Meifod’s vast churchyard


In two previous entries I outlined my attendance at this year’s Early Medieval Wales Archaeology Research Group colloquium in Welshpool here and here. Over 2 days, there were two field trips and 10 presentations, plus a discussion of the future of the early medieval archaeology research framework for Wales.

On the Saturday afternoon outing, we visited the church and churchyard of Meifod, Powys, to see a striking early medieval sculpted stone monument within the south aisle of the church.

The Meifod composite war memorial against the north wall of the church tower – First World War above, Second World War below, and cross with wreaths at the bottom

Meifod’s Church and Churchyard

The church itself is large and it sits in a vast two hectare churchyard that once contained two other churches. Everything seems dwarfed by this vast space; the modern memorials, the war memorial against the large western tower and the visitors.

What was interesting about our visitor for me was that I did something that came natural to me as a churchyard visitor and yet clearly seemed odd and incongruous to my fellow archaeologists: I explored the most recent cremation memorial ledgers and photographed their location. I was asked by one archaeologist what I was doing and I explained along the lines as follows.

As readers of this blog will know, I am interested in how churchyards have been redesigned or adapted to receive the cremated dead; sometimes by extending existing churchyards and in many other cases by reworking existing areas in the existing churchyard to accommodate gardens of remembrance and plots for cremation memorials. Often, by this re-design, cremation memorials are brought front-and-centre, close to the routes most used by parishioners and visitors into the church.

A striking composite memorial in the churchyard

Sundial and Cremation Memorials

Meifod provides a striking example, since by the south door, the 18th-century sundial has been reused as the focus of a cluster of cremation memorials dating to the late 1990s and 2000s.

One might speculate: is there a specific significance linking the sun, the measuring of time, and the commemoration of the contemporary dead? Are the cremations augmenting the sundial as a means of measuring the passing of time and the seasons, linking the interment of ashes to the rhythms of time in the churchyard? Does the sundial allow the cremated dead to be marked by time and mark time?

Alternatively, might the link to the sundial be a strategy of forgetting, creating a common locus around which identities of the cremated dead are merged, and natural temporal rhythms in which time itself and the lives of the dead are merged and given a new atemporal structure?

I think the answer might be somewhere in between – neither the measuring of time nor the destruction of time. It might be simply that the sundial offers a ready time-mark in the churchyard space around which the ashes of the recent time can be installed. I’ve called this the cremation switchback: since the recent cremated dead are condensed into a dense collectivity, referencing a range of different established locales within the mortuary geography of the churchyard. The cremated dead neither mark nor deny the passage of time, they augment and revitalise it.

The cremation memorials around the sundial, by the south door of Meifod church
The cremation memorials around the sundial, by the south door of Meifod church