Thursday, 1 December 2011

Earth and stone

I want to complete a sort of compare and contrast exercise today by reference to a small and apparently insignificant earthen grave at All Saints (North Barsham) near the shrine village of Walsingham with the opulence of a stone tomb in the Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma on the Spanish island of Majorca.

In a certain sense, the two burials are of equal merit in that they contain the remains of a real person. They are, however, at extreme ends of the spectrum when it comes to the effort required to bury the two people.

A simple earthen grave
All Saints - North Barsham
© Godric Godricson

The first burial is the simplest that can be accomplished. The earth has been dug out and the space for the body has been formed. The body has been placed in the grave and with dignity and all due ceremony the soil has been replaced and that is that. The wooden marker has been placed on the top and the site has then been returned to a sort of eternity or at least until the space is used again in the future. This re-using of grave space is becoming an issue in the UK where cemetery space is finite and we are required to re-imagineer how burials are conducted. With an enquiring mind we may reflect on the ancient practice of renting cemetery space for a limited period as is the experience as in Continental Europe.

The grave is the simple place where we wait for the trumpet call and the Resurrection. I understand that the occupant of the grave certainly did believe in the final clarion call and would await this patiently. The site is truly simple and peaceful and reflects rural Norfolk

Cathedral Santa Maria (Palma)
© Godric Godricson

The second burial is a complete opposite and speaks with an accent created by money, power and influence. The burial is treated with respect although ultimately this burial has a lot more 'umph'. The site is set aside and reserved in a way that the first burial cannot achieve although in such a prominent position within the Cathedral there is no more certainty of an eternity insitu. The carved stones create an air of reverence and the kneelers imply an air of sanctity and solemnity that cannot be created in the same manner in the open air. The tourists push their way by their passing creates an impression of life and movement. The daily services of the cathedral re-create an earlier age of piety. The occasional bird that enters the Cathedral creates an air of confusion as they shriek and cry their way in search of an exit. In effect, the scale and magnificence of the second burial overwhelms that of the first.

The two burials couldn't be further apart in terms of style and expense and even geography and I appreciate them both.

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