Unburied Nuts from 5th January 2007

on Thursday, September 06, 2007

Squirrels always scavenge for fresh food and nuts but when things are scarce, they will unbury a nut from one of their caches either in the trees or buried in the ground. Likewise, when I am stressed for time or if I find new ideas for blogging scarce, I uncover an old post for recycling. This unburied nut is called........

Romancing Gravestones

div align="left">If you like this post, you might like to visit my fellow grave vulture, Dave.

Fort A' Formosa, Melaka



I am not sure when my fascination with graveyards started. It seems I have always had that interest. Perhaps it was when I visited the ruins of the Portugese fort, A’Formosa, in the ancient trade city of Melaka. I was quite young then, maybe about 8 years old. The fort had once defended the Portugese dominance of spice trade and control of the vital shipping lanes in the Straits of Malacca.

Anyway, there are some large tombstones that can be found leaning against one of the walls of the fort. These were marked in Portugese and Dutch. The Portugese built the fort after defeating the Sultan of Melaka in 1511. The Dutch were to in turn expel the Portugese in 1641. I was mesmerized. I ran my fingers along its eroded carvings, trying to make out the letters and the words, piecing together a puzzle into a story. I wondered who they were, how they had felt being so far from home in essentially an exciting but dangerous place and I wondered how they had died. These questions would remain unanswered since I could neither read Dutch nor Portugese. Yet, my mind was alive with visions of these youthful adventurers, soldiers and their possibly reluctant wives and families.

Dutch graves in Bogor, Indonesia
It was when I studied in England, that I advanced this hobby further. There I was introduced to the practice of taking brass rubbings of tombstones which made me also appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship of some of these tombs and markers. However, in England I felt empowered to learn more about the stories behind the tombstones because I understood the language and there were usually good supporting historical records.

Nicholas Gaynesford, esquire of the body to Edward IV and Henry VII, and wife Margaret, gentlewoman to Queen Elizabeth Woodville and her daughter Elizabeth of York, c. 1485, Carshalton, Surrey


One adventure into the past took place in a small Oxfordshire village which I happened to stop at while traveling along the Oxford Canal by canal boat. I came across a small but ancient English church with a lovely churchyard with many gravesites. However, it was in the church itself that I made an interesting discovery. There was a plaque on the west wall of the church that had names of some of the Pastors that had served at the church. What stood out was the fact that over a short two year period in the 1350’s, there had been at least 6 different pastors. Why did this happen? Was it a period of dispute within the church? I was fortunate that when I asked one of the local parishioners, he was able to explain the history behind the plaque.

It seems it was related to the coming of the Black Death. In many neighboring villages, the people and the priests fled when the disease began to appear in their areas. However in this village, the pastor saw it as his duty to stay with the sick and tend to them. Not surprisingly, he himself fell ill and died a few months later. His subsequent replacements were similarly inspired by his example and they all stayed to minister to the sick and those who could not flee. In quick succession they too shared in his fate. I felt honored to learn about these men and their selflessness and am glad that a record of their deeds is etched in stone.

It was in another country village in Sussex, England, that I would make my most unsettling and yet poignant find to date. It was autumn and it was wet and dreary as I made my way through this small cemetery. This was not particularly well kept and there was lots of fallen branches, overgrown bushes and decaying leaves all over the place. There were parts where low hanging branches forced you to bend over to proceed. The damp decay of autumn can make a graveyard appear to be a less friendly place. I was not expecting to find much of interest as the graves were relatively new.

Then, I stumbled across it and was physically shocked. There was something black and rotting sitting next to a gravestone. It was about a foot high. I had goosebumps. Swallowing hard, I plucked the courage to go closer. Fortunately, the dark shape never moved. When I got close enough, it still took me a moment or two to comprehend what I was seeing. Finally, I realized that the dark shape was actually made out of wicker which had been tightly woven into the shape of a teddy bear. The wicker had gone dark and was rotted in places giving it a very macabre look. Even more bizarre, was the fact that the wicker bear was hugging fresh flowers.

The grave was for a young girl who had died at age 6 and was only about two years old. I suppose the grieving parents had a wicker bear made to accompany their child in her slumber and to watch over her grave. They probably visit regularly and place fresh flowers. It is always so sad when a child dies. The parents’ grief was still evident. I was quite overwhelmed by the scene. However, even today, thinking of that black, rotting bear still gives me the creeps.

20 comments:

leslie said...

I find cemeteries interesting, too. When we lived in Ottawa, I had the opportunity to visit several that had graves going back to the 1700s. I've visited cemeteries in England and Scotland where people are sometimes buried 6 deep because of the lack of land. And when in Italy last year, I saw a cemetery in Portofino where there's a huge wall of granite where the caskets are inserted and then sealed off. This wall was probably 15 ft high. Some Catholic gravesites are very ornate with sculptures and gardens surrounding them. It's quite the sight. When visiting, I read the inscriptions and try to visualize the person and their family. There is a lot of history in a cemetery.

eastcoastdweller said...

Wow, what an incredible post! From history to horror in just a few paragraphs. You are a master of writing, my friend.

