Thursday, 31 May 2012

The image of Christ

© Godric Godricson
I’ve been very busy recently in relation to this blog and I’ve had the opportunity to visit a lot of beautiful Churches in Norfolk. The sites are invariably ancient and replete with sculpture. In fact, many Churches are often little more than funerary parks full of genealogy and history on the walls and set in to the floors. The image of Christ repeated in artefacts and wall paintings has become an object of fascination. It becomes quite clear that medieval man and more recent ancestors saw something of comfort in the image of a crucified Christ that is often depressing by contemporary standards.

The image of Christ on the cross is enormously powerful and something that is well understood in the West. However  gruesome the idea of crucifixion is to modern man the image is fixed in our consciousness and in Latin art. We have seen in an earlier posting how the Orthodox have dealt with the  matter of blood and death whilst in the West we are a little too literal and fixated on blood and gore.

Resurrection theology is intended to counter the effect of an all too evident and prevalent human death. The image of Christ on the cross is intended to be powerful enough to give strength,  encouragement and hopein the face of the negative effect of death.  Death and burial separates a person from their body which is taken away to a separate place and left to decompose in either the vault or in the soil. This separation from friends and family is personally and intellectually painful and despite the occasional burial of the body within the domestic setting we find that humanity has usually felt the need to serapate the living and the dead.

© Godric Godricson

Death  geographically separates us from our loved ones in a very real way although the monuments often say “loving wife” or something about a wonderful husband. Inevitably, though the death of a loved one always says something about physical and emotional separation from the old world and an entry into the great (other) world beyond. The image of Christ is a sort of talisman and the cross is a sort of ticket that mystically admits humanity onto the other side and into the Kingdom of Heaven. Serene and with all pain erased from the image, the crucified Christ is no longer Jesus the man. Instead, the serene image is divine rather than human. Paul often indicates the next world is the best world and earlier postings indicate how this can be a problem. Death also points to the futility of life and Christ is said to give meaning to life. The calm, cool and untouchable Christ hangs there for all eternity robbed of humanity as he waits for the souls of the departed. Death that brings an end to human fellowship is to be endured and even embraced as we are encouraged to transit from this world to the next. Christian imagery all to often tries to apologise for the harshness of this age and facilitate a move to the other side.

The image of Christ hangs there as a hope and as an expectation for the future. The emaciated and torn flesh that sometimes reflects human existence has become somehow sublime and unattainable. The separation of humanity from God is ‘threatened’ if we move away from the image. Death becomes very real if we move aside from Christ and for medieval man, the presence of the Cross became a totemic image that would make a falseness out of death.

I am always impressed by the way in which the image of Christ in a symbol of victory over death and the decay of the body "Death is swallowed up in victory. "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. -57). The image of Christ is intended to reassure humanity that the separation caused by death is not permanent for believers in Christ. The promise of meeting again is given as a sort of corporate reunion.

© Godric Godricson

The modern world has largely lost religious belief and Christ is no longer the celestial talisman that protects, saves and transforms. The mystical pass to the other world was the cross although  that cross now serves as reassurance to fewer and fewer people. Despite this falling away of Christians in society the Churches continue to hold their power as cultic centres. Churches remain as centres of ancestor worship and as a site for funerary art.

Serving many purposes; the Church is full of power on a number of levels although sometimes the most powerful image is a simple image of Christ in a little parish Church hidden away in Norfolk.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Sir Henry Josias Stracey, Bart (1802-1885)

Norfolk Annals
       A Chronological Record
 of Remarkable Events in the
Nineteeth Century, Vol. 2
"Died, at Rackheath Park, Sir Henry Josias Stracey, Bart.  A prominent member of a well-known county family, Sir Henry for many years occupied a distinguished position.  Born in 1802, he was educated at Eton, and afterwards served for several years in the 1st Dragoons, and on succeeding to the baronetcy, on the death of his father in 1855, he entered with considerable ardour into politics.  Just previously he had been returned without opposition as one of the representatives of East Norfolk on the retirement of Mr. Edmond Wodehouse.  On the dissolution of Parliament in 1857 Major-General Windham, in the flush of the fame he had gained in the Crimea, was brought forward for East Norfolk with Sir E. N. Buxton, and there being divided opinions in the Conservative camp, Mr. Burroughes and Sir Henry Stracey declined to contest the seat.  On the death of Sir E. N. Buxton in June, 1858, Sir Henry was again nominated, and was defeated by the Hon. Wenman Coke.  In the following year he was returned with Sir Edmund Lacon for Yarmouth, defeating Mr. (afterwards Sir E. W.) Watkin and Mr. Young, and sat for that borough until 1865.  In 1868 he stood for Norwich in opposition to Sir W. Russell and Mr. Tillett, and was returned at the head of the poll, but was unseated on petition.  In 1874 he again came forward, in conjunction with Mr. Huddleston, was unsuccessful, and thereafter took no share in polities. 

Sir Henry married, in 1835, Charlotte, only daughter and heiress of Mr. George Denne, of the Paddock, Canterbury.  He served the office of High Sheriff in 1871, and was a Deputy Lieutenant and magistrate for the county of Norfolk".

