Memento Mori in Northumberland

Once I had seen the beautiful Memento Mori headstones in Edinburgh, I was hooked and I wanted to find more. As an early birthday present, Mark took me to the wonderful county of Northumberland with an extensive list of graveyards to explore that contained listed Memento Mori headstones

Northumberland Graveyards

Northumberland graveyards to explore – Day 1

The post below is day 1 of the trip and it is hard to select my personal favourite image from each graveyard, hence why there will be a total of 8 posts, one for each day. More images can be found within the galleries or by selecting the links below and I begin with a review of Mycroft Studio Cottage, a perfect retreat to stay at if you’re thinking of following in our footsteps.

Mycroft Studio Cottage in Rochester

Our home for the week was Mycroft Studio Cottage in Rochester near Otterburn, Northumberland. We chose this cottage based on price, good reviews and its location. The cottage is located on the edge of the Gold Tier International Dark Sky Park perfect for seeing the stars without any light pollution. We had a number of clear skies at night and you could see the milky way with our naked eyes. It was absolutely perfect and so was the home made bread and the bottle of bucks fizz that was provided to us when we arrived.

We found the cottage to be exactly what we expected and the owners have thought of everything you should and could require as there was nothing that we needed. 

The cottage is owned by Paul who has an extensive amount of knowledge about the area and when he inquired about the purpose of our visit, I did my usual smile, thinking of what reaction I’m going to receive when I tell him that I love visiting old graveyards to photograph them. To my surprise, he showed genuine enthusiasm and told us of some churches that have skulls on the headstones that we should visit. PERFECT HOST as far as I’m concerned!

Not only is Paul friendly, he has what a good host should have, passion to ensure his guests thoroughly enjoy their stay. If you’re thinking of following in our footsteps, then please consider Mycroft Studio Cottage.

A Taphophiles Memento Mori Headstone Itinerary 

Seriously, you’re asking me what a taphophile is?

I would describe myself as a taphophile as I love to visit old graveyards and cemeteries to photograph the headstones and try to capture the beauty of death and what the dead still have to say to us, the living, centuries later – Amanda Norman

Graveyards to Explore – Day 1

St Cuthbert’s Church in Elsdon 

Situated approximately a 10 minute drive from Mycroft Studio Cottage is St Cuthbert’s Church in Elsdon. The weather wasn’t great as the rain was barely managing to hold off, but I still remember my excitement of spotting my first Memento Mori headstone, then another, then another until I lost count. It was also here that I discovered to check both sides of a headstone to find Memento Mori symbols as it’s common to see a skull and crossbones on the reverse.  Click the link to find out more about St Cuthbert’s Church

Skull and Crossbones on Headstone Elsdon

A striking skull and crossbones with hourglass on the reverse of a headstone

Mortality Symbols

The above headstone shows a number of common mortality symbols.  A skull and crossbones with an hourglass were used in the 18th century to remind the living that we all become dust and bones no matter what our status is in life. The hourglass reminds us that our time on Earth is running out. Memento Mori is the latin phrase for ‘Remember you will die‘. More images from Elsdon can be seen in the Elsdon Gallery.

Winter’s Gibbet

Leaving Elsdon, we headed towards a hill known as Steng Cross to see Winter’s Gibbet, so called after the body of William Winter was suspended in chains after being hung for the murder of Margaret Crozier in 1791. There his body remained with bits of rotten flesh falling to the floor making easy pickings for the creatures that fed upon it. It’s a bleak place and feels like it is out in the middle of nowhere and at one point, there did used to be a replica stone head hanging from the gibbet, but sadly not anymore.

Winters Gibbet

Winters Gibbet on the outskirts of Elsdon, Northumberland

St Giles, Netherwitton Death Head

A ghostly edit of a death head or soul effigy on a headstone from St Giles churchyard in Netherwitton. I particularly like the soft face and sunken in small eyes and it also has a look of the sun. I plan to do more work on my Cemetery Death Heads page that also has a gallery of my favourite death head photographs from numerous places.

Netherwitton Death Head

Netherwitton Death Head

St Andrew’s Church in Hartburn

With over 1000 years of history, St Andrew’s Church in Hartburn is one of my favourite churchyards that we visited whilst in Northumberland. I could have spent a full day in this graveyard with the number of Memento Mori headstones found here. They are so beautiful and I highly recommend that you visit. To view other images from this churchyard, visit the Hartburn Gallery. Inside the church is also worth looking at and I found this beautiful verse: –

So when oe’r Springs soft Blossoms, Winter’s breath,
With keen severity diffuses death,
The Bud and Flower in dust promiscuous lie
And cease to bloom beneath the churlish sky.

Skull-Hourglass-Ghost

Beautiful Memento Mori headstone from Hartburn

St Andrew’s Chuch in Bolam

St Andrew’s Church in Bolam is worth a visit. Such a nice graveyard that on the day we visited, was being cleared by the community whilst children played among the headstones, which was very nice to see.

Bolam Graveyard

Bolam graveyard in Northumberland

St Bartholomew Church in Kirkwhelpington

Our final church of the day was the lovely St Bartholomew’s in Kirkwhelpington that had some beautiful Memento Mori headstones. It has fine examples of both types of cemetery death heads e.g. your typical skull and crossbones and cherub face with wings. Please have a look at the Kirkwhelpington gallery for more images.

Mourning-Face

A face of mourning upon a headstone from St Bartholomew’s graveyard

Graveyards to Explore – Day 2

Unfortunately, it rained so hard on day two of our exploration that I wasn’t willing to take my camera out of its bag. It was actually quite miserable as the graveyards we visited on day 2 just didn’t match the excitement of my first day. Looking back on it now, of course it wouldn’t when the weather is affecting my enthusiasm. We visited, St Mary in Holystone and St Michael in Alwinton, which had a good graveyard.  Click here for exploring graveyards in Northumberland Day 3.

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