I love a historic churchyard or a Victorian cemetery, the craft and sculpture of the memorial mason. The darkness of mature yew trees, the statuesque sequoias and grand cedars. The mellow tones of limestone and lead and the flash of verdigris from weathered bronze. Wrought and cast iron railings, sundials and globes, anchors and chains. Such decadence. Rich and competitive displays of grief. They were never sustainable and continue to drain the resources of those who care for them.
The Second World War cut labour and material resources. It also brought about a change in attitude towards death and equality, which put a stop on the exuberance and rich craftsmanship of previous generations. Enter modern municipal cemeteries. These strived to take a more pragmatic approach with the aim of reducing maintenance requirements. The lawn-cemetery was conceived in the 1950's, taking inspiration from the simple uniformity of the war graves. They adopted the principle but lost the soul.
Today's lawn cemeteries have no charm or beauty. They feature narrow strips of mis-matching, back-to-back memorials bolted onto bands of cast reinforced concrete, that steps down with each change in level. Between the rows of memorials, aisles of barren, mown grass continue the austerity. They present a rather sad, perfunctory arrangement; stock headstones of indestructible polished rock, imported from halfway around the world. Alongside clichéd epitaphs, sandblasted into the stone, new technology has allowed images to be laser etched or full-colour printed onto the stones. Flowers left in integral vases range from fresh to spent, while artificial blooms linger longer to end in faded brittleness. Across an internal tarmac road might lie an area of 'traditional' graves with kerbstones and more substantial memorials. Here, to avoid strimming and fiddly grass-cutting lawn has been replaced by buff coloured gravel, interspersed by resin-bonded micro-gravel paths. Further on is an array of stone tablets each with its own flower vase and inscription. A sea of artificial silk flowers on plastic coated wire stems, cast stone figurines and solar powered lights, it's all too much for the eye to settle on.
My heart sinks in these places. I don't belong here. I long for the calm uniformity, and crispness of a war graves area, or to browse the heritage, art-forms and craft of the high Victorians, or to feel the patina of weathered, local stones leaning in God's green acres. But I'm most at home in the peace and simplicity of a truly natural burial ground.
Our mantra - 'Simple, natural and beautiful' seems to work best.
Stories and thoughts from the Leedam camp.
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