It is rare to find a general newspaper article on cemeteries, let alone one that so exactly reflects the philosophy of our project at www.cemeteryscribes.com, but this piece in the Guardian of 30 Dec 2010 hit the nail square on the head.
The article, based on a visit made by BBC Radio 4’s Today programme’s James Naughtie, and the 93 year old writer Diane Athill, to the historic Highate Cemetery, widened out into a thoughtful piece on the value of old cemeteries in modern society.
“….There are many places like this across Britain where visitors come, sometimes to honour their own particular dead, sometimes to ponder the deaths and the lives of people they never knew. The most resonant kind of cemetery can evoke the history and spirit of a community as eloquently as any written account…..”
Those of us who have been lucky enough to visit Historic Jewish Cemeteries such as London’s Alderney Road and Brady Street, or the Deane Road Cemetery in Liverpool, currently being restored by the local community, will recognise the truth of that last sentence.
The article then goes on to speak of:
“..another matchless attraction of Cemeteries: the words engraved on the headstones, not just of those who once commanded applause but also…….. those whose graves may be marked by “uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture”……
You don’t find a great deal of shapeless sculpture in the old Jewish burial grounds, and the inscriptions tend to be factual rather than flowery but, where these inscriptions have survived the depredations of time, they can be invaluable in not only giving us the name of the deceased’s father through the Hebrew Patronymic, but sometimes an occupation or a place of origin.
The final paragraph is one that speaks particularly directly to those in the Jewish Community concerned about the sad decline, and often disappearance, of our old Burial Grounds and who are eager to do their bit to stop the rot.
“….Ms Athill and Mr. Naughtie were guided round Highate by a volunteer, herself in her 80s, one of those who in graveyards great and small across the land have redeemed past neglect and made these rewarding places in which to wander, to meditate, and to be serious.”