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Tag Archives: Memorials

  • Greyfriars Graveyard by Charlotte Golledge

    Greyfriars Graveyard, east wall. (Greyfriars Graveyard, Amberley Publishing)

    Greyfriars Kirkyard has been described as being the leading burial ground in Scotland. Not only for its place in history but also for those whose final resting place is beneath its turf. These great figures who, although may have been forgotten over the passage of time lent their achievements and successes to the City they called home, contributing to the modern day Edinburgh lived in by a population of over 482,000 people. Within in its walls are forty-four ministers of both Old and New Greyfriars Kirks; forty-one Lord Provosts; thirty-three lawyers and senators of the College of Justice; twenty-six principles and professors of the University of Edinburgh, including two of its founders.  Not to mention numerous doctors, surgeons, solicitors, soldiers, sailors, authors, merchants, artists, architects to name but a few along with families of great fortune and prestige and the more ordinary folk. Collectively they all played their part no matter how big or small in the history of Edinburgh.

    However, it is not these great and ordinary citizens of yesteryear that captivate the visitors to Greyfriars. It is the fantastic monuments the more wealthy citizens left behind. For example, if someone was asked to identify the monument for James Borthwick, most people would not be able to clarify which one it was, especially as his name is no longer visible. With extra information that beside Greyfriars Bobby’s marker it is one of the most photographer mural monuments in Greyfriars, some people would be able to guess which one it is. However if the monument was described by its appearance as a near life size skeleton that appears to be dancing, then apart from a first time visitor who had entered the kirkyard by the lower original entrance then the monument would be instantly identified. This depiction of the King of Terrors instantly draws attention and sets the imagination running. In one hand he holds the book of Destiny and in the other a scythe. There are clues to James Borthwick’s profession in life with the surgical tools that can be seen at either side.

    Flodden Wall, Greyfriars. (Greyfriars Graveyard, Amberley Publishing)

    The majority of the symbolism falls into three main themes: mortality; immortality through resurrection and finally the means of salvation. The emblems of mortality are to remind us that death will come to us all. So the time spent in our earthly bodies should be spent well, living a good and moral life before judgement. The most recognisable of these emblems is the death head. There are hundreds throughout the graveyard in different guises: the full face; without a bottom jaw; facing front; partial profile; with cross bones below or behind the skull; the sextons’ tools in place of the bones and the winged skull. There is also the addition of the words Momento Mori which translates as ‘remember that you must die’. There are incorrect theories of what this symbol represents, the most popular being that they are for pirates or plague victims. In the late 1640s plagues began to disappear from the Scottish capital and there are certainly no known pirates buried it its grounds!

    One possible explanation for the use of the skull and cross bones stems from those on medieval monuments when during the times of the crusades, knights or persons of note who died in distant lands and the need for the body to be transported home. Mos Tentonicus was a funerary process that stripped the flesh from the bones that entailed the more hygienic means to transport the bones for proper burial once home. While the skull is pretty self-explanatory the bones being most likely the sword arm that was fighting for God.

    Some symbols of the freemasons. (Greyfriars Graveyard, Amberley Publishing)

    The emblems of immortality are there to remind us of the resurrection and the immortal life of the soul. Again the most numerous of these emblems shows the head. In this instance a head coupled with wings, known as the winged soul. It can be used as a main feature or as multiple decorations along the upper detail of a mural monument, such as can be seen on the monuments along the east wall. The winged soul is commonly depicted as a face, often taking the form of a cherub or angels whose gender is not identified, with feathered wings like that of a bird. This represents the deceased person’s soul leaving the body at death and ascending, the body will then rise and join it on the day of judgement.

    The third theme is that of the moral emblems, these are usually the personification of the moral messages they represent. The use of female forms of the classical Greek or Roman world are typical of the early seventeenth century. These include the seven virtues of Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance, Faith, Hope and Charity. These along with other virtues are there to remind us of how to live a good life.

    Other symbolism includes animals, plants and flowers and, though few in number in Greyfriars, the emblems of trade. All of these are covered in detail in Greyfriars Graveyard and enables the reader to gain the skills to read the monuments and depict what that person, or their family, is trying to say.  Giving clues to the character of the deceased and how they lived their own lives. These skills can be used not only in Greyfriars but other Scottish graveyards and while the carvings may differ in accuracy, depending on the skill of the mason, the meanings are nearly always the same. As George Elliot said ‘Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them’.