Sir Henry Josias Stracey, Bart  (1802-1885)

All Saints Church - Rackheath

© Godric Godricson

Martin Shepheard - Lost at sea 1865

© Godric Godricson

Sunday, 27 May 2012

A dark world

The Pentecost programmes  are on TV today and, once more, I began to muse on the world of the dead and the attachment of Christan teaching to a dark and future existence when the sun shines so brightly and creation is wonderful. In their attachment to death Christians wilfully ignore the world of the living.
Albrecht Altdorfer 1515-1516

Christianity is, I am sure, a mystery cult of the dead. We have seen in this blog that the dead came into the Church at the start of the Christian story and if we rewind a little we can see that Christians hid in the catacombs of Rome and celebrated their rituals amongst the filth of the humid tombs of Rome. One can only imagine the stench down in the tunnels as Romans mouldered away in the heat of an Italian summer. Christianity is a cult of the dead and although it is dressed up in the clothes of ‘ever lasting life’, it seems to satisfy a basic human need for security and reassurance that we are on Earth but will sometime be transported into heaven. Death is, for Christians, a major part of their faith. However, the image of the crucifix has always been difficult to look at and even admire.

I'm no art historian although the crucifix is an entirely miserable and depressing artifact and is not the support to faith that it is supposed to be. Instead, we often find the emaciated and very dead looking Christ hanging there on the cross.  I know that there is supposed to be a Resurrection that reanimates the body to new life but that is for another day. My feeling is that Christians had their ideas of death framed by their ideas about Christ and the cross. An image that is so repellent can only have served to twist and torment the minds of medieval humanity as they looked up to the rood cross and saw the image of Christ hanging there and appearing very dead. Not only dead. Instead, Christ has been horribly tortured and forced to endure the indignities of Roman torment. Christ has been abused and stripped of his clothes, his dignity and later his life would be taken. Inhumanity is nothing that we need to be told about. Life is full of death and suffering and the medieval experience would have been witness to starvation and hunger without reference to religion. The starving and emaciated flesh of the living and the stench of the wounds that wouldn’t heal would always be with the medieval mind. So, why would they wish to be assailed by the Crucifixion to remind them even further of the death of another man?

Christ Pantocrator
In religious circles the image of Christ has been called an outpouring of  “torture porn" where we are assailed again and again by images of the pain and suffering inflicted on Christ. I am sure that Jesus existed and I am sure that he was tortured and I am sure that he died although I am unsure of what is to be gained from dwelling on the bestial treatment of a young Jew from Galilee. Yes, he was mistreated by the legal system of the time and we would say that his civil rights were abused. Yes, he was tortured and he was murdered by the Authorities all of which can and does happen today. Jesus or Christ as he became died a horrible death and very much he suffered a visible and public death. It is also true that his death is paraded to medieval humanity again and again in a cavalcade of pain and humiliation. Who has not shed a tear at the story of The Passion? Mel Gibson certainly tapped into the idea of The Passion and we can see the traditionalist view where the more blood that is shed and the more skin that is lashed from the body then the better film that is made. The more blood the better and this is in a  very medieval context and it is this context that has warped our present perception of faith and religion and faith and burials. Christians have, from the earliest times, been addicted to death. Rather than rejoicing in the light they have surrounded themselves with the bones of the dead and have revelled in death with images of the ‘Momenti Mori’. Death, pain and suffering are natural for the Christian as they use Earth as a mere waiting room for immortality as opposed to a place to live in the joys of the world. I am not purveying an hedonistic life here. Instead, I am suggesting that Christians always got it wrong from their earliest days and that their world was twisted from an inherent link to death and a cult of the dead.
Christ Pantocrator

For me, the Orthodox of the world have this image more in balance with the world. When they wish to imagine Jesus they have wonderful images of Christ Pantocrator. The serene and unchangeable image of Christ that looks down from the walls of the Church and sends forth his blessing and wisdom without recourse to the depressing images of the cross and suffering. The Orthodox can witness the crucifixion and they have icons for that  although these images are balanced by ideas of Kingship and majesty that do not require the death and gore of the cross. For the orthodox, Christ is always Christ. At this time of Pentecost; I am reminded that Christians are once more dwelling on the death of this young Jew and revelling in the blood and the gore.

This idea of the transience of humanity is fine but it also questions why the Christians remained a cult of the dead instead of moving on and into the light. Will Christians forever remain attached to their catacombs, vaults, crypts and dark places?


© Godric Godricson

Photography in the UK is more difficult at this time of year compared to any other and a blue sky isn't always the easiest background to manage.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Church in ruins

© Godric Godricson

War dead - Sporle

© Godric Godricson
Robert W. Anderson
Dennis Pegg
Walter Bilham
Charles Sturman
George Blowers
William Thompson
Arthur F Gaskins
Albert E Tye
Benjamin Johnson
Lewis Walker
William G Johnson
Bertie Wilson
Sydney Lane
George Worf
Maurice Palmer

John Withers

John Withers the son of George and Mary Withers. This stele memorial is likely not to survive the coming winter. The surface is very crumbly and anyone touching the memorial will see 'shelling' as the outer layer comes away and falls to the ground.

