I believe that Christ has redeemed my soul Cuthbert Powell Conrad Sept 3, 1849—June 20, 1892. He was Master of Arts, University of Virginia: Professor of Chemistry and Physics, Univ. of Ark.: Professor of Chemistry and Metallurgy, Mo. School of Mines: A Ruling Elder in The Presbyterian Church. Called to a full use of his perfected strength in the very presence of the God whom he loved.
Elders had some ministerial functions, but more generally,
The elders are persons chosen from among the congregation and ordained for this service. Beyond that, practices vary: sometimes elders are elected by the congregation, sometimes appointed by the session, in some denominations elders serve for life, others have fixed terms, and some churches appoint elders on a rotation from among willing members in good standing in the church. However, in many churches, ruling elders retain their ordination for life, even though they serve fixed terms. Even after the end of their terms, they may be active in presbyteries or other bodies, and may serve communion.
It is their duty to have an eye of inspection and care over all the members of the congregation; and, for this purpose, to cultivate a universal and intimate acquaintance, as far as may be, with every family in the flock of which they are made “overseers”.
JULIA A. wife of JOHN M. SEAL departed this life November 30, 1865, aged 27 Years, 6 Months & 8 days.
Julia Seal went the way of all flesh, and her husband, who was five years older and died six years later, is buried nearby. He caused a memento mori to be placed on her headstone (figure 1) which boldly attempts to rhyme gone with soon.
Alas, she has left us, her spirit has fled, Her body now slumbers along with the dead. Her savior hath called her, to him she has gone, Be ye also ready to follow her soon.
The meter is interesting, 12-beat lines of 6 + 5. Technically, they are well assembled from that viewpoint:
Alás she has léft us her spírit has fléd Her bódy now slúmbers alóng with the déad. Her sávior hath cálled her, to hím she has góne, Be yé also réady to fóllow her sóon.
No need to think too hard about this one. See first the young age at which “my husband” S. Fred Grimm died: 28. His early death prompted the erection of this handsome, if olde schoole, monument by his grieving widow (figure 1). So much from the text.
Yet see that blank raised pad beneath the excerpt from Psalm 23. This is standard (though by no means universal) procedure for a widow or widower to leave space for their own name come the day the stone will record their death as well. A cutter comes to the cemetery and cuts away the pad to leave the raised letters of (in this case) the wife’s anagraphic data to match the dead husband’s above. And it makes sense: a young grieving widow wishing with fresh loss to connect herself eternally with her dead husband and prudently leaving space for it.
Yet as we know, the world is more often than not kinder than that. That blank pad on the stone almost certainly betokens her falling in love again and remarrying. In the event, she went into the ground in her final family’s grave, and S. Fred was left to moulder alone. But again, the world is kinder than that: he doesn’t care.
In the great age of funerary display, landscape architecture was an important part of the design of plots and around mausolea. In the great cemeteries such as West Laurel Hill, careful upkeep means the hand of the landscape architect is often visible even a hundred or more years later.
All too often, however, the natural life-cycle of cemeteries—filling up or left behind, as Laurel Hill was by West Laurel Hill—deprived many of them of funds, and thus the careful maintenance required to maintain the landscape architecture, even if they escaped the vandalism that all too often plagued them as the neighborhoods in which they were situated became dicey.
The Charles Lee Robinson mausoleum of 1922, a handsome and solid Egyptian Revival number in Mt. Hebron Cemetery in Winchester, VA, is reasonably pristine (figures 1, 2, 3). It occupies most of a plot that is crowded in with older and newer graves. The landscape architect chose to demarcate the mausoleum from the surrounding riff-raff by a buffer of boxwood bushes forming, as they usually do, a hedge. Boxwood is pliable, and makes a hardy evergreen hedge. It prunes well, if one is interested in having it retain a smaller form.
The Robinson hedge circles the mausoleum except for the entrance. Large pompoms fill the corners while a lower hedge runs between them. After a hundred years, it’s clear that someone has been sedulously trimming this hedge and cutting it off to the height of the second course of rustic-face masonry all around the building. It gives a nice chance to see an original design fairly close to the way it was meant to look.
Neglect usually shows its hand in two ways. First, failure to replant when a bush or tree dies, and a failure to trim back sometimes monstrously overgrown landscaping. Asymmetries and hypertrophies are the telltales here. I should also mention the invasion of volunteer species not intended as a part of the original landscaping.
