As part of my ongoing investigations into how cremation memorials have augmented and been incorporated into traditional churchyards, I want to present you with another example that dates back to the 1960s, and is therefore one of the older examples I have found.
Two months ago I went to the Margam Stones Museum to film for a forthcoming BBC Wales TV programme on the Story of Welsh Art. The museum was opened especially and I got to stand in front of the magnificent Conbelin stone and talk about the early medieval carved stones created at major ecclesiastical centres in the 9th-11th centuries AD.
Before filming, I had a chance to quickly explore the church of St Mary, incorporating the nave of the former Cistercian abbey as well as its churchyard. As well as some fine gravestones dating from the 19th century and newer sections with recent gravestones, I briefly visited the small, rectangular garden of remembrance. This is a particular example, since it has with a very Catholic feel I haven’t encountered elsewhere, because it has a statue of Mary and child in neoclassical style within a canopy at its upslope, north-west corner, akin to the kind I’ve witnessed at holy wells such as St Non’s (Pembs.). Also, the garden of remembrance is framed by the former schoolhouse which is now the Margam Stones Museum downslope (south). In other words, although not accessible directly from the churchyard, it is more than simply a quiet, private corner of the churchyard, partially blocked from view from the church. It is also a garden of remembrance abutting a museum and display of early Christian Wales. Thus, whether by design or not, the spatial proximity of the cremated dead to some of Wales’s most famous and oldest Christian carved stones is worthy of note and reflection in relation to a broader theme I’ve identified of cremation being integrated into, and archaicised, in material and spatial terms. While elsewhere, churchyard boundaries are commonly deployed in this regard, the use of a schoolhouse-cum-museum, and a canopied shrine, have no precedent.
The internal organisation of the garden is notable too. It comprises a rectangular lawn for ash-scattering and a path around the edge by the churchyard wall, leading past the statue and to a shelf upon which small memorial plaques have been situated. The space is far larger than the demand, with a pattern of placement indicative of different stages of augmentation.
The Margam Stones Museum with the southern edge of the garden of remembranceMarkedly different from more recent separate grave-plots for cremation memorials, this mid-20th-century garden of remembrance attempts to create a distinctive spatial and material set of referents for the cremated dead, and affording them a communal outdoor ‘architecture’ for remembrances outside of the traditional grave-plot, framed by the churchyard walls, a statue and a building occupied by holy stones.
Rather than the ultimate end-point of an slow evolution, we seem to see a dramatic break from tradition in the 1960s in a high-Anglican parish. Here and elsewhere, this is followed by a slow return to the more traditional forms of memorialisation in subsequent decades.
Yet, of course, this is only but one option, and beyond the churchyard, in municipal cemeteries and crematoria gardens of remembrance, lawns, plantings and woodlands and the wider landscape operate alongside traditional grave-plots of different forms to materialise the cremated dead in the landscape.