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.