You’ll have seen that the categories overlap to a degree, and several of the monuments shown have been invaded by volunteers of one sort or another.
It’s quarantine time! The attentive reader is invited to analyze the Jones plot in Loudon Park Cemetery, Baltimore. Something here is not what it seems. I’ll post my solution in a separate post.
Something must be in the air besides viruses. Having published a post only yesterday on Captain Shirley Lee Owens, jr., a victim of World War II, I today came across a typologically similar monument in Mt. Hebron Cemetery in Winchester, VA (figure 1).
Corporal Carl Frederick Schmidt’s (1896-1922) monument, a mostly flat granite slab caulked to a rustic-faced base, records that he served in the Motor Truck Company 509, Motor Supply Train 423. I believe this would have put him into the Quartermaster Corps. There is nothing about him on the interwebs besides a record of the grave pictured here, but a search for the unit turns up that it was in France, and one of its members died in October 1918 just after arriving, and before having gone up to the front. I suspect the influenza pandemic got him.
In any event, Carl survived the war only to succumb to something in 1922, at the age of 25. His parents, whose monuments stand nearby, erected this substantial monument to his memory and embellished it, like Shirley Owen’s parents did their son’s, with a ceramic cameo of the dead soldier (figure 2). He has a long, agreeable face, prominent ears, and a shock of dark hair that rises alarmingly, like Heat Miser’s (figure 3), above his forehead. He appears to wear a military tunic that is only buttoned at the top, and a scarf about his neck hides his collar. There is a tree behind him and he is sitting up straight in a chair with spindles and crest rail behind him. I can’t make out anything else.
Not the dialogue of a character in Dante but notionally what one of the abstract figures trapped in tight framing circles common in 1920s-1930s art might say. Here (figure 1) we have a fine example of a muscular Greek-looking gent in such a circular frame (I’ll call it a tondo from here on) on the Rollins monument in Maplewood Cemetery in Durham, N.C.
It’s one of the scant few interesting monuments in the predominantly mid-20th-century western side of the cemetery (figure 5). A little find-a-gravery turns up the 1931 death of Edward Tyler Rollins, Sr., as the probable “reason for the season” in the creation of this grave. This at least agrees well with the style of the art.
We’re well along the road from Neoclassical art heading toward its more geometricized, streamlined descendant, Art Deco. Our man has some realism about him, but if you think about it, those ribs, abs, pecs, biceps, and thigh muscles are no longer functional parts of a real body but are sketched in, more like decorations applied to a flattened human figure to make it recognizable as an idealized male (figure 2). This is fitting, since he is standing ideally for the deceased, now experiencing the revelation of the afterlife in the light of knowledge, or God, or faith, or you name it. Literal revelation: see how he’s pulling back the cloth that veiled his sight.
See how different the straight Neoclassical Baetjer tondo of an abstract grieving female figure in Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore is (figure 3). She was occasioned, I think, by the death of Catharine Bruce Baetjer in 1923, and sculpted by Hans Schuler in 1924. Here all of the tricks of foreshortening have been used to make this figure seem like a functioning human body despite being in medium relief.
The same artist gave us Loudon Park Cemetery’s Hax monument tondo, also in Baltimore. The tondo is signed and dated to ’27; George A. Hax died in 1925. This figure’s more scrunched in her tondo than the Baetjer figure, but this seems programmatic, as she is compressed by grief. Our revelatory man in Durham is breaking out of the constraints of his tondo at several places, presumably in service to the program of that monument, which is revelation breaking the bounds of earthly ignorance.
The Rollins monument still has its roots in the Beaux Arts and Neoclassicism, of course, it’s just streamlined. Its didactic quality comes right out of Neoclassicism. The ornamentation, a slightly streamlined but still wondrously beautiful set of laurel leaves to the left of the tondo and oak leaves to the right, with an interrupted strip of ivy running along the top of the sides of the monument, is a revenant creature of an earlier age than Art Deco.
We’re also in that twilight period after the great depression when Neoclassical funerary (and public) art abruptly died and by mid-century monuments became predominantly barren stones with names and anagraphic data. Here, at least, we actually get a pentameter: “HOW BLEST ARE THEY WHO FROM THEIR LABORS REST.” But you see how these elements have been pushed to the edges of the Rollins monument to give large amounts of blank stone.
