Ledger stones

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“And what importance do I have in the courtroom of oblivion?”

“How much does a man live, after all?/ Does he live a thousand days, or one only? For a week, or for several centuries?/ How long does a man spend dying?/ What does it mean to say ‘for ever’?” – Pablo Neruda

I have been enjoying Chester’s old churchyards. I feel a sense of peace, walking here.

I keep thinking of the words from Vision by the poet Siegfried Sassoon:

“I love all things that pass: their briefness is music that fades on transient silences…”

A churchyard is a reminder of life’s transience.

Some of the churches go back as far as the 9th century; they display Anglo-Saxon and Norman architectural features, and of successive periods: Gothic, and Gothic Revival.

Sacred places, layered with history, and some no longer sacred: deconsecrated, their gravestones lying in spaces no longer visited or valued for their religious meanings.

I’m drawn time and again to the old ledger stones. Moss and lichen-covered, weather-worn. I brush snow or winter’s brittle leaves from their surface. Nature gradually subsumes each stone back into herself, gently eroding the carved letters and the memories they represent. Perhaps our attempts to memorialize must all ultimately fail.

I can just make out the name of a 6 year old girl, and below it trace with my finger the age of the father who died some years later. I imagine for a moment his grief at the child’s passing, before he too was gone. Their lives – joys and sorrows – a fading epitaph.

Moss grows within the weather-softened letterforms; bowl, counter and stem are ccented in living green and yellow. The soft rain has caused water to pool in shallow serifs

Human foot-fall has worn away entire words. But it’s this very erasure, and the patina of time, which entrances.

I am physically within a few feet of the stone where some three hundred years ago a stonemason crouched with his tools. What were his thoughts and feelings as his chisel struck the stone surface? Did he wonder who might touch these letters 300 years hence?

“Hand carved stones give us a way to bridge the past and future.” – Joy Neighbours, blogger at A Grave Interest

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