In multiple previous posts I’ve talked about two related phenomenon in the modern churchyard:
- the clearance of gravestones and their display as ‘mortuary lapidaria‘ or else along churchyard boundary walls or indeed as pathways themselves so that one walks on the gravestones.
- the reuse of older sections of churchyards for cremation burials and gardens of remembrance, sometimes also also churchyard boundaries, along pathways or in areas where older graves have been cleared.
I haven’t properly integrated these two strategies of managing historic churchyards together, but of course they are often intimately related dimensions of the clearance and reuse of older sections of ecclesiastic mortuary environments.
A good example to illustrate this is the St Asaph’s, Llanasa, Flintshire. What is striking is that, rather than show ‘disrespect’ (or at least consign to erosion through footfall) existing gravestones by using them as paving, in this churchyard the memorials are situated in repose along the churchyard paths. So placed, they have an active half-life (elsewhere I’ve called these ‘undead’/zombie gravestones).
Meanwhile, on the upslope (northern) side of the church, the cleared burial space has been reused by cremation burial plots with small gravestones and ledgers which face the path on either sides.
Together, this reconfiguration of churchyards through clearing old stones and reusing for the cremated dead otherwise closed burial spaces proximal to the church building, has no coherent name to my knowledge. Calling it ‘clearance’ is a gross simplification, and calling it ‘reuse’ likewise. Moreover, there is a spatial, material and maybe also an ontological juxtaposition taking place here between the absence created by cremation, and the dislocated historic gravestones. Both find a material presence in this transformed use of churchyard mortuary and memorial space for the late 20th/early 21st centuries. Taking place at different tempos and scales, and creating varied mnemonic configurations which are surely partly by design but also at least partly happenstance, this is a pair of related phenomena whic deserve more careful mapping and evaluation by archaeologists and historians of death.