While exceptions can always be found, generally, as can be seen from a wide view of graves not far from the Rollins monument at Maplewood (figure 5), after the depression more expensive human-cut imagery dwindles, leaving a decadent style where decoration, if any, is sandblasted in as a cost-saving measure into flat slabs of stone. I don’t say it’s worse, just dull.
Shirley Lee Owen, Jr. (11 October 1921 – 28 September 1943), whose monument and headstone both reduce his name to S.L. Owen, was, as his monument states, a Captain in the U.S. Army in World War II and died in North Africa. He was named for his dad, who lived until 1965.
I’d like to tell you he won a Medal of Honor: he didn’t. I’d like to tell you he died in a major battle in North Africa: he didn’t. But a little looking around on ancestry dot com does turn up some facts that flesh out a picture.
He graduated from High School in 1938, was 5 foot 10 inches tall, and weighed 184 pounds. He enlisted at Fort Bragg on 03 August 1940. His enlistment record states his civilian occupation was automobile manufacture. A private at enlistment, his serial number was 1574308 and he was ultimately promoted to Captain. He was a protestant.
I cannot find him in a yearbook photo that supposedly contains him, but I see his individual 1938 portrait, in which he looks a little hard, quite serious. You can see it, too, atop this page. He was vice president of his homeroom in junior year, a member of band in sophomore, junior and senior years, a member of the Page Literary Society in sophomore, junior and senior years, and in the Photographers’ Club in senior year.
I like the man in the small cameo photo on his monument. He still looks serious, maybe just a little cocky. But he also, despite his crooked smile, has a sad look in the eyes, I think. I note that his garrison cap bears the insignia of a Lieutenant; this was presumably the last portrait his parents had of him.
On his left collar peeking out over his leather jacket appears to me to be the insignia of an officer of the Quartermaster Corps (figure 3). I’m not sure that this insignia was worn on the shirt collar in practice; perhaps it was added by the photographer to signify the area of service.
How did he die? In a small action that got no notice in the large-scale timelines of World War II but which meant everything to the soldiers killed in them? Did he die of illness, or in an accident? Is this monument a cenotaph?
The other side of his stone serves to commemorate the Williams family (figure 4). Why is the name Owen in a recess so deeply cut? It is the size of the Williams name on the other side. Did the Williamses donate one side of their own monument to the grieving parents of a dead soldier? Was the name Williams on that side cut out to bear the name Owen?
For me Shirley Lee Owen, Jr., now serves as a proxy for all of those who died unheralded in the war, thanks to the small ceramic portrait his parents had inserted into his monument catching my eye.
Once upon a time in Maplewood Cemetery in Durham, N.C., there was a large SE corner plot bounded by two roads. It was bought by Durham magnate “General” Julian Shakespeare Carr and turned into his family plot.
Carr (1845-1924) was an unrepentant former Confederate. On one well-publicized occasion late in his life he was such a jerk about it that his injudicious off-script remarks have displaced just about everything else that can be said for or against him. He headed the North Carolina UCV (United Confederate Veterans) organization at the height of the age of reconciliation, and, like so many Confederate veterans (of whatever rank) who lived to old age, was styled “General” as a courtesy; we find him so titled on his headstone. At the foot of his grave is an inscription reading “HE WAS A CONFEDERATE SOLDIER.” I ask you to bear in mind as you read this that I come not to praise Carr but to bury him.
The Carr plot’s original well-ordered complexity now looks like an overcrowded mishmash thanks to vandalism and neglect of the landscape architecture. In its final intended form, however, it was surely one of the more ambitious family plots of the United States, and this once handsome plot owes a lot to the fact that the 1915 death of Carr’s wife, Nannie (Nancy), fell during the heyday of American funerary art, a period running from roughly 1890 to 1930.
From the north (figure 1), the plot can be seen to front on a north-south road at the left, but instead of filling out its rectangular area, a kerb marking a privileged area gently curves away from the road like a giant capital letter D. Some sense of the plot’s complexity can be made out even from a distance.
The plot is organized around three axes. The primary axis, oriented east-west, coincides with the axis of symmetry of the D; a secondary axis perpendicular to that is anchored by two major monuments nestled in the top and bottom corners of the D; and a tertiary axis runs from a lesser statue of a kneeling angel to Nannie’s headstone.
