Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Central Burying Ground (Boston, MA)

I've been a little slow on the posts this week, I'm taking some of my last vacation of the year and that means my mind is occupied by some other at-home projects. One of those tasks involved getting some old files off a laptop from two replacements ago. Luckily they were perfect to talk about here.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to travel to Boston, and although I was very sick at the time and didn't have much money to travel I couldn't pass up that kind of chance. Back in college when I was preparing a thesis paper on the value of cemeteries (go on and try to act surprised) my adviser rightfully suggested that I make time someday to visit two places: Boston and New Orleans. Reason being, their cemeteries are unique and in a word, amazing. So off to Boston I went.

I have many photographs from that trip that I'd love to share here over time, but for today I just have a few from the first cemetery I visited while there, the Central Burying Ground.

This might look a little familiar, seeing as one of his brothers adorns the logo above. I have a lot of photos of these winged death's-heads for two reasons: They were very popular on New England gravestones in the 1600-1700's, and I love them. Not just because they're skulls, but because they portray both the skull (the physical body) and the idea of something "more than" with the wings. It's a key symbol in the evolution of gravestone imagery and extremely meaningful to me on a personal level.

This may be a little tough to see the details clearly because of some wear, but this is a lovely unique scene that includes a tree, a trunk or branch that has been cut down i.e. a life cut short, an urn, a book with what I believe is a Bible reference and what looks to be a butterfly or maybe a moth. There's a lot of symbolism going on here.

This caught my eye because it was very different from the other stones around it. It was still highly secular as many of the carvings were at that time. But instead of focusing on symbols of time, death, the physical body, etc. the artist instead has a-- perhaps setting-- sun. It's a beautiful style, too.

This winged face or cherub still looks very good, with sharp lines and deep sculpting around the wings. This would be the next step after the death's-head that's pictured at the beginning of this post. As the religious climate changed in New England, using religious symbolism on stones became more acceptable. 

I could hardly have a set of gravestone photos, especially in Boston, without there being some freemason imagery, right? This is an interesting collage, in addition to the masonic symbols there are still the secular symbols of death like the pick and shovel, as well as the coffin -- not with a star or acacia like in other masonic symbolism, but with the skull and crossbones to indicate a body inside. 

Freemason Symbols via Masonic Lodge of Education
Central Burying Ground via
Death's Head, Cherub, Urn and Willow via Plymouth Colony Archive Project

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