"Grave reserved by faculty"

© Godric Godricson

I've never seen this one before in a Church of England cemetery but here we have it. There's a queue to enter the cemetery or at least a waiting list for the best seats in the house!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Dealings with the dead - 1856

Project Gutenburg :
Dealings with the Dead, Volume I (of 2)
A Sexton of the Old School 
Boston 1856
How long—oh Lord—how long will thy peculiar people disregard the simple, unmistakable teachings of common sense, and the admonitions of their own, proper noses, and bury the dead, in the very midst of the living!—Above all, how long will they continue to perpetrate that hideous folly of burying the dead, in tombs! What a childish effort, to keep the worm at bay—to stave off corruption, yet a little while—to procrastinate the payment of nature’s debt, at maturity—DUST THOU ART AND UNTO DUST THOU SHALT RETURN!—For what? That the poor, senseless tabernacle may have a few more months or years, to rot in—that friends and relatives may, from time to time, be enabled, upon every re-opening of the tomb, to gratify their morbid curiosity, and see how the worms are getting on—that, whenever the tomb is unbarred, for another and another tenant, as it may often happen, at the time, when corruption is doing its utmost—its rankest work—the foul quintessence—the reeking, deleterious gases may rush back upon the living world; and, blending with ten thousand kindred stenches, in a densely peopled city, promote the mighty work of pestilence and death. Who does not sympathize with Cowper!

Oh for a lodge, in some vast wilderness,
Some boundless contiguity of shade,
Where the atrocious smells of docks, and sewers,
eruptive gas, and rank distillery
May never reach me more. My lungs are pain’d,
My nose is sick, with this eternal stench
Of corpse and carrion, with which earth is fill’d.

I am not unmindful, that, in a former number of these Dealings with the Dead, I have passed over these burial-grounds, and partially exhibited the interior of these tombs already. But there really seems to be a great awakening, upon this subject, at the present moment, at home and abroad; and I rejoice, that it is so.

" hideous folly of burying
the dead, in tombs!
© Godric Godricson

I am aware, that, within the bounds of old, peninsular Boston, no inhumations—burials in graves—are permitted. This is well.—Burials in tombs are still allowed.—Why? This mode of burial is much more offensive. In grave burial, the gases percolate gradually; and a considerable portion may be reasonably supposed to be neutralized, in transitu. This is unquestionably the case, unless the grave is kept open, or opened, six times, or more, on the speculation principle, for the reception of new customers. In tomb burial, it is otherwise. The tomb is opened for new comers, and sometimes, most inopportunely, and the horrible smell fills the atmosphere, and compels the neighboring inhabitants, to close their windows and doors.

As, with some persons, this may seem to require authentication, without leading the reader to every offensive graveyard in this city, I will take a single, and a sufficient example—I will take the oldest graveyard in the Commonwealth, and the most central, in the city of Boston. I refer to Isaac Johnson’s lot, where, in 1630, his bones were laid—the Chapel burying-ground. The Savings Bank building bounds upon that cemetery. The rooms of the Massachusetts Historical Society are over the Bank.

The stench, produced, by burials in the tombs, in that yard, during the summer of 1849, has compelled the Librarian to close his windows. Tomb burial, in this yard, has not been limited to deceased proprietors, and their relatives; it has, in some instances, been a matter of traffic. I have been struck with the present arrangement of the gravestones, in this yard. Some ingenious person has removed them all, from their original positions, and actually planted them, “all of a row,” like the four and twenty fiddlers—or rather, in four straight rows, near the four sides of the graveyard. This is a queerer metamorphosis, than any I ever read of. Ovid has nothing to compare with it. There they are, every one, with its “Here lies,” &c., compelled to stand forever, a monument of falsehood.

"ten thousand kindred stenches"
© Godric Godricson
Of all the pranks, ever perpetrated in a graveyard, this, surely, is the most amusing. In defiance of the lex loci, which rightfully enjoins solemnity of demeanor, in such a place—and of all my reverence for Isaac Johnson, and those illustrious men, who slumber there, I was actually seized with a fit of uncontrollable laughter; and came to the conclusion, that this sacrilegious transposition must have been the work of Punch, or Puck, or some Lord of misrule. As I proceeded to read the inscriptions, my merriment increased, for the gravestones seemed to be conferring together, upon the subject of these extraordinary changes, which had befallen them; and repeating over to one another—“As you are now, so once was I.” As it happened, in the case of Major Pitcairn, should any person desire to remove the ashes of his ancestor, these misplaced gravestones would surely lead to the awakening of the wrong passenger; and some venerable old lady, who died in her bed, may be transported to England, and buried under arms, for a major of infantry, who died in battle.

Why continue to bury in tombs? Surely the sufferance on the part of the City Government, does not arise, from a respect for vested rights!!! If the City Government has power to close the offensive cellars in Broad Street, and elsewhere, being private property, because they are accounted injurious to public health, why may they not close the tombs, being private property, for the very same reason? Considerations of public health are paramount. When, upon an application from a number of the liquor-sellers, wholesale and retail, in this city, Chancellor Kent gave his opinion, adverse to their hearts’ desire, that the license laws were constitutional, he alluded, analogically, to the power of the Commonwealth, to pass sanatory laws. If the municipal power were deemed inadequate, legislation would give all the power required. For it would, indeed, be monstrous, having settled the fact, that the public health suffered, from burial in tombs, to suppose it a remediless evil.