The principal axis is defined by the formal entrance and an exhedra echoing and abutting the curve of the plot’s D (figure 2, looking west). The symmetry is apparent, but it takes an effort of will to restore symmetrical plantings, such as a mate to the scrubby, overgrown boxwood on the left, south side of the entry.
Things are not helped by the tree just to the north side of Carr’s grave (the one with the North Carolina flag; the other is Nannie’s). It was toppled or felled at some point and suckers were allowed to emerge and grow into a hideous inverted octopus. Plantings to the north of the exhedra and behind it, such as azaleas, have generally been lost. What remains is scrappy. Vastly overgrown trees, magnolias on the south and cyprus on the north, have changed the plot’s once sunny, well-trimmed neoclassicism into a grimmer, shaggy romanticism. Try to imagine all of the plantings smaller, shorter, symmetrical, and well groomed. As it is, the towering magnolias on the south side of the plot have killed the grass with excessive shade.
The threshold, like so many, bears the family name but interestingly also the words (as you step over it) “ASHES TO ASHES” and “DUST TO DUST” (figures 3, 4).
On the far side of the plot the broad granite exhedra rises with its tall back and a shallow bench. It forms a backdrop which stages the presentation of Nannie’s and Julian’s graves, and you can see the landscape architect’s conscious exploitation of R.H. Wright’s Greek Doric mausoleum in the distance as a further classical backdrop (figure 2). Wright’s temple was built in 1912, a couple of years before Nannie died. It adds a pastoral element in this otherwise unpastorally crowded cemetery, and in fact the lay of the land mostly obscures a north-south city street that runs between Carr’s plot and Wright’s mausoleum.
Truncated obelisks or small pylons mark the edges of the threshold, and granite plinths bearing bronze bases stand immediately behind them. Those bronze bases are all that is left of now-lost decorations like urns. Symmetrically situated behind these are the graves of the two principals Nannie (1853-1915) and Julian. Hers is the first burial, and I take the plot’s creation to have been occasioned by her death.
Still on the principal axis, between the graves and the exhedra, is a large round three-tiered base which has lost its original bronze decoration which was surely grander than the two lost ones at the sides of the threshold. If there were traces of a water supply I might have guessed it was a fountain. It does not appear to have the attachment marks for a statue, only a central attaching bolt and a circle of stone almost as wide as the top of the base which has been left rough and was clearly originally meant to be covered by the correspondingly circular base of a metal decoration (see figure 10).
Nannie’s (figure 7) and Julian’s (figure 8) cradle graves, straddling the axis, are but two of four within the plot. Off axis to Nannie’s left is her son Austin (figure 6), and his left is his wife Laura (figure 5). The headstones of the men bear oak leaves, those of the women lilies, all in low relief. We should bear in mind that cradle graves were intended to be filled with decorative plants tended by the grieving family. In Carr’s case, the family, which was rather large, as you can see here, jumped ship except for Austin, the youngest son. The rest are scattered about the cemetery in less imposing plots. Perhaps Austin and Laura added themselves as an afterthought, breaking the symmetry planned by the landscape architect. Such intra-family politics are imponderable at this point.
The exhedra (figure 9) is a curved bench with a high back bearing the words of John 11:25, “I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE,” above a sunburst with undulating rays of alternating lengths. The floor of the exhedra is covered with irregular pavers of a reddish stone. The large central base I mentioned overlaps this paved area, its top tier bearing an attractive Greek wave pattern around it (figure 10). The ends of the exhedra are carved with trumpets wrapped in ribbons (figure 11).
The two texts we’ve encountered so far, on the threshold and the exhedra, as well as the trumpets, betray a lively religious sentiment, and in fact Carr is remembered by his commemorators and biographers as a devout worshipper at Durham’s Trinity Methodist Church. The program of the secondary axis with its two major monuments is even more strongly tied to Carr’s olde tyme religion.
The north monument comprises an angular granite exhedra with three Italian marble statues integrated into it. A central block with wings surmounted by cornucopiae (figure 13) has, on a plinth in front, the image of a kneeling female figure with her back to us clinging to a cross (figures 14, 15). The base of the figure has the famous line, “SIMPLY TO THY CROSS I CLING” from Augustus Toplady’s 1726 hymn, “Rock of Ages” (number 361 in the United Methodist Hymnal). The mainline protestantism here is echoed by the inscription running in 4 verses in the top register of the central block of the architectural frame:
IN THE CROSS OF CHRIST I GLORY TOWERING O~ER THE WRECKS OF TIME ALL THE LIGHT OF SACRED STORY GATHERS ~ROUND ITS HEAD SUBLIME
Carr displays traditional pious devotion here. The kneeling figure, an allegory of Nannie’s and his faith, clings to a large cross in low relief (figure 14), her adoring gaze fixed upon the top of it (figure 15). See the delicately mannered pose of the hands (figure 17), the loosely grasping right and histrionic pose of the left that would become familiar in silent films (and Sunset Boulevard).
