According to the plaque installed by the Pentre Broughton and Mount Zion District Historical Group, Brake Methodist Chapel was founded in 1849 and in use until 2002. The plaque tells us it was subsequently demolished in 2010. The RCAHMW records on Coflein, and a  nearby foundation stone (see subsequent blog-post), alert us to the fact that the long-standing chapel building was more recent, built in 1885. It suggests a slightly earlier 2009 date for the demolition. Either way, the chapel is now gone and its burial ground, across the way, now largely cleared of its historic graves. Hence, this is another example of a mortuary lapidarium unlike the nearby Caersalem chapel where many gravestones are still in situ.

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Again, we encounter how mortuary monuments can possess complex life-histories as assemblages within cemeteries and churchyards.  The Brake ‘mortuary lapidarium’ – a mumuration of gravestones mayhaps – takes the form of a rectangle of gravestones laid flat as a pavement, with a pair of trees set near their front, and one single upright funerary monument serving simultaneously as an extant memorial to the individual it commemorates, and as a collective focus for the pavement.

Brake chapel
Screen cap from 1880s OS map showing the burial ground east of the chapel

I couldn’t make out the name of the upright gravestone, and whether its subject, or its form (a cross on a base carved as mock rubble) encouraged its use as a focal point. It might be observed that it would have been impossible to lay horizontally. Whatever the motive, the pavement with this one focus operate as an evocative clustering, dislocated but respected. They are thus a metaphor for generations of worshippers who attended the chapel and sat together on pews every Sunday, now huddled together under trees in the far corner of the cleared space.

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The rest of the burial ground is a dedicated garden, mown regularly by a local volunteer and member of the historical society. it is a beautiful space.

IMG_20200426_095224IMG_20200426_095313Only one in situ grave exists there, perhaps its occupants, or the form of the grave couldn’t facilitate ready translation to the planned arrangement?

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We therefore encounter a very different strategy to laying gravestones out as an assemblage, similar to that I’ve noticed at Nercwys and Hawarden, but different from those I’ve recently discussed for Frodsham churchyard and those up against walls in staggered lines Brymbo war memorial gardens. Different again are those at St Dogmaels where they are leaned against the inner face of churchyard walls (and the ruined medieval abbey ruins) and again different from Gresford churchyard where the memorials are only used as paths on the north side of the churchyard: to the east, south and west they are kerbs. I have been kindly reminded of the lining of the main path to the south entrance of Corwen’s churchyard.

Perhaps we need a more formal typology of mortuary lapidaria, starting with the common place practices, one or more of which can be found in any one cemetery of:

  • Pathway lapidaria
    • Gravestones lain as paths;
    • Gravestones lain as the kerbs of paths;
    • Gravestones lain alongside paths.
  • Mural lapidaria
    • Gravestones repositioned upright against inner face of boundary walls
    • Gravestones repositioned upright and staggered at an angle to the boundary wall
  • Assembled lapidaria
    • Upright as if they are in their original positions, but clearly re-arranged beside paths or in groups;
    • Lain as a pavement or setting within a specific area of the burial site.

Regarding the fate of the site of the chapel itself: you will need to wait for another post.