Graveyard

Graveyard
Cedar Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Where Angels Do Not Fear to Tread



Jordan UCC Cemetery, Walbert, PA

Angels and cherubs, their chubby, childlike little counterparts, became a popular fixture in cemeteries in the second half of 19th century.  To me, that time is the American Victorian cemetery at its height of emotion, passion and humanization, and represents the swinging of the pendulum to the extreme, the other extreme, quite different than what was seen in the graveyards of 100 years previous. 

The progression of tombstone symbols in the eastern part of the United States among the colonists began in the 17th century and 18th centuries with carved symbols of skulls and crossbones, depicting quite starkly and literally what had happened to the deceased.  The late 18th century and early 19th century saw a shift to symbols of soul effigies, which are faces with the skin still on them, sporting wings, a precursor to the cherub.  This marked a subtle change in societal views on death.  It was thought at this time that perhaps it was not so much about skulls and bones and hellfire and damnation, but more about the soul of the deceased moving on and hopefully up.  And half a century later, angels and cherubs mark the dramatic shift in Victorian society's views about death and the afterlife.  In the late 19th century, the focus was not on the dying and the body left behind, but on the soul's forward progress to heaven, and the hope for a family reunion there someday.


 
Death Head, c. 1731, St. Peter's Episcopal Cemetery, Perth Amboy, NJ
 


Soul Effigy, c. 1776, Moravian Cemetery, Staten Island, NY
 
Angel, c. 1836, Cold Spring Presbyterian Cemetery, Cold Spring, NJ
 

The thing I love most about angels in cemetery iconography is that even with the extreme weathering of marble, the two-dimensional depictions of angels in marble are almost always readily identifiable, because of the wings.  Something of those graceful and orderly feathered appendages almost always remains, and it doesn't take years of study of symbols to comprehend the meaning intended by the family of the deceased.  Their hope that their loved one was in a better place, and was being cared for by heavenly beings, is very apparent. 

Many times, these angels are accompanied by other funerary symbols popular in their time, such as torches (God's undying light or love), roses or other flowers being sprinkled on the ground (the body--the cut flower--staying on earth as the soul moves on), or trumpets (usually wielded by the archangel Gabriel). 

The statues of angels found in late 19th century and early 20th century cemeteries also represents the improvement in pneumatic carving tools, and showcases some of the artistic talent of stone cutters.  I love to try to get close-up photographs of angels, especially those with downcast eyes, as they seem  to offer a glimpse into heaven, if such a place exists.  Sculpture itself has always held my rapt attention, as I cannot believe sometimes that those soft downy cheeks and silky ringlets of hair are, in fact, carved from hard, cold, unyielding stone. 

We could all use the help of a guardian angel now and then.  I like the thought that some being with a little more knowledge and understanding of the universe is looking after me, as I make my way, make my mistakes and make my mark.  Here's to hoping we all have our own angel.  Thanks for reading.


Angel carrying toddler Cora Emelia Becker to heaven, Greenwood Cemetery, Howertown, PA

Angel lifting the soul of 25 yr old Lucy Ann Rittner to heaven, as Lucy Ann drops flowers (her body) to the ground, Heidelberg Union Cemetery, Slatington, PA

Heidelberg Union Cemetery, Slatington, PA

A Cherub over the family tomb of the Goforth family, William Penn Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Greenwood Cemetery, Howertown, PA

Cherub reminiscent of Cupid over the coolest old-man face, Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA


Doylestown Cemetery, Doylestown, PA

Angel sprinkling flowers, Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, WV

Angel sprinkling flowers from a wreath, Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, WV

This is what I mean about the wings:  I can't quite make this out, but because of the wings, I believe it is an angel lifting the deceased to heaven, Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg, PA

Angel with what I believe is the top of a trumpet, not a pipe, Evergreen Cemetery, Jim Thorpe, PA

Evergreen Cemetery, Jim Thorpe, PA

Fairview Cemetery, Middletown, NJ

A muscular little angel brandishing a trumpet, Gilbert Cemetery, Gilbert, PA


Oh, the headless angel, next to a tree stump (a life cut short) and what I think is a harp (an angel's tool), Hollenback Cemetery, Wilkes Barre, PA

Incoming!  The angel Gabriel with his trumpet, Heidelberg Union Cemetery, Slatington, PA

Praying angel, Heidelberg Union Cemetery, Slatington, PA

Angel with a Bible, Lower Saucon Christ Lutheran Cemetery, Hellertown, PA

An angel with arms in the traditional pose of the deceased in a coffin, Hollenback Cemetery, Wilkes Barre, PA