At the base of the cross and rising up alongside it are lilies, which we’ve already seen on the women’s headstones (figures 5, 7, 14). The female figure is barefooted but wears classical garb; she is depicted young, the garb quite voluminous with draping and folds. There is no indication that it was intended as a portrait of Nannie.
Benches extend from this central block at a fairly steep angle, and at the end of the benches sit two symmetrical kneeling angels on plinths (figures 12, 16), their gaze also adoringly focused on the cross.
A stunning monument anchors the south end of the secondary axis. Anyone familiar with allegorical representations of virtues (or other abstractions) in this period will find the Carr monument very familiar. For example, Henry Adams caused a typologically similar monument to be created for his wife when she died in 1885 (figure 18a). This was, of course, the famous Augustus Saint-Gaudens Grief inserted in a Stanford White architectural framework. There is even an exhedra and landscaping in this monumental complex in Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Cemetery.
Carr’s monument for his wife draws upon that tradition for the overall typology. As to the statue group, the sculptor, seeking to depict a nurturing mother with children, has adopted a grouping nearly identical to that hit upon by G.F.C. Smillie for his obverse of the 1896 two-dollar United States silver certificate (figure 19).
On the certificate, Science presents her offspring, steam and electricity, to Commerce and Manufacture. Understandably, the group of mother and children is outwardly focused, in service of the allegory. The Nannie Carr monument, which might be titled “Nurturing Motherhood,” has the mother figure seeking to enclose her children, though not too tightly, in her embrace and cloak. She also bends her head down, whereas ‘Science’ keeps her head aimed at the viewer with only her eyes turned down. For the sake of brevity I will call it the ‘matron monument.’
The Carr group’s optimal vantage point is directly in front of it: the ruddy halo of red stone just behind the matron’s head is proof of that. The halo is well exampled as a framing device in contemporary art. Mucha’s Sarah Bernhardt (figure) is a good example from 1895.
Alexander Calder’s 1911 Lea monument in Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill (figure 20a) echoes the Carr matron monument in its framing halo, here a bronze wreath, even to having words incised within the frame, though not arranged radially as on the Carr monument.
Blashfield’s 1923 Alma Mater panel in the Walker Memorial Mural at MIT (figure) is another work with halos framing the heads of secular abstract qualities. Here there is text in the halo running around its circumference as in the Carr matron monument.
But the halo is not simply an emphatic frame. In the Blashfield mural it clearly builds upon its Christian roots to confer a sacred quality to the disciplines saluting Alma Mater, and the Carr artist has intended to confer something similar upon the concept of motherhood and thence upon Nannie. This interpretation becomes inevitable, I think, when one considers Carr’s marked conventional religiosity as attested in his personal life and in the monumental complex on his plot.
Carr’s religion comes again to the fore in the inscriptions on this monument. Three texts, Proverbs 31:28, 31:29, and 31:30 are inscribed, in that order, in the highest register of the architectural framework, in the halo, and on the base of the statue group, respectively.
At the top, Proverbs 31:28. HER CHILDREN ARISE UP AND CALL HER BLESSED; HER HUSBAND ALSO, AND HE PRAISETH HER (figure 22).
In the halo, positioned to be visible around the matron’s head and not be interrupted by her shoulders is the text of Proverbs 31:29: MANY DAUGHTERS HAVE DONE VIRTUOUSLY BUT THOU EXCELLEST THEM ALL (figure 23).
On the base of the statue group is Proverbs 31:30, FAVOUR IS DECEITFUL AND BEAUTY IS VAIN. BUT A WOMAN THAT FEARETH THE LORD, SHE SHALL BE PRAISED (figure 24).
The seated matron leans forward with her arms around two young children, a boy on her right and a girl on her left, I think, to judge by their hair styles (figures 18, 25, 26, 27, 28). The matron’s cape is extended by her hands to cover the children, who are in thin wraps not unlike an exomis (an “off the shoulder” tunic that exposes one breast). The figures of the children are too young to have expressed secondary sexual characteristics. This allegorical family grouping is generic, I think, and not an attempt to create actual portraits of Nannie and two of her several children within the allegorical framework.
