« PreviousContinue »
THE GRAVE, OR SEPULCHRE of THE DEAD. 385
but under this restriction, according to a canon of King Edgar, That none but good and religious persons should be buried in churches, as only worthy of such sepulture. At that period, generally speaking, the churches belonging to abbies and monasteries were held in higher repute than ordinary parochial churches, especially concerning the matter of sepulture. Many desired to be buried in a monastery rather than in a parish church, being confident, according to the persuasion of those times, that this situation would confer some benefit on their souls, by means of the offices and prayers usually performed for such as were buried there. Selden, from the authority of a synod of Ireland, held at an early period of the English church, observes, that a man might bequeath his burial to any abbey he pleased; and as a remuneration, such abbey should have the apparel of the dead, his horse and his cow, for a mortuary.” And as the religious persons of all orders were much employed in making wills and testaments, they had seasonable opportunities to prompt persons dying to acts of charity, and particularly for a good legacy to accompany their corpse to their convent. MonumENTS AND GRAVEs.—The erection of monuments in churches, in memory of persons there interred, is of ancient date. No one can grant license to bury a corpse within the church, or to put up such memorials, but the rector only, because the soil and freehold is invested in him, and in no other. Such erections have in all ages been held in great veneration. Among the Romans, defacing or violation of them was severely punished, by pecuniary mulcts, cutting off hands, banishment, and sometimes by death. Solon, the famous Athenian lawgiver, made a special law for this purpose. Lewis, king of France, on being prompted by some of his courtiers to demolish the monument and disturb the bones of the renowned Duke of Bedford, who, in his time, had been the scourge of France ; answered much in the same language as that of Pausanius, king of Sparta, who having slain in battle Mardonius the Persian general, and being advised by Lampon, one of his followers, to hang up the body of Mardonius, as Mardonius had done to King Leonidas; said, No, for in so doing, I should show myself a right barbarian, and no true Grecian. Our King John, being advised to untomb the bones of an enemy, replied, O, no I wish all my enemies were so at rest. At the beginning of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, when many relics of popish superstition were demolished in churches, abuses were offered to some costly and innocent monuments of the dead, by covetous and ignorant persons; for preventing any further proceedings of that sort, the queen immediately sent forth a proclamation," prohibiting all such disorders, under pain of fine and imprisonment, besides the repairing of all things broken or spoiled; and to give greater effect to this measure, though the proclamation was printed, the queen signed every copy of it with her own hand, which were very numerous, to be circulated throughout all her dominions. And in the fourteenth year of her reign, she charged the judges of assize to inquire concerning abuses of this kind, to see that due punishment was inflicted on delinquents, and so effect a reformation. Profanely disturbing the ashes of the dead, is a crime deserving to be punished severely, without any mitigation.
* Seld. Hist. of Tithes, cap. 9. fol. 263. Staveley's Hist. of Churches in England, p. 261–265.
The Rev. Legh Richmond, Rector of Turvey in Bedfordshire, has very judiciously touched on a subject, concerning church-yards, which has often offended the eyes and ears of intelligent and pious Christians:—“I have often lamented,” says he, “when indulging a contemplation among the graves, that some of the inscriptions were coarse and ridiculous; others, absurdly flattering ; many expressive of sentiments at variance with the true principles of the word of God; not a few, barren, and unaccompanied with a single word of useful instruction to the reader. Thus a very important opportunity of conveying scriptural admonition was lost. I wish that every grave-stone might not only record the names of our deceased friends, but also proclaim the name of Jesus, as the only name given under heaven, where by man can be saved. Perhaps, if the ministers of religion were to interest themselves in these matters, and accustom their people to consult them, as to the nature of the monumental inscriptions which they wish to introduce into churches and church-yards, a gradual improvement would take place in this respect. What is offensive, useless, or erroneous, would no longer find admittance, and a succession of valuable warning and consolation to the living, would perpetuate the memory of the dead.
What can be more disgusting than the too common spectacle of trifling, licentious travellers, wandering about the church-yards of the different places through which they pass, in search of rude, ungrammatical, ill-spelt, and absurd verses, among the grave-stones; and this for the gratification of their unholy scorn and ridicule ! And yet how much is it to be deplored, that such persons are seldom disappointed in finding many instances, which too readily afford them the unfeeling satisfaction which they seek I, therefore, offer this suggestion to my reverend brethren, that as no monument or stone can be placed in a church or church-yard without their express consent and approbation, whether one condition of that consent being granted, should not be a previous inspection and approval of every inscription which may be so placed within the precincts of the sanctuary.”
A cemetery attached to a church or edifice set apart for public worship, is a measure productive of moral and religious advantages. The grave perpetuates the memory of the dead. Survivors “pass it on their way to prayer; it meets their eyes when their hearts are softened by the exercises of devotion; they linger about it on the Sabbath, when the mind is disengaged from worldly cares, and most disposed to turn aside from present pleasures and present loves, and to sit down among the solemn mementos of the past.”
To this sacred ground let the pride of beauty, the vigour of youth, the boldly presumptuous on long life, repair. Let those advance hither, who are industriously accumulating wealth, ambitiously climbing the dangerous ascent of honour, or grinding the face of the poor, that they may hoard up the spoils of oppression, while they stop their ears at their loud and heart-rending cries: those who are walking in circles of gaiety and carnal mirth, seizing the cup of intoxication, and rioting in scenes of luxury and vice; I say, let all such resort to this repository of the ashes of the dead, where are given moving lectures on the important subjects of religion and mortality. The dead are silent orators, that speak with an eloquence far superior to, and more affecting than that of a Cicero or a Demosthenes, the glory of Greece and of Rome !
“Struck with religious awe, and solemn dread,
See there is one opened for the reception of another inhabitant; the grave is never satisfied There lie parts of a human skeleton on one side is a skull; the hair and muscular substance are gone; and its front, which was once enlivened with intelligence, presents a humiliating appearance. Those sockets, once containing sparkling eyes, whose expressive looks were indications of the lively sentiments of the soul, have perhaps been eaten away by devouring worms. Those ivory teeth, still preserved, were beautifully enclosed with rosy lips, which assisted the modulation of the voice, and sealed the bond of friendship and love. That mouth had a tongue, the instrument of speech and mental intercourse, intended to supplicate mercies, and return the tribute of grateful praise—which, faltering in sickness, was silenced by death. That large cavity, once containing the brain, was the seat of understanding, judgment, and memory, but the rational tenant being fled, behold it is now an empty cell! Surely, these fragments of a human form ought at least to moralize the mind.
Here, all worldly plans are terminated, earthly possessions resigned, warm disputes settled, triumphs of