Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Greyabbey, Co. Down | The Graveyard

Greyabbey, Co. Down | The Graveyard
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In a recent post I enthused on the subject of the beautiful Medieval remains of the Cistercian monastery at Greyabbey. As that post already contained some 30 photographs, I thought it wisest to exclude the more recent graveyard, to the east of the main church, and save it for a separate post. I’ve visited this graveyard on several occasions, and have never failed to be taken aback by the beauty and quality of these stones. It has to be among the finest collections of 18th and 19th century gravestones in Northern Ireland.

In the graveyard, looking towards the east gable of the
Cistercian monastery

 'This Ston and Bering pleas Belongs to John Lyons of Dunover'.
Stone for his wife, d. 1829
Decorated with eight-petalled flowers on either side of a rather odd-looking and stern face.

'Erected by Robert Lyons of Dunover' Stone for his son, d. 1826
 Note the fluted fan above a garland of roses.

'Here lieth the Body of James Askin son to David Askin of Ballybolly' d. 1801
 Decorated with geometric symbols

'Erected by William Wilson of Ballyboley' for daughter (d. 1845),
unnamed child 'who died young', and wife (d. 1853)
Although they are all female, the decoration of the square and compass, flanked with acacia leaves, are symbols of Freemasonry and more appropriate to a male burial. Just goes to show - those with the money get to pick the decoration!

'Erected by Thomas Bennet of Ballyboley in memory of his Mother Mary'
(d. 1841)
Here the fluted fan motif incorporates a seven-petalled flower. The central panel is, again, the masonic square and compass, flanked with acacia leaves, along with the level and pillars. As a male-only order, these would appear to be at odds with a gravestone where a woman is the first commemorated.

A peaceful place

Detail of ornamental iron work

'Here Lieth the Body of Hugh Bow (?)' d. 1812
Decorated with geometric motifs and eight-petalled flowers. Note the word 'Restored' carved in a different style.

'Erected by David Hamilton of Ballyboley on the 24th day of June 1881'
The symbolism draws much from Freemasonry, including the square and compass, along with the proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. Other symbols, including the equilateral triangle and the five-pointed star, do occur in Freemasonry, but I’ve not previously seen them in this form of arrangement on a gravestone. At the very top of the stone, in a separate ‘house shape’ there is a radiating sun face, an hour glass (looking like a wrapped sweet), and a pair of crossed long bones. While at least some of these can have Masonic significance, I think it is best to interpret them here as more standard symbols of death, or ‘memento mori’. I also have no idea as to the significance of the two lines of acronyms in the space between the decorated area and the inscription proper. As far as I can read them, they are: I.T._.Y.O.M / _ _ O. I may be wrong, but my instinct here is that this stone is not Masonic, but is instead related to one of the Northern Irish Loyal Orders, such as the Orange Order, the Royal Arch Purple, or the Royal Black Institution – all of which borrow heavily from Masonic symbolism.

Again, there is a fluted fan motif with a classical urn at the centre. The interesting things here are the two lines of diagonal text that read: This stone marks 3 graves here'.

'Here lieth the body of Sarah Reid wife to David Reid of Ballydoonen' d. 1802
Decorated with an eight-petalled flower and geometric motifs.

'Erected by Alex Murphy' 19th century
Note the text along the upper edge: 'This stone claims two graves one on the north side'. The decorative motifs include the square and compass on the left, denoting Craft Masonry. The twin pillars and the 'G' symbol could represent the same, though the addition of the arch and keystone are probably meant to represent the degree of Royal Arch. I was having some issues deciphering the symbol on the right hand side of this stone, and turned to my friend Chris McClintock for assistance. He suggests – and I agree with him – that the symbol is meant to be a combination of a Masonic plumb line and a level, set at angles to each other. However, neither of us are sure what the wiggly line connecting the two is meant to symbolise – all suggestions would be welcomed!

Detail of possible combined plumb line and level symbol

'Erected by William Johnston of Cardy in memory of his father' d. 1855
The decoration is a simple fluted fan motif, with a masonic square and compass.

'Here lieth ye Body of Jean Cath Cart' d. 1758
Although this stone lacks any decoration, the elegantly cut lettering is remarkably beautiful. It is one of my favourite stones in this graveyard.

