Ancient peoples used burial chambers, cairns, for example. Our far ancestors have used burial formalities that, like all else, evolved over the centuries. For example, a grave marking could be simple, with some symbol, like a wooden cross, if it was a Christian burial. This in itself, may not have been proof that the remains were that of a fellow Christian, just that a particular kind of burial was undertaken. Some graves were marked with stones and in Scotland, there are many stone piles to be found, especially on hills, built up as memorials to an event. They have become the smaller, modern version of the cairn.

War graves are commonly marked with a religious symbol, or a stone with a symbol incised on it. Today, in war torn areas where many inhabitants have been forced to become desensitized to the constant violence and carnage around them, and where it has been possible, some kind of marker is placed on a grave, just so that, apart from the practicalities of burial, it feels like what is ‘ decent ‘ has been done.

Some of the grandest monuments were saved for emperors, kings and princes, the obvious ones being the Egyptian Pyramids. From this, it can be safely deduced, I believe, that there was a lot of preparation for death and perversely, a celebration of or for the dead. There are classical stories that relate to journeys into the afterlife which, perhaps, these celebrations were designed to ease.

Highly decoratively carved tombs, would be afforded by the wealthy. Or, the money raised for a grand memorial would have been obtained from the immediate society that should have been grateful for the existence of the exalted personage. One of the Dukes of Sutherland’s Memorial, high on a hill in Golspie, Sutherland, Scotland, is such an example.

All this, leaves us to suppose, justifiably, that the poor could not rise to anything memorially noteworthy and had to keep their funeral arrangements low key. The parish poor committee would often be called upon to arrange anonymous paupers’ graves, a practice that continued for centuries. There are still similar practices in force, though not necessarily quite so stark. Also, today, religious organisations can be called upon to bury members of their community, unfortunate enough to be without means, and at the very least, with an identity marker on the grave and a record of where the individual lies.

However, it can be seen, over the centuries there have been some very ornate tombs and mausoleum designs, a great number for churchmen. There are plenty neo-classical stone features to be found in many a necropolis, which are recent additions. Observing the gravestones, the mausoleums, the ornamentation in the cemeteries we have today, we can see they tell us social stories,some are ones, where lives have been cut off too soon. Others are surprising, that in times when life expectancy was much lower, (you were lucky to get to the biblical three score years and ten) following amazing exploits, wars, social deprivation, and so on, they lived to ripe old ages that would be great even by today’s standards.

A recent visit to a cemetery left me pondering about the incumbent of one tomb. The table top stone was weather worn, so it was difficult to identify who lay within. However, incised on one of the sides of the top stone, therefore, much protected from the elements, was carved;


P1030944 copy


0 thoughts on “WHAT AN EPITAPH!

  1. Thoughtful reflection on a oft forgotten scene….I have seen those final lines….Very profound….Time flieth! Death pursues! :yes:
    I think it was William Hazlitt in one of his celebrated essays, insisting that a visit to the Cemetery of a place is a Must for any traveler..;)

  2. The epitaph, if that’s what it is, seems much like Hazlitt. If he wrote anything of that ilk, it may not be quite in that form. For example

    “Though familiarity may not breed contempt, it takes off the edge of admiration”.


    I agree that a visit to the cemetery of a place is a *must* for a traveller. Such a visit, can be a revelation on life!

  3. Always very quiet, no fear of ASBOS ever appearing on the horizon.

    Your thought was exactly the same description a friend once gave me, when he moved into the old cemetery warden’s house.

  4. An interesting post, Menhir. I think the edifices by the wealthy are interesting, but I always prefer the simple gravestones in cemeteries where the grasses and wildflowers are allowed to flourish.

  5. Thank you.

    I agree the slightly unkempt nature of a cemetry can add to its interest. We also had the pleasure of a friendly, sociable cat. It got petted for its efforts.

    Intriguingly, the very old ornamental tombs and mausoleums have become interesting by virtue of their decrepitude. One, falling into obvious decay, seemed, when you stepped into it, to be an ancient leafy Grecian stage set. There are surprises everywhere.

  6. Indeed, he does! I posted the following a while ago :
    “The only true retirement is that of the heart;
    the only true leisure is the repose of the pasions.
    To such perons it makes little difference
    whether they are young or old.”

    I forgot from where it comes…one of his essays, I think!


  7. That is one of those irksome little quotes that comes up as an essay title and ……….’Discuss’

    I think it unfair to give this to a young student who probably has not got on as far in life, by today’s time lines, to fully comprehend all that it could mean. (It’s much like force feeding Shakespeare at 14 year old kids). I know Hazlitt was relatively young by the time he snuffed it, but he certainly lived hard, played hard, and spoke from relative ignominy at the end, all of which is reflected in a quote such as that one.

  8. I’m not so sure whether students would be able to tackle profound discursive essays these days…I’m rather sceptical! May be a small minority. I remember one given us when I was in Matric…final year….”Virtue is its own reward.” Really struggled at the age of 17/18 at the time! 😉

  9. In some ways, I think it unfair to be sceptical of student talents in areas of life they have not experienced so can barely imagine what things means emotionally, perhaps they can only consider theoretically. That is one reason why imho, theories are made to be broken.

    At 17/18, virtue etc, is not anywhere near as tough as the other quote. After all, apart from Aesop’s Fables and the bible, (or similar religious or moral texts) the virtue element will have been explained as would have the difference between right and wrong.

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