The slaughter-houses and tanneries, which once existed, in Kilby Street and Dock Square, would not be tolerated now. Originally, they were not nuisances. Population gathered around them—their precedency availed them nothing—they became nuisances, by the force of circumstances. The tombs, in the churchyard, were not nuisances, when population was sparse—though they are so now. But the fact I have stated will increase the evil, from day to day: there can be no more burials, in graves, within the city proper—people will die—and, as we have not the taste nor courage to burn—they must be buried—where? In the tombs—which, as I have stated, is the most offensive and mischievous mode of burial. I have already alluded to some instances of traffic, connected with certain tombs, in the Chapel yard. If some plan be not adopted, a new line of business will spring up, in which the members of my profession will figure, to some extent: many of the present owners of tombs will sell out, and move their dead to Mount Auburn, or Forest Hills; and the city tombs will be crammed with as many corpses, as they can hold, by their speculating proprietors. Rather than this, it would have been better to continue the old mode of earth burial. The remedy is plain—the fields are before you—carry out “your dead!”

"The worm and corruption"
© Godric Godricson
A famous preacher of eternal torment, and who always, in addition to the sulphurous complexion of his discourses throughout, devoted three or four pages, at the close, exclusively to brimstone and fire; is said, upon a special occasion, to have produced a prodigious effect, upon the more devoted of his intensely agitated flock, by causing the sexton, when he heard the preacher scream BRIMSTONE, at the top of his lungs, to throw two or three rolls, into the furnace below, whose fumes speedily ascended into the church.

This anecdote came instantly to my recollection, some twenty years ago, one Sabbath morning, while attending the services in St. Paul’s church, in this city. The rector was absent, and a very worthy clergyman supplied his place. In the course of his sermon, he repeated, in a very solemn tone, pointing downward with his finger, in the direction of the tombs below, those memorable words of Job—If I wait, the grave is mine house: I have made my bed in darkness. I have said to corruption, Thou art my father: to the worm, Thou art my mother and my sister. Almost immediately—the coincidence was wonderful—I was oppressed by a most offensive stench, which certainly seemed to be germain to the subject. It became more and more powerful. It seemed to me, and I call myself a pretty good judge, to be posthumous, decidedly. I certainly believed it proceeded from the charnel house below. My eyes turned right and left, to see how my neighbors were impressed. The females bowed their heads, and used their handkerchiefs—the males were evidently aware of it; but, with a slight compression of their noses, kept their eyes fixed upon the preacher. Two medical gentlemen, then present, and yet living, pronounced it to be the worm and corruption, and connected it with the burial of a particular individual, not long before.

The case was carefully investigated, by the wardens and others; who were perfectly satisfied, that this horrible effluvium was, very probably, produced, by the burning of a heretic, in the form of a church mouse, that had taken up his quarters, in the pipe or flue, and was thus converted into an unsavory pastille.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Flowers in Church

© Godric Godricson

In the past I've shown flowers in Churches and that seems OK. I don't show flowers on graves as that seems morally inappropriate as the flowers are a sign of grief and a sign of remembrance and that is an entirely private matter and not to be 'gate crashed' in any manner. Flowers in Church always reminds me of a sort of animism where we place greenery in the Church as a reminder of the world outside. The flowers are a sort of offering to the ancestors in this Christian cult of death.

Is this hard on Christianity? You decide!

Banningham - Norfolk

© Godric Godricson

Saint Botolph parish Church

Hannah Starr - Knapton

Trunch, Norfolk, Starr
© Godric Godricson

Matthew Starr married Hannah Newland  30th April 1782 at nearby Trunch
Father and mother to William Starr Christened 10th August 1783 at Knapton

Friday, 18 May 2012

Signs of faith

© Godric Godricson

Saint Peter's Dunton

Dunton, Norfolk, Parish Church
Saint Peter's Dunton
© Godric Godricson

The 'balcony' over the east End is amazing and it is truly surprising that this was restored after the Reformation. From this somewhat rickety position there is a view of the grave covers in the floor. In the Pre-Reformation period this would also have been for the singing of the Easter Liturgy.

Matthew Lancaster of Dunton

Matthew Lancaster

© Godric Godricson

Martha Case Died 2nd September 1805

Martha Case
Died 2nd September 1805

© Godric Godricson

William Henry Beets

Beets, Burial, Norfolk
William Henry Beets

© Godric Godricson

Thursday, 17 May 2012

God's Acre

English Villages
 P. H. Ditchfield (1901)
Project Gutenburg
"God’s acre"  is full of holy associations, where sleep “the rude forefathers of the hamlet.” There stands the village cross where the preachers stood in Saxon times and converted the people to Christianity, and there the old sundial on a graceful stone pedestal. Sometimes amid the memorials of the dead stood the parish stocks. Here in olden days fairs were held, and often markets every Sunday and holiday, and minstrels and jugglers thronged; and stringent laws were passed to prevent “improper and prohibited sports within the churchyard, as, for example, wrestling, football, handball under penalty of twopence forfeit.” Here church ales were kept with much festivity, dancing, and merry-making; and here sometimes doles were distributed on the tombstones of parochial benefactors, and even bread and cheese scrambled for, according to the curious bequests of eccentric donors".