'Erected in memory of Mary Gunning late of Grey Abbey' d. 1822
Similar to the 'Wm. Cleland of Cardy' memorial (above), there is a fluted fan motif with a classical urn at the centre. Though here there is the addition of a pall or shroud suspended on two pegs above the urn.

Eternally in the shadow of the abbey

'Erected by William Wright of Ballynester in memory of his wife
Mary Wright alias Reid' d. 1835
The decoration is another variation of the fluted fan, with an eight-petalled flower and two blank roundels. However, I have no idea as to the meaning or origin of the central symbol - it appears to be feather or a leaf under an arch. I spotted at least one other example of this motif in the graveyard, but this one was the better preserved of the two. Again - suggestions are welcome!

Panoramic overview across the graveyard

Chapple Family and associated in-law
explore the graveyard

'Erected by Sarah Cumming of D.Dee [Donaghadee] Grangee.
In memory of her husband, David Cumming' d. 1840
The upper part of the stone is decorated with vegetation and geometric motifs. The latter include two blank roundels and a 'Vesica piscis' or 'Mandorla'. Despite its popularity among neo pagan and new age groups as a symbol of the divine feminine, the 'Vesica piscis' has a long tradition in christian art as a symbol for the resurrection. The swirling motif at the centre may be interpreted as a variant of the fylfot cross or 'sunwheel swastika', again a representation of the resurrection.

'Mingled with their native dust rest underneath the remains
of Thomas Shaw of 
Glestry' d. 1794

'Here lieth the Body of David Stuart of Sloanstown' d.1798
Again, decorated with geometric ornament.

'Erected by Arthur Nevill of Dunover, in memory of his Son Robert' d.1833
The inscriptions continue until 1935. The upper portion of the stone is decorated with two roundels with geometric ornament, stylised foliage, and a 'Vesica piscis' that contains a four-petalled flower.

'Erected by James Walker of Ballybrain in, memory
of his son Joseph' d.1853
The decoration is similar to the previous stone, with two roundels containing five-petalled flowers, two sprigs of semi-stylised foliage, and a 'Vesica piscis' that contains a four-petalled flower.

'Erected by James M'Clelland of Springvale. in memory
of his father Samuel M'Clelland' d.1844?
Again, decorated with the fluted fan motif, this stone exhibits a long, diagonal crack that has been repaired by the insertion of two metal braces, with bolts drilled through the stone.

'Erected by John Purse of Greyabbey. In memory
of his Son James' d. 1834
The stone is decorated with the simple fluted fan motif, over an eight-petalled flower with ten leaves.

Panoramic overview of the graveyard

Selection of stones with the ubiquitous and elegant fluted fan motif

White (?) family slab d. 1764
The upper portion of the slab is decorated with geometrical figures that each produce an 'eight-petalled' effect. However, the stone is showing severe damage from flaking and splitting. 

White (?) family slab d. 1764
The same gravestone as previously, showing massive delamination along the vertical plane. The same can be seen in the tall gravestone in the background.

This stone is very similar to the 'John Purse of Greyabbey' stone (above)
Here too the stone is decorated with the simple fluted fan motif, over an eight-petalled flower with leaves. The stone has obviously sustained severe damage, and had been repaired with a metal brace.

'Erected by William Carson of Ballyneister in
memory of his Son William Carson' d. 1837
The decoration is in the form of the fluted fan motif with two blank roundels, over a group of Masonic symbols. These include a compass over a level, flanked by pillars. This is again flanked by two sprigs of stylised foliage. However, given the Masonic theme of the decoration, they may be relatively confidently identified as acacia sprigs.

Various gravestones in need of love, attention, and restoration

Time to go! Chapple Minor sets off in search of new adventures!

I hope you have enjoyed the images. If you live overseas, I hope that they offer some degree of inspiration to consider coming to Northern Ireland and see these great sites for yourself. If you’re already lucky enough to live here, but haven’t visited Greyabbey, what are you waiting for? Go!

I’d like to thank Chris McClintock for his assistance in deciphering some of the symbolism in the stones above. Take a moment and check out his incredible stained glass work (both new creations and restoration projects). He is also the author of The Craft and the Cross: The True Story of the Sun of God.

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