I thought at first that the heads of the figures might be portraits. The matron’s head, however, has a fillet and is in a typical generic Greek goddess style. And while photography existed early enough to have provided exemplars of any of Nannie’s children to the sculptor, these faces also seem generic to me, and it would seem invidious to choose only two of Nannie’s children to serve as proxies for the rest.
Finally, and surprisingly, there is a tertiary axis on Carr’s plot that runs from a figure of a kneeling angel directly through Nannie’s headstone (figures 33, 34, 35, 36a). The angel bends over deeply in prayer and bears upon its wings an open book upon which are affixed two bronze tablets as pages (figure 36). If the threshold is at zero degrees, the cross monument at 90 degrees, the exhedra at 180 degrees, and the matron monument at 270 degrees, the tertiary axis has been tucked out of the way at something like 315 degrees.
And whereas the primary axis is a formal axis presenting the burials, and the secondary axis a religious or ‘sacred’ axis, the tertiary axis is Carr’s axis of personal grief for his wife. He even provided a bench for himself (or any reader) behind the angel to enable the visitor to peruse the two texts on the facing pages of the angel’s book. On those pages are truncated versions of a popular song, Forgotten, and the poem Mine.
Forgotten is by Eugene Cowles with lyrics by Flora Wulschner, dating to 1894 (figure 37).
Here is a link to a performance by Cowles in the US Library of Congress collection.
Forgotten you? well, if forgetting Be thinking all the day How the long hours drag since you left me Days seem years with you away Or hearing through all the strange babble Of voices, now grave, now gay Only your voice: can this be forgetting? Yet I have forgotten, you say Or counting each moment with longing Till the one when I’ll see you again If this be forgetting, you’re right, dear And I have forgotten you then
Forgotten you? Well if forgetting Be reading each face that I see With eyes that mark never a feature Save yours as you last looked at me Forgotten you? well, if forgetting Be yearning with all my heart With a longing, half pain and half rapture For the time when we never shall part If the wild wish to see you and hear you To be held in your arms again If this be forgetting, you’re right, dear And I have forgotten you then Forgotten, you say!
Mine is not a song, it seems, but a poem. I find it printed as early as 1879 on page 509 of volume 37 of Mothers’ Journal (figure 38),and again at intervals well into the 20th century.
A few odds and ends are worth observing closely. First, it is useful to see how the marble statue and the red halo were inserted into the monumental frame (figure 39), and to observe the care with which cherubs and crosses were carved into the pilaster capitals of the architectural frame of the matron monument (figure 40).
When Nannie died, Carr appears to have thrown himself into the task of appropriately and religiously commemorating her. Victorian sentimentality, religious fervor, and social competition appear in equal measures in the Carr plot. I regret that there are no period photographs available of the plot, because it was a wonder of American funerary art.
The Page-Ange monument in Maplewood Cemetery in Durham, N.C., exhibits a form of a common topos, the memento mori (“remember to die”, or more commonly, “remember that you will die”). The stone, to judge by the family headstones, dates to approximately 1949.
The standard form is: “As you are now, so once was I; as I am now, you soon will be.” Nice little iambs, in fact a pair of tetrameters. Something has gone grimly wrong in the Page-Ange text, however. Here is the poem with the beats marked:
Remémber fríends as yóu pass bý As yóu are nów ónce was Í As í am nów you are sóon to bé Prepáre to méet thy Gód and fóllow mé
This is just crazy bananas with its needlessly syncopated second verse, its third which slips for a moment into three-quarter time, and fourth pentameter. The first and fourth verses are in fact framing elements, ‘Remember’ in the first making explicit the ‘memento’, and ‘God’ in the fourth making it explicitly Christian. The frame adds an AABB rhyming pattern.
The central idea has been common as death itself since antiquity, and can be found world-wide. For our purposes, the English couplet, embellished, as on the Page-Ange monument, or embedded within longer attempts at funerary verse, is ubiquitous.
In the United States, as late as 1962, there is the headstone of Daisy Odom in the Mount Calvary Baptist Church Cemetery in Blackville, S.C.:
Remember friends as you pass by, As you are now so once was I As I am now, you soon must be Prepare to meet thy God and follow me.
