Monday, June 16, 2014

Phipps Street Burying Ground

Another stop on our cemetery hop last week, was the Phipps Street Burying Ground in Charlestown, Massachusetts. This cemetery is one of Boston's oldest 17th. century cemeteries.

There are two unique features of this site. First, the headstones remain in their original configuration. During the 19th. century, a lot of the old burial sites were re-arranged to align the headstones in neat rows. Second, an unidentified stonecutter, know as the Charlestown Carver, carved many of the stones. His style was continued by the Lamson family and became a regional style.

Most of the stones are carved from slate. The Puritans didn't believe in religious icons such as a cross, and they didn't believe in giving human form to God or angels. The motif found on most of these early gravestones is a skull with wings, sometimes called "Winged Death". The symbolism represents physical death and spiritual resurrection or the swiftness of life.

Floral embellishment on the stones give a softer, more feminine look to the stone, or the deceased loved flowers.
After the Puritan influence waned with time and progress, "Winged Death" took on a more fanciful look with cherubic faces and elaborately flourished wings.
Raised punctuation was used to conserve space. Spelling during this early time period had not been standardized. In the above example, lies is spelled with a "y". Another interesting short-hand on this stone is the Anglo-Saxon character, thorn, which looks like a "y". It was used in words like "ye" as in ye old shoppe and later became "the".  Long "s" which looks like the letter "f" with a long tail and missing crossbar is also seen on this stone. Long "s" is usually found in words with a double "s" (submissive on this stone). Long "s" fell out of use in English by the middle of the 18th. century, but survives as the character "esset", ß, in German.

Besides the carvings, I also wonder about the stories carved in the stone. Anne Badger was only 25 years old when she died. How long had she been married to her husband, Stephen? If you enlarge the image, you will see Anne is buried with her 16 day old daughter, Elizabeth, who died on the same day. Did they die from complications of childbirth? Illness? An accident? Murder? Was Elizabeth the only child of Stephen and Anne? Did they have other children? In any case, Anne's story is a sad one as she never saw her daughter grow up and perhaps have children of her own.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder about the stories too......people look at me funny when I make comments and ask questions in a graveyard. I think it's perfectly normal!