Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Religious Trends - West End Cemetery - Part 2

Key symbols commonly found on Catholic graves

Roman Catholic monuments in Australia up until the 1880s were predominantly Gothic in design with seraphs and angels common motifs, and crosses found on the majority of memorials.  In areas where the population was high in Irish immigrants, the Celtic cross was particularly favoured.  The crucifix was another favoured form of the cross and iconic representations of the Virgin Mary, Jesus and the Saints were also prevalent.

An example of a 'Celtic' style cross, which includes the IHS symbol.  Photo: T. Fielding.

During the years the West End Cemetery was in heavy use (late 1860s – 1930s) the cross appears to be the most common monument for Catholic graves.  The Celtic cross and the Calvary cross appear equally favoured as monuments and the cross is often used as a motif, along with the IHS symbol.  Often these occur in combination.  The cross was a symbol of faith in all forms whilst the IHS symbol originated in the medieval cult of the name of Jesus and is a Latinised version of the Greek letters of the name and symbolise faith and piety towards the Catholic religion.

Key symbols commonly found on non-Catholic graves

One of the key differences between Roman Catholic monuments and non-Catholic monuments is that non-Catholic adherents (though there were exceptions) did not utilise the cross in commemorating their dead.  The cross ‘was shunned as being too popish and iconographic for funerary monuments’.  The Protestant view was that the use of the Virgin Mary, the Saints, and even the crucifix would encourage the worship of idols, rather than God.  In the Georgian period the non-Catholic religions erected plain-shaped headstones (Gothic, Norman and anthropomorphic) and used a minimum of decoration but in the Victorian and Edwardian eras more and more decoration was employed, and memorials took the shape of obelisks, columns, urns, pedestals, pediments, ledger stones and table-tops.  Angels and weeping willows could be found on Church of England headstones, but figurative sculpture was less popular among non-conformist religions such as the Presbyterians, Weslyans and Independents.

An example of an 'anthropomorphic' shaped headstone.  Photo: T. Fielding

The symbolism on non-catholic headstones in the West End Cemetery between the late 1860s and the late 1920s varied very little.  Ivy, a symbol of fidelity and eternal life is utilised very heavily during this period.  Another very common motif is the clasped handshake symbol.  Often the cuffs depict both men and women’s clothing suggesting a farewell in this life and a reunion in the next. This particular style of headstone was also erected in this cemetery for a number of Anglicans and was extremely popular with Methodists. 

By the 1930s, monuments such as obelisks and pedestals with draped urns and broken columns became popular large monuments in the West End Cemetery, particularly with Church of England and Presbyterian followers.  A change that can be observed in the West End Cemetery is the use of crosses on non-catholic graves.

In this article I’ve only focused on the five most common religions represented in the cemetery. Up to the year 1900, those five religions (Church of England, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Weslyan and Methodist*) accounted for approximately 85% of burials. The other three largest groups recorded were listed as Pagan, Heathen and unknown.  While they were recorded as such, it’s likely that many of these last three groups were actually Indigenous, or of Chinese or South Sea Island origin.

* Both Weslyan and Methodist were recorded as separate religions in the West End Cemetery register.

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