Monday, March 09, 2009

In loving memory

click photo to enlarge
You wouldn't think of a church yard as a place to find humour, yet I can't pass a grave stone with the words "fell asleep" (to signify the death of the person commemorated) without a smile appearing on my face. I have this mental picture of the poor man or woman closing their eyes to rest and their wickedly grinning relatives seizing their chance to quickly pop them into their grave. Euphemisms of this sort abound in churchyards, especially on gravestones of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. "Passed on", "Went to the Lord", "gone before", "gone away", "resting", "taken", and more, are used instead of the word "died". It seems that the longer we live, and the less we are familiar with death, the more we search for a different word or words to describe "our passing".

I find it quite surprising that the Victorians were reticent about giving death its true name: it was a much more familiar part of everyday experience in those days. The eighteenth century and earlier seemed to have less compunction about telling it like it is, and, though they decked their tombstones with symbols - a cherub to represent the departed soul, or a laurel wreath to signify the Christian triumph over death - they also carved skulls and bones, funeral shrouds and cadavers. Of course, many memorials of all periods do use the word "died", though just as many ignore it all together. The tradition I prefer is an inscription that simply records the name and dates of the deceased, with a few personal words from those who lived on - something that gives us a small insight into their life: perhaps an occupation, something of note that the departed was known for, a place of residence, or somesuch. I also find the words, "In loving memory", very appropriate, combining affection and a reminder of the purpose of any memorial, with just the right note of formality and solemnity.

Today's photograph is a detail from a memorial in a Lincolnshire churchyard. It is 12 feet tall, is topped by an angel, and has a large base on which is recorded the name of the deceased "who fell asleep" in 1898, below a wreath of roses (signifying virtue) and those well-used words. I photographed it on a frosty morning after a spider had used the marble sculpture as the site of its web. Seeing the wreath decked out in this way I was prompted to wonder whether the people commemorated there were still part of anyone's memory.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 22mm (44mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f4.5
Shutter Speed: 1/25 seconds
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On