Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Unexpected Alphabets No 14

I'm busy photographing England's smallest county, Rutland, and on arrival at the churchyard of Holy Cross in Burley-on-the-Hill came across this remarkable gravestone. Apart from its fabulously momento mori skull and crossbones, it is very, very early for such a thing. Most memorials at this time (just decipherable as 1701 I think) were inside the churches, and there are no others of similar age as far as I could see. The local limestone has been used, but even so it appears to have weathered rather well. I have a thought that this is because the monument may have been inside the church and was removed during the inevitable Victorian 'restoration'. Or it could have been part of a larger piece of stone forming the side of a dismantled tomb chest, and cut with a rounded top when placed in isolation. But I still can't fathom out all of the inscription, other than that the person died on the 16th November and was only 20. Is 'Mason' a name or an occupation? And who is it? The surname may be 'Harald'. I'll just have to get back up here with a wire brush. No I won't. The other beautiful thing about this gravestone is what age has done to it with lichens and mosses. 'Pleasing Decay' in a country churchyard.

20 comments:

Miss Rayne said...

I think it starts Here lieth the body of..

Peter Ashley said...

Thankyou Miss Rayne, and welcome to Unmitigated England! I do hope the person who is marked here is in fact still buried nearby.

CarolineLD said...

It seems to end, 'who Died [over 2 lines!] ye 16 off November Aged 20 years'.

What an amazing find, and a beautiful photograph.

Peter Ashley said...

Thankyou Caroline. I must go and take an even closer look.

The Vintage Knitter said...

I love those rusty colours of the lichens, especially on the skull; it produces just the right sort of decaying effect!

Funnily enough I was out photographing headstones myself in Painswick churchyard last week for a future post, with Arnos Vale in Bristol pencilled in on the list for a visit next month.

Peter Ashley said...

Vintage K: How interesting you should be going to Arnos Vale in Bristol. I photographed it for the first BBC Restoration book back in 2003. And Painswick I love with those tomb chests amongst the trees.

Wartime Housewife said...

Do we know what the significance was of the skull and crossbones? Wilko must know surely...

Peter Ashley said...

All I can say is that the preoccupations of late seventeenth and early eighteenth century century funerary practices were with death, hence the motifs of skulls, bones and cadavers. Images of resurrection (angels, cherubs) and the afterlife came later.

The Vintage Knitter said...

A long time ago when I was researching the symbolism of gravestones for some coursework, I found out that the depiction of a skull and crossbones were symbolic of the ressurection, as it was believed that only the skull and two femurs were the only body parts needed to become ressurected - hence the carvings on the stones.

Anonymous said...

Well, that counts out double amputees doesn't it?

AUFA RIZKY AULIA said...

very interesting to research. I just wanted to share news from the outskirts of Indonesia. http://www.ahmad-taufik.co.cc www.sueoffly.blogspot.com

Wartime Housewife said...

Well done that Vintage Knitter.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Another point about the skull and crossbones is that they are sometimes shown at the base of the Cross in paintings of the Crucifixion. As well as indicating Golgotha, the place of the skull, this alludes to a legend that the Cross was placed above the bones of Adam, an indication that the Crucifixion would lead to eternal life for all of humankind.
Wonderful gravestone, by the way.

Sue said...

I wonder about "Mason" as well - I had a great-something grandfather whose first name was "Baker".

And I once saw a gravestone (18thC?) in Exeter with the word "Bastard" on it - I still don't know if that was a name of a reference to demographic status - or indeed character!

Stephen Barker said...

Very nice tombstone. Looking at the picture more closely the inscription appears to read 'Here lyeth the body off Edward Harald: Mason: who died y 16 off November: Aged: 20: years'
1701 is early for a tombstone in a churchyard, but examples of Swithland Slate tombstones have been recorded from the second half of the Seventeenth Century in Leicestershire. Usually the earliest tombstones are smaller than later ones being only 2 to 3 feet above ground. From the 1730's the person responsible for cuuting/carving the tombstone puts their name and town at the bottom of the headstone.

Mr_Handley said...

It reminds me of the XTC song 'In Loving Memory of a Name'.

Peter Ashley said...

Sue: 'Bastard' ia a well-known surname. I used to think it was my name, but I'm sure it was the Bastard Brothers who rebuilt Blandford Forum after a huge eighteenth century fire (Cue Wilko).

Stephen: Thankyou for that note. The purply Swithland slate must be the very best material for incised lettering, still looking as if it was executed yesterday.

Mr.Handley: Welcome

Peter Ashley said...

More news. A friend has delved into the parish records, and our man appears to be 'Ed... (rest of Christian name ilegible on the microfiche)Herald, a mason'. Thankyou Ian.

Anonymous said...

I have a picture of me clearing moss from this in the mid 1980s. I seem to remember the foot stone having mason tools carved on it.

Anonymous said...

When some one searches for his required thing, thus he/she desires to be available that
in detail, thus that thing is maintained over here.

Here is my web blog; Sidney Crosby Black Jersey