This is much better in most respects, although the fourth verse is likewise a pentameter.
Transcribed tombstones from the U.K., readily available online, carry the topos back well into the early 19th and late 18th century. A few will illustrate the larger trend.
At Morwenstow Parish Church in Cornwall, U.K. The phrase ‘prepare to meet thy God’ appears numerous times in several variants in the 18th and 19th centuries, but I note the following two relevant examples, good tetrameters from the grave of John Hooper, from 1734,
Stay travelrs stay now cast an eye As you be now so once was I As I am now so must you be Therefore prepare and follow me
and more good tetrameters from that of Benjamin Adams in 1804,
As you pass by pray cast an eye As you are now so once was I As I am now so you must be Prepare for death you’ll follow me.
An anonymous grave in Langtree Parish in North Devon in the U.K. comes pentameters,
Prepare to meet thy God and follow me As I am now so shortly shall thou be.
William Newcombe’s grave of 1824 at Newton St Petrock, U.K., also with pentameters, runs:
Prepare to meet thy God and follow me, As I am now so shortly thou shall be.
The point of these is to show how there is remarkable flexibility in the statement of the main idea and a wide variety of accompanying verses. In fact, the Page-Ange and Odom final verses are basically taken, along with the rest, from this long series of expressions of the memento mori. Once you start thinking that you will draw elements from established poems it becomes thinkable to grab a pentameter to add onto a body of tetrameters if it mentions God in a way you like.
But what about the problematic second and third Page-Ange verses, which are, as I believe, erroneously disjointed? I propose the following reconstruction as what the composer might have had in mind (with bold additions, tacit deletions, and punctuation):
Remémber fríends as yóu pass bý, As yóu are nów, so ónce was Í. As í am nów, you sóon will bé: Prepáre to méet thy Gód and fóllow mé.
John Hooper’s stone has a fine example of the conceit that the stone addresses the traveler in the voice of the deceased. “Stay, travelers, stay,” is as nice an opening as I’ve seen.
Sant’ Agnese fuori le mura is my favorite church in Rome. I treasure memories of cool early morning visits on otherwise hot summer days (figure 1, 2011), and I likewise treasure the memory of introducing this complex of ecclesiastical buildings to classes of students I’ve brought there.
This is emphatically not the place to try to teach you about this (aptly named) complex, which illuminates a great deal of social, political, archaeological, ecclesiastical, and art history of the late antique and early medieval periods. But I will expend a few paragraphs showing you one of the gems of the complex, the imperial mausoleum of Constantine the Great’s daughter, Constantina, now called the church of Santa Costanza. We see today the relatively intact remains of a second phase of the building that dates to around 350 CE.
The mausoleum can be seen in Piranesi’s engraving from Le antichità Romane (figure 2). It’s the cylindrical structure with labels G, H, P, and R. Two cylinders form the nucleus of the building, a taller central one surrounded by a lower, wider one. An annular concrete vault (with wonderful original mosaics) runs between the two cylinders. The inner cylinder is not solid but stands on a series of columns like stilts. Just where the inner cylinder rises above the roof of the annular vault running between it and the outer cylinder there are clerestory lights that give the interior a luminous quality. The inner cylinder is capped with a cupola. Opposite the entrance is a sort of apse of rectangular plan that rises above the level of the clerestory. But this is all very dry prose. Your heart should beat a little faster when you see the interior (figure 3).
The point of view is from the entrance while standing under a portion of the annular vault I mentioned. The furthest wall you see at ground level with various niches in it is the outer cylinder. Twelve pairs of columns, arranged radially, support the inner cylinder, which spans the columns with arches. The clerestory lights can be seen above. The gray-streaked ring of pavers marks the footprint of the inner cylinder were it to come all the way down to the floor.
The radial central plan is typical of the direction late-antique architecture was taking; there is a surviving major church with a central plan, Santo Stefano Rotondo, not far away in Rome. It dates to the middle of the fifth century CE, a hundred years after Santa Costanza (figure 4).
Characteristic of late-antique, and especially paleochristian architecture, is the reuse of parts from earlier buildings. Close examination will reveal irregularities betraying such reuse even in the relatively low resolution images in figures 3 and 4. There are various practical and symbolic reasons for such reuse which needn’t occupy us here. What is important here is that on the splendid paired columns, which are unique in their radial arrangement in classical architecture, we find what are called composite column capitals (figure 5).
