Well – it was an experience! Richard
Barham took us on a photographic Norfolk Grand
Tour of I don’t know how many churches and of
an even greater number of memorials.
Memorials, large and small, to lives
that at least their successors thought were worthy of
permanent and, in older times especially, prominent
recognition. The picture to the right shows cherubs from
physician Sir Edmond Newdigate's tomb in Holt
(1779). My memories of the talk are less
permanent than the monuments, so I apologise to
those of you who know far more than do I.
We started with the priests, because
until the 1300s they were the only people allowed to be
buried in church. Their memorials are usually in the
form of coffin slabs, variously ornate but generally
simple, and frequently set into the church floor. Major
trips hazards they can sometimes be especially as some
ornately carved slabs remain set into the aisle. In
general priests’ memorials do not include the name of
the priest – a sign of modesty?
During the 1300s non-clerical
monuments began to appear, generally knights in armour
or Lords of the Manor, reclining next to their wives –
the sort of thing most of us have seen. Over the years
styles changed, from rigid flat on the back to rather
more elegant poses – elegant, but not always looking
comfortable, awkwardly propped on an elbow.
There are common themes, many morbid
and including a preponderance of skulls and even
shroud-wrapped skeletons. Whole families of children
appear on some monuments, presumably mourning the loss
of their parent. Frequently you see hearts held in hands
and offered up to heaven.
Sadly there was competition to be
memorialised as close to the east end of the church as
possible. Chancels and communion rails were overwhelmed
by the monuments of the over-weening wealthy. Some small
churches have been virtually engulfed by large monuments
and in one case a hole had to be cut in the ceiling to
accommodate the huge stonework.
In the Tudor era memorials became
smaller and less ornate but still full of symbolism and
there was a move towards brass and towards wall plaques.
Some memorials were damaged at the Reformation and later
during the Parliamentary period. Even the less
ostentatious brass versions have been attacked – but
brass is a material of some value!
Many memorials are notable works of
art, sculpted usually in stone but also in a range of
other materials including wood and alabaster. In some
cases, no expense was spared. I forget where, but
somewhere in Norfolk is a huge monument designed and
created by a sculptor of national reputation for the
bargain price of £3,000.00 – in 1805 – work that one out
if you can.
It is hard to believe that the most
recent full-sized lying effigy was installed in 1932,
but pleasing to learn that Edward VII’s Sandringham
memorial to his mother is a model of restraint. I hope
this is it.