Theodore, King of Corsica

© Godric Godricson

On Theodore, King of Corsica, written by Horace Walpole.

Near this place is interred. Theodore, King of Corsica,
Who died in this parish Dec. 11, 1756, Immediately after leaving the King’s Bench prison, By the benefit of the Act of Insolvency, In consequence of which he resigned His Kingdom of Corsica For the use of his creditors.

The grave great teacher to a level brings
Heroes and beggars, galley slaves and kings,
But Theodore this moral learn’d ere dead,
Fate pour’d its lessons on his living head,
Bestowed a kingdom and denied him bread.

Sin, conscience and Ġorġ Preca of Malta

We are not marble statues!

© Godric Godricson
When we consider death, burials and the cemetery we inevitably come back to the idea of theology and the Christian faith. I was recently thinking about Saint Ġorġ Preca of Malta (recently canonised by Benedict XVI) and noted that there is an allegation of homosexuality against Ġorġ Preca. I’m not particularly interested in this ‘allegation’ of homosexuality; the allegation neither interests me or concerns me although it does bring up the idea of image or hypocrisy both for the living and for the dead.

Thinking about theology, reputation and Saint Ġorġ Preca;  I remembered a young friend of mine training for the priesthood some years ago. This young man couldn’t get over the idea that he was, at some indiscernible point in the future, going to be charged with hypocrisy or preaching one thing and going on to do another. He was particularly horrified when he understood that he would be an ‘icon for the people’ or an ‘alter Christi’. It was all too much for him in his young life. How would he cope with that level of stress and expectation as a gay man? He still has such feelings of inadequacy although he successfully manages such feelings. Sometimes, ordinands need support when faced by negative images which are unhelpful unless managed and channelled effectively. None of us are marble images and we are all ‘gooey individuals’ with a soft centre.

If ‘we’ all needed to be free from sin and the temptation towards sin before being ordained then ‘we’ would all be in trouble because ‘we’ all sin and despite knowing about sin we continue to sin.  We would all be up the creek without a paddle!

Hidden Cemeteries and hidden lives
Saint Edmund's - Hunstanton

© Godric Godricson
The idea of “hypocrisy” came to my young friend and he began to hate the idea of this sort of theological dualism and he began to have a sort of zealot existence whereby ordinands try to expunge sin from their lives and lead the most virtuous life imaginable and that sort of destroys life around them and destroys any real life with their family.  In the United Kingdom, after the MP expenses scandal and where the larger denominations have men who have broken most of the major rules about conduct it is a problem to be seen as a “hypocrite”. No-one wishes to be seen as a hypocrite and no-one wishes to condone that sort of moral ambiguity.

My young friend   sometimes hears the inner Policeman within him and he tries to silence the voices of criticism as he speaks to people about sin and the mindset of being sinful.  The  nature of hypocrisy is such that it is a sort of inner crime and we fear being caught out and exposed like an MP who has claimed inappropriately for a second home or the priest found to have slept with a parishioner.

The problem is that we, as men and women, expect too much of ourselves and we set the standard too high both in life and also in death. We are not perfect and yet we do have a belief that clergy are not like the rest of creation. We are all sinners who have fallen into the lake of sin and we are all collectively swimming to the shore. The task seems to be to help each other and to give each other support as we try to wade out of that great lake of sin that exists in life and in the afterlife. Rather than cast stones and berate people who are often swimming hard and against the tide; our role is to support each other and to be supported in our turn as we move closer to the judgement. We are all judged and will be judged on the final day.

© Godric Godricson
It isn’t that my young friend has weak beliefs or has had a crisis in spirituality and faith and it isn’t that he has gone all ‘hippy’ and entered an ‘anything goes’ Catholicism. He has his personal Catholic faith and he does have a traditionalist belief. Moreover, he has a belief in the ultimate goodness of Jesus.He strives to live up to the beliefs and inner values given to him by the Bishops and clergy from long ago and ultimately from the Gospels. He turns and turns again to God and asks forgiveness and tries to encounter the Risen Christ. He is swimming, along with countless others, across the great sea of sin and towards a brighter future supported by the prayers of other flawed but wonderful human beings.

Is this itself a sort of hypocrisy? Well, I think not. Recognising our own human failings and weaknesses  is not hypocrisy and an allegation against Ġorġ Preca didn’t prevent him being declared a saint.  Understanding sin and human realities is not weakness. Instead, hypocrisy  would be the  failure to understand that failing we all have and to go about our lives as if we all were good all of the time. It would be a sort of abominable deceit if we failed to recognise the weakness in ourselves and then challenged the crimes and transgressions of others. It would indeed be wrong for us to pretend to be a totally moral person whilst being a crook or a charlatan or a fraud.

Ġorġ Preca of Malta

Carmelite Church - Valetta

© Godric Godricson
 The real and significant difference that we have as Catholics is that we are sorry for our sins. We recognise that we are all sinful and that we need to repent of our sins and then to move forward having learnt a lesson. The ideal is not to backslide although this is always a danger. We must keep moving along the pathway that God has set for us.  The true hypocrite in the 21st century understands all of the moral and intellectual problems that s/he creates and simply ignores the moral dilemmas.  