BTW, a squirrel crossed my path this morning. As I slowed to a stop and sat behind the wheel waiting for it to finish crossing the road, I thought about you and hoped that it would not attempt such a dangerous journey again.

thethinker said...

Graveyards creep me out.

Whenever I pass by one in the car, I hold my breath.

Ruth D~ said...

The thing about gravestones is that they signify so much: a life that once was the same way that we are, and has ended in the same way we will. They are mirroes, and fascinating. Great post.

Top cat said...

Fascinating LGS. I also see grave stones as snapshots of history or a person's life.
Nice post my friend.:)
tc

Janice Thomson said...

I too find graveyards interesting. I visited one in Barkerville - an old gold mine by the Bowron Lakes. It was sad to note how many children were buried and that no one was over the age of 34. Also Simon Fraser, whom the Fraser River is named after, is also buried there with a huge tree growing in the middle of the grave. A fascinating site to be sure. Excellent post Lgs. It is wonderful knowing the history of the world.

Claire said...

Cemeteries are endlessly fascinating to me for the same reasons - I love to imagine what life was like for those long ago people. What were they like? Who mourned them?

...Kat said...

I like out of the way old family plots where Nature has returned to provide real flowers and buzzing insects fly, adding movement, sound, Life to the scene and I imagine the folks in peaceful slumber having a well earned rest and generously giving way to all the new life, their tasks now left to us to finish and hoping that we do as well if not better

...Kat said...

and "bears" creep me out...... shudder!

I miss your visits LGS!

Josie said...

LGS, what an interesting post. I have always been fascinated with cemeteries as well. When I was a little girl I used to love to visit a cemetery in Port Alberni and read all the headstones. Some of the graves were from the 1800s and I tried to imagine who the people were.

I just saw your previous post as well, and LOVED it. LGS, you have the funniest sense of humor of anyone I know...!

HeiressChild said...

hi LGS, well for me, i don't care how beautiful they are, or how much history they have, i am not a fan of cemeteries. eerie!

Gina said...

I love these posts. You are the best tour guide ever. What a cool thing to question the lives behind the tombstones...I was nervous as you got closer to that teddybear...wooooooo

Jessica said...

I find cemeteries frightening. The history aspect interests me, but I can't get over that creepy feeling. You're brave.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

leslie,
Wow. your gravesite tours are very extensive. The grandest ones I have seen belong to the Habsburg Dynasty in Vienna. Funny thing that I didn't visit any gravesites in Ottawa.

ecd,
Horror is one of my favorite genres. So your compliment is twice as appreciated.

the thinker,
I understand your reaction but perhaps if you had a guide to explain the history, you might find it interesting.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

ruth,
Thanks. I do agree that gravestones act as a mirror of the beliefs and aspirations of those times. It is demonstrated in whether the stone is ornate or not and in what was it decorated with.

topcat,
Thanks. Happy wanderings.

janice,
this site in Barkerville sounds like a great place to visit. I would certainly like to see the tombstone of Simon Fraser. I wonder what was the inscription.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

claire,
"Who mourned them?" Yes, that is interesting. Sometimes you can trace the passing of several generations of a family too.

kat,
I agree. A gravesite with wild flowers is a happy place to me.

I've had a bear in my yard today and he wrote a nasty email. E-mail writing bears are the worst! Anyway, I think there are no bears in your yard at the moment. I visit regularly though I don't want to leave comments all the time and make you think I am a chatterbox. Besides, your blog is getting more of the attention it deserves from others too.

josie,
Thanks. It is good to have a funny sense of humor. Having a somber sense of humor just doesn't work well. :)

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

sylvia,
How about visiting the empty tomb? I'm sure you wouldn't mind that! That's the reason why we don't need to fear death.

gina,
I was nervous too cause i couldn't recognise what it was!

jessica,
Well, I do get the creeps sometimes. On one occasion, I was the only one down in an ornate crypt and i suddenly was irrationally concerned that I would be locked in the crypt. On another occassion, I was in an underground catacombs and the main tunnel was lit but there were lots of doors leading to pitch dark rooms and that was scary cause you could imagine something grabbing you into the darkess as you pass. I don't think I am brave....just too curious for my own good!

HeiressChild said...

hey LGS, no, i think no tombs period for me. i've never visited my husband's grave. i don't fear death, but i'm definitely not ready to go yet.

MedStudentWife said...

Saba has an interesting fact that I learned about their "cemeteries".

There really isn't many official "graveyards" - many small ones that may contain a dozen headstones (max). There is one biggish one that I saw in the Windwardside that looks like it might have 30 (if that)... its at a corner (almost) of the onemajor intersection in the "village".

But most people were buried in their lots (with headstones)so you see many really oldish & neglected headstones appearing in some of the most unexpected places. In fact - you could easily own a home & property that comes with a couple of 150 year old "vaults"

I took a couple of pictures & will post once I get my Saba pictures together.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

sylvia,
Okay. I understand. You're too busy living! :)

msw,
Fascinating. look forward to your photos and posts. Burying people at crossroads is often tied to some superstitious belief.

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