Wednesday, June 19, 2019

My name on my tombstone 5

Angels at Rookwood Cemetery

The Victorian era (1837-1901) greatly emphasized customs and practices associated with death. So, the period paved the way for elaborate tombstones and headstones. The cemeteries appeared more like parks as they had such lavish and decorated gravestones.
In addition, the gravestones also included sculptured designs, artwork and symbols such as:
• angels of death
• star of David
• the Dove
• Egyptian symbol Ankh
• Eye of Horus -                            
• weeping willow tree
• maple leaf
• flowers
• horseshoe
• sword
• broken column - classic symbol of life cut short
Eye of Horus (Egyptian)

Victorian graves were more elaborate than modern graves. A middle-class family would spend as much as it could afford on a monument appropriate to the deceased’s (and the family’s) social status. Monuments were usually symbolic – either religious (crosses, angels, the letters IHS, a monogram for Jesus Savior of Man in Greek), symbols of profession (whip and horseshoes for a coach driver, swords for a general, palette for a painter), or symbols of death.

Some common symbols of death were:
.urns – classical symbol of Roman cremation. Romans used to take the cremated remains, place them in an urn and cover them with a shroud.
wreaths – symbol of eternal life, as it’s circular (with no beginning and no end) and made of evergreens (never turn brown, so never die).
upside-down torches – the inverted torch symbolizes death, the burning flame (which normally would be extinguished when the torch was turned upside-down) symbolizes the flame of eternal life and the Christian belief in resurrection.
grieving women – classical symbol of a woman dressed in loose (Roman) robes, physically exhausted from weeping, and leaning on her hand, sometimes on an urn or a cross.
obelisks – Egyptian symbol of eternal life.

Curiously, many of the monuments in Victorian cemeteries are not actually Christian, but pagan – classical (Roman) or Egyptian. Christianity in 19th-century Britain was predominantly Church of England (Protestant), but with worrying challenges from various Protestant sects (Methodists, Presbyterians) as well as a movement towards High Anglicanism – incorporating elements of Catholicism into the Church of England.

It is upon such stones that men attempt to permanently etch history so they will not exist in a vacuum; it is the final statement after a lifetime of scratching out divisions upon the ground, over ephemeral time itself, merely to give their short journeys meaning, to tell others 'I was here – do not forget me, do not let my brief blast dissolve into nothingness.' 
Rob Bignell

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