Gravestones, Tombstones, Headstones, Monuments, Statues, Mausolea
For The Beautiful Home’s “Houses of Eternity” edition, a review of funerary art from the gravestone to the mausoleum, including mausoleum plans and other marker plans, their uses and history.
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The English gravestone (first instance, circa 1200) is a slab horizontally laid above an inground grave. Engraved atop the stone, the remembered name, the dates of life, and a comment in verse or in prose. Recently, a marker contiguous with a grave, the diminutive flatstone (parallel to head or foot), has mostly replaced the gravestone.
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Tombstone, from the Greek tymbos, “burial mound”, enters the English language circa 1560. At that time, coffins were composed of stone, and the tombstone was the visible stone-lid level with the ground, as in the illustration (above).
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Headstone, synonymous with “cornerstone”, describes a stone vertically set at the corner of a building, or as here, the corner of a tomb. As with the cornerstone, the tombstone notes the beginning and end dates of construction, the builder and the architect’s name: id est, “the construction dates = the life”; “the builder = the person”; “the architect = God”.
A headstone might include a symbol: the willow for “mourning”, lily for “resurrection”, clasped hands for “matrimony”, laurel for “military distinction”, the various Christian crosses, Latin, Greek, Celtic, the various stars for Judaism, wicca, et cetera. And then, different culture, different associations: the lotus for Catholics and Coptic’s represents “resurrection and rebirth”, for Buddhists and Hindu’s “purity and enlightenment”.
Around the time of our War for Independence, the headstone became synonymous with “grave-marker”.
An empty burial might have a votive stone, as mentioned in Emerson’s “Concord Hymn”, On this green bank, by this soft stream, / We set today a votive stone; / That memory may their deed redeem, / When, like our sires, our sons are gone, as found at The Old North Bridge, Concord.
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A monument is architecture abstracted, metaphoric. A monument is a building without a room, without a tomb. A monument gives the appearance of a pedestal or a base, though it is a thing complete in itself, the architectural embodiment of a person.
Monuments are most often tripartite, alike a person, a bottom, middle, top, with two sides, front and back. The base is the foot, solid planted upon the ground. The shaft is the body, architecturally solid, featuring a name, dates, and comment set in a frame. The cap is the head, metaphor of the man and the life. A broken column represents a life cut short; the draped ash urn represents the soul veiled between life and death; the obelisk is the light ray (Ra) that pierces the clouds; and the flame and the globe and the pyramid, et cetera, are each obvious in reference.
Sometimes, a monument is a solid architectural block, a portrait in building, an architectural style reminiscent of man, her life, his accomplishment.
And there is the sarcophagus with its plain or ornate pictured stories, as in the Roman and the Greek styles, or the anthropoid (mummy case), as in the Egyptian and the Greek styles.
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The statue might be a portrait, though portrait statues are most often reserved for civic parks and civic buildings. Most often, the funerary statue is a spirit bodied, as in an angel, a bodhisattva, the personifications of Mourning, Silence, Heaven, and those recently conceived banalities, rope-skipping children, flower-picking children, ball-tossing children, and figurations of political opinion.
Too, there is the statued person lying in state; the grasping apparition; the sphinx; the watchful, dutiful canine, a fellow mortal creature, as in Hannah (above) or in Alexander’s Bucephalas, stead of his youth and partner in war. Often, a portrait in relief is included on a headstone, or atop a headstone in a bust of metal or of stone, as in a herm.
Best funerary statues transcend place and time and scene.
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The word “mausoleum” derives from the tomb building of the Hellenistic king, Mausolus (ruled Caria, 377-353 BC). A mausoleum is a burial chamber, sometimes grand, as in the Taj Mahal, sometimes quaint, as at your neighborhood cemetery. A mausoleum might be sealed or might have a door and a stained-glass window, as in a chapel. A mausoleum might, in fact, serve as chapel, a reception room where those in life and those passed from life meet and speak. Common types include the Greek or Roman temple, the Gothic chapel, the pyramid, and other forms both Classive and exotic.
One person or many persons might be entombed within a mausoleum’s sarcophagi or niches. A mausoleum might also double as columbarium with niches for urned ashes arranged to punctuate the wall.
An empty mausoleum is, by definition, a cenotaph.
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Other funerary architecture includes the exedra and the colonnade. The exedra is a semicircular room, often raised. A colonnade might be square or curved; its columns define a sacred precinct.
I think memorial benches a pedestrian insult, what with planting a keester upon a person’s memory, and memorial stone paths the worst, walking with muddy feet upon a person’s life and dignity. Sure, cemeteries need space to continue in business. Even so, the columbarium, the crypt, the catacomb are the preferred option.
Lately, as mentioned in The Beautiful Home’s ten-minute history feature, “Mausoleum“, there has been a vouge in human composting, a supercilious recycling quite different from the sacramental funeral pyre and the ashes of a sacred urn.
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Featured image: Three Multi Crypt Mausolea, M. Curtis, des.
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