As far as sin goes, we all know the problems created by guilt. My neighbour in a previous geographical area was a man wracked by guilt and he displayed that guilt (and that hypocrisy) by always staying at prayer that little longer than anyone else. My neighbour always made the loudest “Amen”. You get the picture! This neighbour had a case of unhealthy guilt and that guilt was infectious as people looked at him and felt that he was a  model to follow. When we acknowledge our sins then that should complete and finish the matter.  If we then continue to hold onto past guilt and feel guilty then we should know we are in trouble. That reluctance to let guilt fall away may indicate a serious personal problem that requires the skills of a trained counsellor rather than a priest. 

My young friend tries not to judge others in his ministry as judgement is ultimately an action for God Himself. It simply isn’t up to humanity to judge others in the traditional sense. Yes, my friend cries out against injustice and he will take up the struggle when it is called for but he will not throw the first stone. He will always try to understand the sinner and the sin that is being committed before speaking out. He never speaks in anger and always speaks softly. 

We all struggle to swim to the shore as we move through the sea of sin and head for the light.  However, there is no need for my young friend to feel that he is under more  supervision or scrutiny in his current ministry because he is Gay. Perhaps one day he will be like Ġorġ Preca and be a saint even if that saintliness is known only to God?

The pursuit of Spiritualism

"There is no Death"
Florence Marryatt (1891)
Project Gutenburg
"Before I proceed to write down the results of my private and premeditated investigations, I am reminded to say a word respecting the permission I received for the pursuit of Spiritualism. As soon as I expressed my curiosity on the subject, I was met on all sides with the objection that, as I am a Catholic, I could not possibly have anything to do with the matter, and it is a fact that the Church strictly forbids all meddling with necromancy, or communion with the departed. Necromancy is a terrible word, is it not? especially to such people as do not understand its meaning, and only associate it with the dead of night and charmed circles, and seething caldrons, and the arch fiend, in propria persona, with two horns and a tail. Yet it seems strange to me that the Catholic Church, whose very doctrine is overlaid with Spiritualism, and who makes it a matter of belief that the Saints hear and help us in our prayers and the daily actions of our lives, and recommends our kissing the ground every morning at the feet of our guardian angel, should consider it unlawful for us to communicate with our departed relatives. I cannot see the difference in iniquity between speaking to John Powles, who was and is a dear and trusted friend of mine, and Saint Peter of Alcantara, who is an old man whom I never saw in this life. They were both men, both mortal, and are both spirits.

Christ and the Saints as intermediaries
to the world beyond.

© Godric Godricson

Again, surely my mother who was a pious woman all her life, and is now in the other world, would be just as likely to take an interest in my welfare, and to try and promote the prospect of our future meeting, as Saint Veronica Guiliani, who is my patron. Yet were I to spend half my time in prayer before Saint Veronica's altar, asking her help and guidance, I should be doing right (according to the Church), but if I did the same thing at my mother's grave, or spoke to her at a séance, I should be doing wrong. These distinctions without a difference were hard nuts to crack, and I was bound to settle the matter with my conscience before I went on with my investigations."

Doris Seadon

Seadon, Norfolk
Doris Seadon  - Died March 18th 1907

© Godric Godricson

Gorgeous funerals

The Parish Clerk (1907)
Peter Hampson Ditchfield
Courtesy : Project Gutenburg
The records of these gorgeous funerals, which are preserved in Machyn's diary and other chronicles, reveal the changes wrought by the spread of Reformation principles and Puritan notions. In Mary's reign they were very magnificent, "priests and clerks chanting in Latin, the priest having a cope and the clerk the holy water sprinkle in his hand." The accession of Elizabeth seems at first to have wrought little change, and the services of the Clerks' Company were in great request. On 21 October, 1559, "the Countess of Rutland was brought from Halewell to Shoreditch Church with thirty priests and clarkes singing," and "Sir Thomas Pope was buried at Clerkenwell with two services of pryke song, and two masses of requiem and all clerkes of London." "Poules Choir and the Clarkes of London" united their services on some occasions. Funeral sermons began to be considered an important part of the function, and Machyn records the names of the preachers. Even though such keen Protestants as Coverdale, Bishop Pilkington, Robert Crowley, and Veron preached the sermons, twenty clerks of the company were usually present singing. Machyn much disliked the innovations made by the Puritan party, their singing "Geneva wise" or "the tune of Genevay," men, women, and children all singing together, without any clerk. Here is a description of such a funeral on 7 March, 1559:

All Saints - Edingthorpe

© Godric Godricson

"And there was a great company of people two and two together, and neither priest nor clarke, the new preachers in their gowns like laymen, neither singing nor saying till they came to the grave, and afore she was put in the grave, a collect in English, and then put in the grave, and after, took some earth and cast it on the corse, and red a thyng ... for the sam, and contenent cast the earth into the grave, and contenent read the Epistle of St. Paul to the Stesselonyans the ... chapter, and after they sang Pater noster in English, bothe preachers and other, and ... of a new fashion, and after, one of them went into the pulpit and made a sermon." Machyn especially disliked the preacher Veron, rector of St. Martin's, Ludgate, a French Protestant, who had been ordained by Bishop Ridley, and was "a leader in the change from the old ecclesiastical music for the services to the Psalms in metre, versified by Sternhold and Hopkins ."

