28 December 2015

Grave matters: The time of angels

Angels are a common sight in Christian cemeteries, carved in stone, standing tall at the heads of graves, carrying the wishes of the deceased’s family that their loved one has gone to heaven to dwell in peace forevermore.

Most of the angels guarding the graves at Cathays Cemetery in Cardiff are female, though depictions of two particular male angels are not uncommon elsewhere and can be indentified by the objects associated with them, Michael with his sword and Gabriel with a horn.

The female angels also appear with objects, often wreaths or flowers, or in specific poses with symbolic meaning. Some angels appear to weep, expressing grief over a life too soon cut short, others gaze sorrowfully skyward, perhaps appealing for God’s mercy. Occasionally, an angel will be shown carrying a child, or perhaps embracing the dead person as they escort them on their final journey to heaven. Angels can be young or old, and a grouping of several angels together is said to represent heaven itself.

Just as we would choose a particular type of headstone from a catalogue today, so the Victorians chose their grave markers from the catalogues of monumental masons. It is quite common, therefore, to find almost exact replicas of angel statues in one cemetery, as you can see from the photograph below. Usually no attempt is made to individualise these statues – most are ‘off-the-rack’ creations – but, occasionally, the faces are different. Whether these are an attempt to recall the deceased person or simply a reflection of each mason’s artistic skills, I’m not sure.

Without meaning to seem disrespectful to the dead, statues of angels always remind me of the television programme Doctor Who and one of its scariest alien races, the Weeping Angels. Resembling the stone statues of winged angels in draped clothing that are so common in Victorian cemeteries, these creatures have the ability to move metres in the blink of an eye, as long as no one is looking at them.

Doctor Who is recorded in Cardiff, and various locations around the city have been used in the filming of outdoor scenes, including Cathays Cemetery. So, I have just one piece of advice for you when looking at the photographs in this blog … don’t blink!

The features of the angels shown in the centre and at right appear more individual than most

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