Saturday, May 11, 2013

Ordinary lives recorded

click photo to enlarge
I visit a lot of churches and churchyards and see many gravestones and memorials. In Britain the earliest in parish churches (as opposed to cathedrals, abbeys, minsters etc) date from the 1600s. Over the years I've seen examples from every century between that time and the present day. Some catch my eye with their opulence, others their elegance, a few because they depart from the conventions of the day, and then some because they are - how shall I put it - simple and unaffected, in fact, ordinary.

Today's photograph falls into the latter category. It tells, in plain language, using modest lettering - no decorative flourishes - who is remembered and the basic facts about their length of life and date of death. A poignant note is struck by the reference to "5 Children who died in their Infancy" but it is added in a matter-of-fact way. There is no pictorial or decorative carving, no cherubs or leaves, no wreaths or borders.  The only "extra" added to the basic facts is a short verse of four lines. Who were these people? I don't know. They were sufficiently well-off to have a memorial in the church (unless it was brought in at a later date to be used as flooring), but probably not well-to-do, perhaps an example of the "mute inglorious Milton" that Thomas Gray wrote about. Whoever wrote or chose the verse - perhaps James Bygott himself - had clearly seen and been repelled by the sort of memorial I've frequently come across: the ones that gush on in an unrestrained and often ludicrous manner about the wonderful qualities of the deceased and how he was (it's usually a man) held in the highest esteem by all who knew him, regardless of their station in life. The four lines on this memorial are an effective riposte to such bombast.

It occurred to me as I read the memorial again on the screen of my computer that the lives briefly recorded are ordinary ones. The death of multiple children was once commonplace. Death in middle age of a (only surviving?) daughter was not unusual, nor was a lifespan that didn't quite reach the "threescore years and ten" described in the King James version of the Bible. All of which prompted a feeling of gratitude for the longer, healthier lives that we experience and expect today.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 10.4mm (28mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f1.8
Shutter Speed: 1/30
ISO: 320
Exposure Compensation:  0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On