The Parish Clerk By Thomas Gainsborough, R.A.

The Parish Clerk (1907)
Peter Hampson Ditchfield
Courtesy : Project Gutenburg

The Parish Clerk is a position that I hadn't known of until recently and I hadn't known of the significance of this post in the parish. The Parish Clerk was clearly a man (occasionally a woman) who had significance in the life, work and worship of the Anglican Parish in England. The good people at Project Gutenburg have transcribed a book from 1907 and we can see a memorial in Saint Peter's Dunton as the symbol of another long serving Parish Clerk

Wednesday, 16 May 2012


© Godric Godricson

The cemetery in Fakenham just out of the town. The mouments are a little suburban.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Benoni Mallett - Dunton

Dunton, Norfolk
Saint Peter's Church - Dunton

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James Alcock - Parish Clerk Dunton

Saint Peter's Church - Dunton

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Fakenham Cemetery

© Godric Godricson

This is the scene from inside the Fakenham Cemetery looking out. The cemetery is a little industrial and appears tired. There are poorly maintained pathways surfaced in thin gravel. In need of a good sweep, the cemetery is fairly modern dating from the 1930's from the age of the headstones.

Without any sign of imagination and with no evidence of funding by the local Council; the cemetery fulfils a basic need to be buried near Fakenham and little else besides.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Phillip Smyth Primrose 1827-1879

The brewing family of Primrose
© Godric Godricson

John Daw - Died September 5th 1842

© Godric Godricson

Once more,  we see the rich or well connected buried in the parish Church even at Saint Botolph's in Trunch.

Dealings with the Dead - 1856

Project Gutenburg :

Dealings with the Dead, Volume I (of 2)
A Sexton of the Old School 
Boston 1856
"......Charles I. was buried in 1648, in the same vault with the bodies of Henry VIII. and Jane Seymour; and this statement is perfectly sustained, by the remarkable discovery in 1813, which proves Lord Clarendon to have been mistaken in his account, Hist. Reb., Oxford ed., vol. vi. p. 243. The Duke of Richmond, the Marquis of Hertford, and the Earls of Southampton and Lindsey, who had been of the bed chamber, and had obtained leave, to perform the last duty to the decollated King, went into the church, at Windsor, to seek a place for the interment, and were greatly perplexed, by the mutilations and changes there—“At last,” says Clarendon, “there was a fellow of the town, who undertook to tell them the place, where he said there was a vault, in which King Harry, the Eighth, and Queen Jane Seymour were interred. As near that place, as could conveniently be, they caused the grave to be made. There the king’s body was laid, without any words, or other ceremonies, than the tears and sighs of the few beholders. Upon the coffin was a plate of silver fixed with these words only: ‘King Charles, 1648.’ When the coffin was put in, the black velvet pall, that had covered it, was thrown over it, and then the earth thrown in.” Such, clearly, could not have been the facts.

The faith of Charles Stuart means he is
the only Anglican Saint to be recognised.

© Godric Godricson
Lord Clarendon then proceeds to speak of the impossibility of finding the body ten years after, when it was the wish of Charles II. to place it, with all honor, in the chapel of Henry VII., in Westminster Abbey. For this he accounts, by stating, that most of those present, at the interment, were dead or dispersed, at the restoration; and the memories of the remaining few had become so confused, that they could not designate the spot; and, after opening the ground, in several places, without success, they gave the matter up. Now there can be no doubt, that the body was placed in the vault, where it was found, in 1813, and that no interment took place, in the proper sense of that word. Had Richmond, Hertford, Southampton, or Lindsey been alive, or at hand, the vault itself, and not a spot near the vault, would, doubtless, have been indicated, as the resting place of King Charles. Wood, in the Athenæ Oxonienses, states, that the royal corpse was “well coffined, and all afterwards wrapped up in lead and covered with a new velvet pall.” All this perfectly agrees with the account, given by Sir Henry Halford, and certified by the Prince Regent, in 1813.

Sir Henry Halford states, that George the Fourth had built a mausoleum, at Windsor; and, while constructing a passage, under the choir of St. George’s Chapel, an opening was unintentionally made into the vault of Henry VIII., through which, the workmen saw, not only those two coffins, which were supposed to contain the bodies of Henry VIII. and Jane Seymour, but a third, covered with a black pall. Mr. Herbert’s account, quoted in my last number, from the Athenæ, left little doubt, that this was the coffin of Charles I.; notwithstanding the statements of Lord Clarendon, that the body was interred near the vault. An examination was made, April 1, 1813, in the presence of George IV., then Prince Regent, the Duke of Cumberland, Count Munster, the Dean of Windsor, Benjamin Charles Stevenson, Esq., and Sir Henry Halford; of which the latter published an account. London, 1831. This account is exceedingly interesting. “On removing the pall, a plain leaden coffin, with no appearance of ever having been enclosed in wood, and bearing an inscription, King Charles, 1648, in large legible characters, on a scroll of lead encircling it, immediately presented itself to view.

