Musings on a Walk Through a Victorian Cemetery

Cemeteries, although perceived by some to be dark and morbid, can serve as an immense source of inspiration and provide a very real connection to the past.  And it is in just such a place that I spent my Saturday afternoon…The cemetery in question was to be found in Bedford.

It opened in 1855 and reminders of Victorian gothic art and architecture are dotted all over, from the monuments themselves – obelisks, angels, Grecian urns and Celtic crosses – to the buildings, including the cemetery chapel and the gatehouse.  For such a small town, people from all over the world ended up being buried there, and it makes you wonder about their stories, especially how come it was this small town where their story reached its conclusion.

It is also interesting to see how inscriptions on the stonework changed over time.  Sometimes only the names of the deceased are recorded, perhaps alongside the date of their birth and death, whilst other gravestones bear witness to the manner of the death, such as an accident or as a result of war.  Other information includes where they lived in life, not just the name of the town or village, but the exact address, as well as who their close family were…Finally, it is the names themselves that perhaps, alongside the skilled stone-masonry, which draws the most fascination.  Some certainly sound exotic to our modern ears.  The one that I found most unusual was Hepzibah…A quick Google search says that the name means ‘my delight is in her’ in Hebrew.

A walk in a Victorian cemetery can tell us a lot about contemporary attitudes towards death and the departed.  Although there is no doubt that they are places whose primary function centres on sadness and grief, there is beauty and light here too.  Landscaped grounds, gently twisting paths that are lost to sight behind a carefully placed tree, benches for you to sit and stay a while…it’s as if they were trying to create their own little Eden, a place for the living as well as the dead…

In The Hall of Two Truths

Inspired by this week’s Monday Inspiration – White Feather

The funeral was over, the door to the tomb, which had been filled with all that I could possibly need in the afterlife, sealed.  The opening of the mouth ceremony had been accomplished and I had made my way from the tomb through Duat, the underworld, passing all trials I met along the way.  The protective amulets and spells I had been given ensured success, at least this far.

And now I found myself here, in the Hall of Two Truths, met at the doorway by the jackal-headed god, Anubis, his ears alert, his face grave.  He took my hand and led me into the chamber, at the head of which Osiris, holding his crook and flail, sat upon his throne, Isis and Nephthys standing to either side.  I felt the eyes of the forty-two divine judges who resided in the Hall, on me as we moved along the magnificent pillared walkway, the only sound to be heard coming from the scribe-god, Thoth, who had already started to etch a permanent record of events here in stone.

Torches and braziers lit up the vast space, shining light on to the largest set of scales I had ever seen.  I swallowed hard as my eye was drawn to Ammit the Devourer, who waited patiently close by.  The thought of what was to happen should I be founding wanting at the final test was terrifying.

We stopped before the throne, so that I could make my supplications to the Lord of Duat.  As I began to speak, Anubis moved away and left me standing there alone, but my voice didn’t fail me.  When I next laid eyes upon the jackal-headed god, he was holding my heart in his hands.  Ma’at, the Lady of Truth was standing next to him, her ostrich feather standing proudly in her headdress.

At some imperceptible signal, Ma’at slowly, reverently, removed the feather and placed it on one side of the scales.  Nothing happened, for truth, justice, harmony and honesty carried no weight. Then Anubis stepped forward.  It was time to see how my heart would fare, to see how pure was my conscience.  Would I be admitted into the afterlife?  Would I attain transformation into an akh, or would the Devourer of the Dead have her way?

I put my back to the scales and turned my attention to the rest of the assembly, for it was time to begin my negative confession.  Addressing each of the judges by name, I started reciting the forty-two statements, silently imploring that my heart would not betray me, that my conscience would be found pure and unblemished and light against the feather…

I have not committed sin…

…I have not uttered curses…

…I have not been angry without just cause…

…I have wronged none, I have done no evil…

…I have not slain the cattle belonging to the gods.*

The time passed quickly and soon my confession was at an end.  I could not tell what my heart, if anything, had told those who looked on, but I would soon find out.

Slowly, I turned back around to face Osiris and my fate, hoping against hope that I was about to be declared “true of voice”.  The alternative didn’t bear thinking about…


* These statements are taken from those listed in the Papyrus of Ani, translated by E.A.Wallis Budge