Composite means here a fusion of features of Ionic and Corinthian capitals. You see the acanthus leaves that so strongly mark the Corinthian, and above them the scroll-like volutes, with egg-and-dart molding between them, of the Ionic. Such capitals carry a notion of triumph about them, as they are typical features of Roman triumphal arches. An example from Santa Costanza can be seen in figure 6.
The close observer will note that this pair actually has only one composite capital; the outer (left) column is the sole example of a regular Corinthian capital in the colonnade. Even imperial builders couldn’t always command a perfect used set of 24 capitals. If you go there, it’s fun to point this out: it’s the second pair as you go around the ambulatory to the left from the entrance.
There is another church that bears a more than passing resemblance to Santa Costanza. That is San Michele Arcangelo in Perugia, also called Sant’ Angelo, which dates to the 5th or early 6th centuries, CE. Here is a cutaway drawing (figure 7):
Sant’ Angelo is a bit larger than Santa Costanza, quite a bit smaller than Santo Stefano Rotondo. Rather than having Santa Costanza’s concrete annular vault, the Sant’ Angelo architect employed a series of buttress-like arches to span the space like tendons between the two cylinders that make up the bones of the structure. Like Santa Costanza, the central cylinder is supported on columns, but this time single ones, not pairs. Over every other column similar ribs spring to form arches that support a timber roof above the drum. In these last features the church resembles Santo Stefano Rotondo more than Santa Costanza.
Sixteen reused columns, an ill-sorted lot, support the drum in Sant’ Angelo. They are nevertheless attractive colored marbles and granites (figure 8).
The Sant’ Angelo architect had to content himself with Corinthian capitals, since he was in the boondocks and composite capitals are comparatively rare. Yet in looking over the interior when I first saw it in 2015, I noticed that there was one example of a composite capital in Sant’ Angelo. More interestingly, in a church of the same basic plan and dimensions as Santa Costanza (they’re both about 80 feet in overall diameter, not counting lost external colonnades, etc.), we find that one composite capital is atop the third column along on the left when you start from the axis of the original entrance (figure 9 shows column 3 with composite capital and column 4 with a Corinthian capital).
Santa Costanza’s twelve pairs of columns are spaced at 30 degrees, whereas Sant’ Angelo’s sixteen columns sit at 22.5-degree intervals. That’s not quite precise, but it will serve for this argument. Do the calculation and you’ll find that if we take the radial axis bisecting the original entrance as zero degrees and count rotation (and columns) clockwise, the sole Corinthian capital in Santa Costanza, number 2, lies at 45 degrees, whereas the sole composite capital in Sant’ Angelo, number 3, lies at 56 degrees. The position of number 2 in Santa Costanza, at 45 degrees, bisects the difference between numbers 2 and 3 in Sant’ Angelo, 11.25 degrees from each. What this means is that an architect wanting to “cite,” as it were, his design source at Santa Costanza, could not have put his one outlier capital closer to where Santa Costanza has it than where he did, as it is a 50-50 split between columns 2 and 3 in Perugia.
I might add, though it is common enough that it would not have convinced me of a deliberate citation of Santa Costanza by itself, that the intercolumniations on the principal axis and the cross axis are slightly wider, and the arches on those axes slightly taller than the rest. This privileging of the principal axes, imposing a notional cross on the radial plan, is something Santa Costanza famously does as well. Indeed, even the use of arches over the colonnade was hardly inevitable. The Santo Stefano Rotondo architect uses a massive architrave, for example. In all of these details the Perusine architect further cited his Roman source, and the sole off-kilter capital makes sure we get the correct reference.
Of course, if you look closer, you can find all sorts of differences, too. I’d expect that, as the amount of money the Perusine architect had to work with was almost certainly dwarfed by that available to an imperial commissioner; I suppose peculiarities of the site may also have played a role, as well as the provincial location of the building and origin of its workers. Still, when I mentally did the math for the radial position of those one-off capitals while I was in Sant’ Angelo, I was convinced that our architect had studied Santa Costanza as a model, used its basic plan, and left a winking citation in the composite capital. Some day I’ll go back with a tape measure, check historical records, and work the argument out precisely, but it’s too fun not to publish an anteprima here.
The slender resources of the interwebs on Sant’ Angelo suggest that no one else has seen this before—but you never know, almost every idea has occurred to someone else before . . . .