Chapels and Church as a place for
the commemoration of the dead

© Godric Godricson
“A square opening was then made, in the upper part of the lid, of such dimensions, as to admit a clear insight into its contents. These were an internal wooden coffin, very much decayed, and the body carefully wrapped up in cere-cloth, into the folds of which a quantity of unctuous or greasy matter, mixed with resin, as it seemed, had been melted, so as to exclude, as effectually as possible, the external air. The coffin was completely full; and from the tenacity of the cere-cloth, great difficulty was experienced, in detaching it successfully from the parts, which it enveloped. Wherever the unctuous matter had insinuated itself, the separation of the cere-cloth was easy; and when it came off, a correct impression of the features, to which it had been applied, was observed in the unctuous substance. At length the whole face was disengaged from its covering. The complexion of the skin of it was dark and discolored. The forehead and temples had lost little or nothing of their muscular substance; the cartilage of the nose was gone; but the left eye, in the first moment of exposure, was open and full, though it vanished, almost immediately; and the pointed beard, so characteristic of the period of the reign of King Charles, was perfect. The shape of the face was a long oval; many of the teeth remained; and the left ear, in consequence of the interposition of the unctuous matter, between it and the cere-cloth, was found entire.

“It was difficult, at this moment, to withhold a declaration, that, notwithstanding its disfigurement, the countenance did bear a strong resemblance to the coins, the busts, and especially to the pictures of King Charles I., by Vandyke, by which it had been made familiar to us. It is true, that the minds of the spectators of this interesting sight were well prepared to receive this impression; but it is also certain, that such a facility of belief had been occasioned, by the simplicity and truth of Mr. Herbert’s narrative, every part of which had been confirmed by the investigation, so far as it had advanced; and it will not be denied, that the shape of the face, the forehead, an eye, and the beard, are the most important features, by which resemblance is determined.

The Aristocracy of the Dead

© Godric Godricson
“When the head had been entirely disengaged from the attachments, which confined it, it was found to be loose, and without any difficulty was taken up and held to view. It was quite wet, and gave a greenish and red tinge to paper and to linen, which touched it. The back part of the scalp was entirely perfect, and had a remarkably fresh appearance; the pores of the skin being more distinct, as they usually are, when soaked in moisture; and the tendons and ligaments of the neck were of considerable substance and firmness. The hair was thick, at the back part of the head, and in appearance, nearly black. A portion of it, which has since been cleansed and dried, is of a beautiful dark brown color. That of the beard was of a redder brown. On the back part of the head it was not more than an inch in length, and had probably been cut so short, for the convenience of the executioner, or perhaps, by the piety of friends, soon after death, in order to furnish memorials of the unhappy king.”

“On holding up the head to examine the place of separation from the body, the muscles of the neck had evidently retracted themselves considerably; and the fourth cervical vertebra was found to be cut through its substance transversely, leaving the surfaces of the divided portions perfectly smooth and even, an appearance, which could have been produced only by a heavy blow, inflicted with a very sharp instrument, and which furnished the last proof wanting to identify King Charles, the First. After this examination of the head, which served every purpose in view, and without examining the body below the neck, it was immediately restored to its situation, the coffin was soldered up again, and the vault closed.”

Even the country Parish is a
burial place for the rich and famous

© Godric Godricson
“Neither of the other coffins had any inscription upon them. The larger one, supposed, on good grounds, to contain the remains of Henry VIII., measured six feet ten inches in length, and had been enclosed in an elm one, of two inches in thickness; but this was decayed, and lay in small fragments. The leaden coffin appeared to have been beaten in by violence about the middle, and a considerable opening in that part of it, exposed a mere skeleton of the king. Some beard remained upon the chin, but there was nothing to discriminate the personage contained in it.”

This is, certainly, a very interesting account. Some beard still remained upon the chin of Henry VIII., says Sir Henry Halford. Henry VIII. died Jan. 28, 1547. He had been dead, therefore, April 1, 1813, the day of the examination, two hundred and sixty-six years. The larger coffin measured six feet ten inches. Sir Henry means top measure. We always allow seven feet lid, or thereabouts, for a six feet corpse. Henry, in his History, vol. xi. p. 369, Lond. 1814, says that King Henry VIII. was tall. Strype, in Appendix A., vol. vi. p. 267, Ecc. Mem., London, 1816, devotes twenty-four octavo pages to an account of the funeral of Henry VIII., with all its singular details; and, at the last, he says—“Then was the vault uncovered, under the said corpse; and the corpse let down therein by the vice, with help of sixteen tal yeomen of the guard, appointed to the same.” “Then, when the mold was brought in, at the word, pulverem pulveri et cinerem cineri, first the Lord Great Master, and after the Lord Chamberlain and al others in order, with heavy and dolorous lamentation brake their staves in shivers upon their heads and cast them after the corps into the pit. And then the gentlemen ushers, in like manner brake their rods, and threw them into the vault with exceeding sorrow and heaviness, not without grievous sighs and tears, not only of them, but of many others, as well of the meaner sort, as of the nobility, very piteous and sorrowful to behold.”