Church as an institution (other religions have their own equally valid version). The cemetery is an entity at a number of levels. Paul arguably would see the cemetery positively because it signals an end to life, physicality and enjoyment and the start of a sort of “Casperian” existence.

The joys of life
© Godric Godricson

Although Paul did perceive the after world, "Through a glass, darkly", this doesn’t mean that life on earth is really without joy or happiness or worth.  This would be to judge this existence far too harshly and with little compassion. Putting it simply, Paul didn’t value life as he lived it and he probably missed out on entirely simple pleasures. Paul’s comment is like the writers of “Casper” who praise the life ahead rather than enjoying the life that we have. “Casper”  as a film makes the life of the ghost more desirable than the life of the living and,  similarly, Paul makes the life ahead more worthy than that we currently have.  Now I can hear some people say “Quite so!” My point is that in ‘bigging up” the afterlife Paul simultaneously denigrates the physical Creation of life on Earth that we experience through our current senses.

The glory of Creation
© Godric Godricson

Paul's often quoted phrase ignores the physical world of light and colour and sound in favour of the unknown. It is as if Paul is getting into the grave and covering himself with dirt in favour of a quick death. This desire for oblivion isn’t natural and seems to be an expression of Pauline fervour rather than a route map for immortality. The zeal of the newly converted?  Paul isn’t someone to be emulated. Instead, Paul is someone to be pitied. Paul has probably never known the joy of the world and seen the colour of flowers and harvested wheat. Paul is seeing  "Through a glass, darkly" because he perceives this world poorly. We can imagine Paul desiring  a death that would hasten the crossing over of his soul to a certainty that was easier to deal with compared to the  uncertainty of life in the physical world. Perhaps in the cemetery way ahead becomes clearer?

The view from the cemetery
© Godric Godricson

So, we have a well used phrase "Through a glass, darkly" that is often quoted and is seen as a sort of standard statement. People with little or no theology use the phrase without criticism and by using the phrase they effectively praise Paul rather than pausing for a moment and praising the whole of Creation. What I would like to emphasis is that life on Earth can be beautiful and joyful. Whatever your religion, (you may also have no religion), life can be fun and by our enjoyment of the created environment we also give thanks for that Creation. The cemetery is a very real starting point for a transition to the ‘other world’ where we start to say goodbye but it is not the centre of our world. We bid farewell to the departed, comfort the living and create pilgrimage points for our family and even our entire culture. We set up monuments and we cry and we also realise the limits as our own mortality. Cemeteries are useful places and we do well to preserve them and the individual identity of the departed for the future.

Listen to the phrase "Through a glass, darkly" in a critical manner and don’t be overwhelmed by it. Pehaps you could have a look at 2 Maccabees  with its emphasis on Resurrection, intercession and prayers for the dead. Much more engaging an arena than Paul and 2 Maccabees implies a communion of this existence and the next. The cemetery becomes more of a place of communication than one where everything goes a little fuzzy.

Friday, 2 September 2011


"In France in 1782-3, in order to check the pestilence, the remains of more than six millions of people were disinterred from the urban churchyards and reburied far away from the dwelling-places. The Cemetery of Père la Chaise was a later creation, having been consecrated in 1804."

From: Title: In Search Of Gravestones Old And CuriousAuthor: W.T. (William Thomas) Vincent

Cemetery musings

Personal and family names
define who we are
© Godric Godricson

Humanity has always been focused on “culture”. Whatever human traits we try to discuss,  we are drawn to describing others in terms borrowed from discussions about  culture. Whether or not we are talking about food, a dress code or music we are often talking about culture. For example, Scottish people are still rich in culture and the people of Wales are rapidly re-finding their own culture and traits as they rapidly move towards independence but is culture the only thing that defines both the quick and the dead?

Some monuments defend
our identity
© Godric Godricson

Well, no, actually culture is only one way that we define ourselves and the people around us. Culture may define who we are as we give ourselves labels that both include and exclude. We may be British and Scottish or British and from Norfolk but those are ‘big’ labels and they contain many people who will also be covered by the label. Instead, as well as being part of a generalised and sometimes vague culture,  we are also very much individuals who are rich in personality and life experience. Each of us have personal and family names that play a large part in our individual creation of identity.

Our first name and family name largely define who we are in a very real way and they are an antidote to the way that an overlay of 'culture' subsumes us into larger groups. The ‘Mc’s and Mac’s’ of Scotland may be part of a naming system prevelent in Scottish culture but  such 'tags' are also held by people who are real individuals. So, as well as being defined by cultural overlays we are also defined by our personal and family name.

Joshua Burroughs
d 1908
bur : Great Cressingham
© Godric Godricson

It is a real pity that when we die, we often loose a well seasoned and peculiar individuality. Instead of being Sam or Mike we become “the departed” or “the dead” and we cease to be an individual as we join the realms of yet another amorphous group. Perhaps there is a culture of the dead as well as there being a “sociology of the dead”? We love the people that we lower into the grave but then we have a tendency to inevitably forget them with the passing of time. More so, we allow Church Authorities to forget the dead and we even allow Authorities to rip away their monuments from them with the passing of time. As the years go, fewer and fewer people remember the dead and the space is re-used without protest. The special identity that we had as an individual has gone as the grass grows and we are clothed, instead, by anonymity.

The goal for the graveyard rabbit is to preserve the names of the dead by recording not only the monuments but also by preserving a uniqueness found in the cemetery. The dead may have their unique rights and we must help them exercise those rights. Whilst sandstone monuments dissolve over time with a subsequent diminution of identity the nature of the cemetery itself must remain in its fully recorded glory.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Great Cressingham - Saint Michael

Flintwork on the porch
© Godric Godricson

The Cemetery at Saint Michael's, Great Cressingham, is a little sad in nature and the brief trial video at the bottom of this posting (taken in August 2011) captures something of that forlorn appearance. The cemetery is walled on 2 sides with monuments propped along the walls. The enclosing wall cuts the cemetery and the Church off from the majority of the sparsely populated community which serves as a commuter village for Norfolk. The cemetery has  poor and largely uncut grass and this weak growth gives the impression of neglect and a lack of attention to detail. Whatever the reality of the actual groundsmanship undertaken at Great Cressingham, the casual visitor is left with the perception of a parish that doesn't really care about how it looks and has no respect for either the quick or the dead. The interior of the Church is covered by a magnificent website which I encourage you to look at although after reading the piece one can understand how the cemetery itself is somewhat neglected.

A frequent message
© Godric Godricson

There are no large monuments in the cemetery and the monuments that do exist are often late Victorian and early 20th Century with little artistic merit although they do speak about the  faith of the departed and especially of the family left behind. The large and hilly cemetery is still used and the cemetery is a place where we witness a unity across many generations and across almost endless years. This is a place where the people of Great Cressingham all go, in good time,  and are laid to rest in a place hallowed by use and tradition. However, we can only speculate as to how the place would look more attractive with a little care and attention from the parish and/or the Episcopalian Authorities.

The village of Great Cressingham has, like a lot of villages, forgotten about the departed and the Anglican Authorities have allowed such neglect to happen.