Sunday, June 16, 2019

My name on my tombstone 4

Marking the place where deceased relatives lie buried has been going on for thousands of years, though the type of memorial mark has evolved. 

From the dolmen, a grave covered entirely with stone - a whole burial chamber, made up of one large stone supported by two or more upright stones - to the upright headstone or tombstone as we know it today, bearing some details about the person buried in that spot.

Some cultures - such as the Celts - left a stark cairn, or a pile of stones, with no name to identify the dead. Religious iconography later appeared on the headstone with the name and sometimes dates of birth and death. A lamb meant the innocence of a child - a 'lamb of God'; a cross and crown meant a Christian burial. As the concept of the gravestone evolved, names were followed by a biblical verse or a line of poetry, or a brief mention of the deceased's occupation or claim to fame. 

Lamb of God and Angels

The more detailed a headstone material or inscription was the more it cost and this frequently became a bone of contention among beneficiaries of the deceased: who would pay for it? Significantly, this matter may never have been resolved, and the grave would never have a headstone. This could result in the grave eventually being 'recycled', common practice in large municipal cemeteries where space may be running out.

Private Charles Dunbar, one of the last survivors of the Battle of Rorke's Drift, was buried in 1940 aged 82 in Stellawood Cemetery, Durban. His grave has been re-used several times. He has no marker of any kind and but for a few enthusiasts who know his story he remains entirely forgotten.

Stellawood Cemetery, Umbilo, Durban

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