    Charlotte Golledge's new book Greyfriars Graveyard is available for purchase now.

  • Memorials of the Western Front by Marcus van der Meulen

    Le Touret Military Cemetery and Memorial, on the D171 between Béthune and Armentières. (Author's collection)

    Places of Remembrance

    This year marks the centenary of the Armistice, which ended the First World War. In the past four years commemorations of all sorts have taken place. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attended the observation of the Battle of the Somme centennial at the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, France, in 2016. And many smaller tributes have taken place across the Western Front. Modest crosses of remembrance have been placed in cemeteries and chapels by relatives coming on a pilgrimage considering those who suffered the horrors of the Great War 1914-1918.

    These commemorations have been an opportunity to revive the awareness, not only to recall the tragedies, but also to maintain the memorials, monuments and cemeteries raised in honour of those who lost their lives. One of these memorials that is currently undergoing renovation work is the Le Touret Memorial, designed by J.R. Truelove, a fine building in the British classical tradition. The entrance gives way to a peristyle and portico’s, providing a dramatic view of over the many tombstones. There are 13,400 British soldiers, their names engraved on the white walls commemorated here, who fell during the early months of the Great War. Driving back home from a short break in Northern France, we passed the site only a few weeks ago.

    Le Touret Military Cemetery and Memorial, on the D171 between Béthune and Armentières. (Author's collection)

    I first visited memorials in the region on a family holiday in the 1980s. My parents took my brother and me abroad, crossing the channel by ferry like so many Britons do every year. First stop in France was Arras. This ancient capital of Artois is a lovely historic town with a beautiful square where I as a young boy took one of my first photographs (my brother insisted I would take a picture of him holding something he found lying on the cobblestones). In the background of the image was the top of the Belfry. Like so many buildings it was completely destroyed during the war. My parents preferred to avoid the motorways, moving from town to village taking country roads and encountering that sense of being in a different country. Northern France is different from the North of England, from the Greater Manchester area, and one thing that struck me back then were the Crosses of Remembrance and the Memorials that seemed to be hiding behind every hill and between trees in every field. Cemeteries in the most odd locations, and beautiful classical buildings that inspired a young boy back home to draw architecture.

    Le Touret Military Cemetery and Memorial, on the D171 between Béthune and Armentières. (Author's collection)

    The decision made by the British government at the time to build cemeteries and memorials on site, in France and Flanders, and not to repatriate the bodies and remains to the UK, has had far on going implications. Relatives had to cross the channel to visit the graves of their beloved sons, cousins, brothers. The bodies of many thousands and thousands were never found, their names are engraved on the walls of structures that were erected as memorials. People from all over the world, from the UK and Ireland, from Canada, Australia and New Zealand, come here on a pilgrimage, honouring those who suffered and died during the First World War. Some of them leave letters or a tiny cross with a poppy, as personal tokens. The decision to build the memorials here, in France and Flanders, to erect the crosses of remembrance on the place where the officers and men gave their lives, often after a horrible time in the trenches, has forever changed the landscape into a field of remembrance.

    At Le Touret Memorial we stopped the car and went out. There is a strange attraction coming from these memorials and cemeteries. Looking not only as an architect at these beautiful buildings, monuments and sites, but at what they represent. The past years have seen renewed interest in memorials and cemeteries of the Western Front, and many have been renovated. French statues were restored, some repainted, by the local municipalities. The CWGC has done an incredible job renovating and upkeeping of all those Commonwealth memorials and cemeteries. Some of the work still going on, as at Le Touret. the maintenance, of course, of these memorials and cemeteries is not over after we commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War on 11 November this year. As we walked along the walls of the memorial, my eyes were strangely attracted by all these names written on it and started looking for that accustomed name. Surely there are others like me. And when that familiar name is found, that person suddenly becomes your A. Butler, your own relative. The memorial becomes what is represents, a shared heritage of a common past. Lest we forget.

    Marcus van der Meulen's new book Memorials of the Western Front: Places of Remembrance is available for purchase now.

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