In country churchyards

My parents fell heir to a number of his books, a selection that included local history and archaeology writing on Gloucestershire, Bristol and Somerset, a number of books on church architecture, and at least half a dozen on churchyards.

Looking at the shelves, the number of books on churchyards seemed to be larger than the number on church buildings. He had been a Quaker, so perhaps the buildings had not seemed so important, but perhaps there was another reason for the interest in the ground that lay outside the solid wooden doors of the medieval churches. His wife was a bell-ringer, perhaps there had been occasions when she had gone to ring in other towers, as is the wont among ringers, and he had travelled with her to explore the headstones and memorial monuments that were to be found in the grounds.

Churchyards can be places apart, places of deep peacefulness.

Among evangelical Christians, it used to be said in the days of Communist rule in the old Soviet Union, that people who were unable to attend the sort of places of worship that they might have chosen would instead go and spend time in graveyards and cemeteries. Perhaps they did, but perhaps the reasons were far more complicated than people simply being unable to attend a church of their choice.

The churchyard in our village is crossed by a public footpath from the gateway at the south side of the churchyard to a small gate that lies to the north-west of the church. When I was young, children would have been afraid to have used the path in the dark – there was a fear of ghosts.

It would be hard to imagine a place less frightening than the village churchyard, the chief danger on a dark night would be to stray from the path and trip over one of the stones that is in a state of disrepair.

Lying at the north-west corner of the saltire shaped village green, the churchyard is ancient and its very antiquity probably means that it has many stories to tell someone who came searching.

There are people commemorated whose lives were long and full of years, there are others whose lives were tragically short.

The churchyard is fascinating because it is a closed book. For the past century, burials have been in the village cemetery, the occasional interment of ashes in a small plot against the south wall of the yard are the only burials that have taken place in recent times.

Perhaps one of the books would explain how to read a churchyard, how to discern stories that are written in the soft sandstone.


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2 Responses to In country churchyards

  1. Vince says:

    ‘Fell heir’. Interesting phrase given the current situation. It’s hard to credit Mogg is a PC and Johnson is PM. That Mogg guy sets my teeth on edge.

  2. Ian says:

    I think having your teeth set on edge is among the milder of reactions!

    “Fell heir” is a lovely term, capturing that sense of receiving something unexpected.

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