The deceased, Jan Jerusik (1876-1920) “asks for a Hail Mary” on his tombstone in St. Mary Cemetery in Dickson City, Pennsylvania.

Figure 1. Jerusik monument. St. Mary Cemetery, Dickson City, PA. Photo: author.

Beside the request for intercessory prayer, Jerusik’s Polish epitaph offers just the facts. What arrested my attention, as you may guess, was and is the small relief of a woman in profile, facing left, on her knees, and holding a cross from which the beads of a rosary fall. Long hair falls from her head in a wave down to her shoulders. The figure appears to me to be in the equivalent of a nightgown, although the stone is quite worn and only imperfectly legible.

There is an anonymous monument (because it’s toppled and the inscriptions are now hidden) in the same cemetery which was more ambitious (figure 2).

Figure 2. Anonymous monument with figure saying rosary. St. Mary Cemetery, Dickson City, PA. Photo: author.

If you play the mental game of reassembling the disiecta membra of the anonymous monument you can see that it is typologically a close relative of the Jerusik monument. The biggest difference I can see between them is that the anonymous monument once bore one of those little oval ceramic photographs of the deceased. It’s since fallen out or been vandalized, but such photographs are quite common among the Slavic and Italian-descended inhabitants of the Scranton-area cemeteries.

I’ve not seen the iconography of the female figure saying the rosary before. It seems like a sensible enough design, showing off the (Marian) devotion of the deceased and in Jerusik’s case backing up the request for intercessory Hail Marys. It is suggestive that both are in the same cemetery and that I’ve not seen this iconography elsewhere (I do not pretend to have inspected every stone in the many RC cemeteries I’ve visited in and around Scranton, but I do keep a weather eye out for these sorts of things). I imagine these two stones were both products of a local shop.

Still, close examination (figures 3, 4) quickly shows they are not from the same hand, though they follow a basic type fairly closely.

The figure in the anonymous relief is turned slightly toward us and wears shoes; and its hair is comparatively lank. I did not have a tape measure, but the reliefs are about equal in size and depth.

The trick now is to try to find other examples. I’d imagine that the idea of having a female figure saying the rosary is one that has occurred to funerary artists more than once, and I’d accordingly expect to find the same theme worked out in substantially different ways in other parts of the U.S. and the world. But it would also be interesting to find other replicas of this type to see how widespread it is.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

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