Sunday, 24 May 2009

Victorian cemetery symbolism: eternal life


Along with symbols of death, Victorian cemeteries such as Nunhead are rich with references to eternal life. Even the downturned torch includes this: while it alludes to life being snuffed out, in fact the flame still burns.

Less ambiguous symbols include the circle, as a shape without beginning or end. It often appears in the form of an wreath, with evergreen foliage reinforcing the message. More emphatic still is this laurel wreath, since laurel is a symbol of the resurrection.


That wreath is a mixture, then, of pagan and christian symbolism (the banner reads 'Thy will be done'). However, the fashion for all things Egyptian and a desire to avoid religious controversy saw some defiantly unchristian symbols such as the obelisk, another representative of eternal life. According to legend, its pointy top also stopped the devil reclining on the grave.

On a smaller scale, ivy often appears on graves: it is evergreen; its clinging nature was compared to humanity's need for divine support; and its ability to survive on dead wood suggested the immortal soul surviving after the body had died.

In Nunhead, the references to eternal life are almost all specifically christian. However, there is something very Victorian about the way that they are made using a wide range of symbols, many very pagan indeed.

2 comments:

Hels said...

I am fascinated with memories of war and memorials to the fallen. Thanks for specifying the difference between Christian, pagan and non-religious elements, since it never occurred to me before.

Late Victorian memorial _architecture_ looks very different from Art Deco memorial architecture of the late 1920s. And I am guessing that _symbols of death_ might change over time as well.

I would love to know when the symbols in your photos were carved.

Hels
Art and Architecture, mainly

Anonymous said...

So good topic really i like any post talking about Ancient Egypt but i want to say thing to u Ancient Egypt not that only ... you can see in Ancient Egypt Ancient Egyptian Gods and more , you shall search in Google and Wikipedia about that .... thanks a gain ,,,

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