Angel with a scroll, Hollenback Cemetery, Wilkes Barre, PA

Angel with anchor (Christian symbol of hope), Independent Order of Odd Fellows Cemetery, Tamaqua, PA

Cherub, in a familiar pose we often see today in home décor, Independent Order of Odd Fellows Cemetery, Tamaqua, PA

An early 20th century depiction of an angel, Jordan UCC Cemetery, Walbert, PA

Again, the marble is disintegrating and wearing away, but the wing provides the clue, Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

An angel grasping the broken bud that has fallen from the vine, Lower Saucon Christ Lutheran Cemetery, Hellertown, PA

Mourning angel holding a dying bouquet, Lower Saucon Christ Lutheran Cemetery, Hellertown, PA

Angel guiding 6 yr old Carl Weysser to heaven, Mauch Chunk Cemetery, Jim Thorpe, PA

Something used to be on top of the column to the left of the angel, but it has broken off, Mauch Chunk Cemetery, Jim Thorpe, PA


Angel showing open Bible, Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Newark, NJ

Angel showing child the way to heaven, Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Newark, NJ

Mid 20th century sculpture of mourning angel, Mount Prospect Cemetery, Neptune, NJ

Angel that used to have a hand that dropped flowers, Mount Prospect Cemetery, Neptune, NJ

Even without facial features, it is not hard to imagine the sweet face of this cherub, Mount Zion Cemetery, Pottsgrove, PA

Angel with Bible, Mount Zion Cemetery, Pottsgrove, PA

This sad little cherub mourns the loss of Horace, who died before he reached his 12th birthday, Mount Zion Cemetery, Pottsgrove, PA

Gabriel and his trumpet, New Goshenhoppen Union Cemetery, East Greenville, PA

Gabriel again, New Goshenhoppen Union Cemetery, East Greenville, PA

And again, New Goshenhoppen Union Cemetery, East Greenville, PA

Old St. Aloysius Cemetery, Pottstown, PA

Usually angels look young or strangely timeless, but this one looks old to me.  He points to Heaven and holds a banner that says "Our Bessie," Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, WV

Sad little angel with an upside down torch, mourning the loss of Laura Elva Cox, but demonstrating that God's light never goes out, Protestant Cemetery, Nesquehoning, PA

This motif was quite popular in the Lehigh Valley area of PA, Zion's Stone Church Cemetery, New Ringgold, PA

Mourning angel offering a wreath of flowers in memorial, Rosedale Cemetery, Montclair, NJ

Angel pointing up to heaven and holding a scroll, Gilbert Cemetery, Gilbert, PA

This marble carving was placed in a gravestone of concrete, typical of the memorials made by Italian immigrants in the early 20th century, St. Francesco Italian Cemetery, Eynon, PA

Angel carrying child to heaven; a rose bloom rests on top, St. John's Lutheran Cemetery, Honesdale, PA


That motif again, angel with a trumpet holding deceased aloft as she drops flowers.  St. Thomas Whitemarsh Cemetery, Fort Washington, PA


Praying cherub, Tennent Presbyterian Cemetery, Tennent, NJ
 
Okay, so I am a little obsessed with this one, Heidleberg Union Cemetery, Slatington, PA

I can't help it, Heidleberg Union Cemetery, Slatington, PA

A bulky Gabriel at a rakish angle, Heidleberg Union Cemetery, Slatington, PA

Gabriel, Heidleberg Union Cemetery, Slatington, PA

Angel pointing up, holding a trumpet, Gilbert Cemetery, Gilbert, PA

Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Gabriel with his trumpet, Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Angel recording deeds, perhaps in a book, or pointing to the Bible, Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Angel ascending with a toddler, Tinicum UCC Cemetery, Tinicum, PA

Angel guiding two children, Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Angel, I think, with an anchor, I think, Christ Church Cemetery, Shrewsbury, NJ

An early 20th century Celtic cross with the four Evangelists, (clockwise from top), Matthew, Mark, John and Luke, Hollenback Cemetery, Wilkes Barre, PA

Cherubs with a lyre, Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, WV

Gnaden Huetten Cemetery, Lehighton, PA

Date stone on the chapel at Mauch Chunk Cemetery, Jim Thorpe, PA

A multitude of trumpeting angels, New Goshenhoppen Union Cemetery, East Greenville, PA

Two angels holding a wreath over an urn, Queen of Peace Cemetery, Hawley, PA

St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery, Lafayette Hill, PA

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