Many of you will know that I grew up in a little place called Heysham, near Morecambe in Lancashire. As a child, I often played around the stone coffins and would spend an hour or two in the old graveyard of St Peter’s church reading the headstones. It’s these childhood memories that inspired me to take up photography as I wanted to capture my emotions when revisiting my childhood haunt years later.
Designated by the English Heritage, St Peter’s Church is a grade I listed building. The chancel was built around 1340, but inside the church, you will find Saxon fabric that remains from the old Saxon church from 1080. I have been to many a service in this old church as a child. I remember walking from St Peter’s School, through the village with the other children to attend service. It was always a special occasion.
Within the grounds of St Peter’s church, you will find a few Saxon and Viking remains. The image above shows an old Saxon cross shaft in the foreground and inside the church you will find an old Viking hogback stone.
As a young child at the age of 9 or 10 years old, I was cruelly torn away from Heysham, never to live there again. I miss it a lot as within the churchyard and up on the Barrows, there’s a quiet and peaceful atmosphere and you could also describe as one of magic and suspense, especially at sunset. It’s difficult to describe, but hopefully my photography will help.
Stone Coffins or Rock Cut Graves
Next to the ruins of St Patrick’s Chapel situated on the Barrows, you will find these rock cut graves or stone coffins that are thought to date back as early as the 11th century. St Patrick’s Chapel is thought to date back as early as the 6th century and these ruins overlook the beautiful St Peter’s Church on one side and the Irish Sea.
The Barrows as it is known locally, suggests that the area of grassland and woodland that overlooks Morecambe Bay was once an ancient burial ground. Perhaps this is why the area has that wonderful atmosphere I wrote about above?
St Peter’s Church Graveyard
Within the graveyard, my great grandfather and grandmother are buried and I have tried to trace back my family roots, but I always fail as there are two families in Heysham, I think with the surname of ‘Blacow’. I also still now, long to pay my respects to my nana who was taken away from me when I was about 10 years old and despite my crying and begging to go to her funeral, I wasn’t allowed to go. My mother doesn’t know where her remains are and it’s still painful for me today to think about. Life just isn’t fair sometimes, especially when you’re caught up as a child in domestic violence that 30 odd years later, I still pay the price for. I wonder if this is another reason why I have a fascination with graveyards?
Poet, Philosopher and Failure
Never has one gravestone made me wonder about the deceased as much as this one and I believe that every headstone should tell a story of some kind. Take the grave of James Jones who is buried with I believe to be two wives both called Sarah. Who was the poet and philosopher and was that person also a failure?
Symbolic Meaning of Ivy on a Headstone
The headstone cross also features one ivy leaf that has a symbolic meaning. In general, ivy represents eternity, fidelity, and strong affectionate attachment, such as wedded love and friendship. If you think about ivy as a plant, it is strong and forever climbing and spreading. I found an excellent web page on Owlcation that perfectly takes you through the traditions and mythology associated with ivy and it is a must read. What fascinates me most of all is the medieval legend of Tristan and Isolde who fell in love, but Isolde was meant for King Mark. The pair of lovebirds met their fate and King Mark buried them separately so that even in death they would not be together, but ivy grows from each grave to meet and twine no matter how many times it is cut down. Does this not make you wonder more about the persons buried here?
On the foot of this grave you will also find the words ‘alas poor Yorick’.
The tree above has to be centuries old and I find the carved graffiti fascinating. I wonder how many people don’t even notice it when they stroll through the graveyard?
Below is a scene from behind St Peter’s church showing numerous headstones within the graveyard. Up to the right and behind the trees is where you will find the remains of St Patrick’s Chapel and the stone cut coffins upon the Barrows. Early spring is a beautiful time to visit this place and the graveyard is full of colour with the purple crocuses in full bloom.
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