Archive for the Crypt Category

Curious, West Norwood Cemetery

Posted in Art, Cemetery, Crypt, Landscape, London, Photography with tags , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2013 by mysearchformagic

With its meandering paths, overgrown graves and delapidated but still imposing mausoleums, West Norwood Cemetery definitely has an air of magic about it. But in recent weeks the historic graveyard has been even more magical than usual, thanks to a large scale art exhibition/installation appropriately named Curious. Featuring a long list of contemporary artists, the works of art on display are site specific, interacting with the cemetery and often taking their inspiration from their unusual location.

A details from A Question of Archival Authority, Jane Wildgoose

A detail from A Question of Archival Authority, Jane Wildgoose

Jane Wildgoose’s installation A Question of Archival Authority was the first piece that I discovered on my visit last weekend. Situated inside the grand Maddick Mausoleum, Wildgoose’s use of antique mourning jewellery and flickering candles created a wonderfully gothic atmoshere, effectively evoking many questions about the practise and process of mourning and remembrance.

Jane Ward's contribution to Curious at West Norwood Cemetery

Jane Ward’s contribution to Curious at West Norwood Cemetery

Many of the works which appeared as part of Curious were paintings or collages placed within the doorwarys of the Victorian sepulchres. Some were bold and bright, others more calm and mysterious.

A work by Ian McCaughrean in the Greek Section of West Norwood Cemetery

A work by Ian McCaughrean in the Greek Section of West Norwood Cemetery

Despite my best efforts, and the help of a specially commissioned map created for the exhibition, I didn’t manage to locate all of the works on show. However, the thrill of trudging through the undergrowth, discovering incredible monuments and gravestones along the way, was all part of this unique experience.

Andrea Thoma's installation Steps/washed over in West Norwood Cemetery

Andrea Thoma’s installation Steps/washed over in West Norwood Cemetery

I fell in love with West Norwood Cemetery. Apparently a set of huge catacombs can still be found beneath the hill at the top of the graveyard, but these are rarely open to the public. I was also impressed with the range of artworks included in Curious, many of which encouraged new ways of looking at the cemetery, its monuments and its ‘residents’.

I Miss U by Lucy Spanyol

I Miss U by Lucy Spanyol

Some of the most effective artworks were those which dealt directly with concepts of death and bereavement. Lucy Spanyol’s I Miss U, which placed an eye-catching banner of artificial flowers in front of a coppice filled with ruinous grave monuments, was definitely a favourite of mine. Its use of informal ‘text speak’ and colourful floral garlands to relay a message filled with the despair of loss was moving and quite beautiful.

Unfortunately I discovered Curious on its final day, so the works of art are now long gone, existing just as photographs or in the memories of the visitors who managed to catch this wonderful, magical event.


The Mummies of St Michan’s, Dublin

Posted in Crypt, Dublin, History with tags , , on January 25, 2013 by mysearchformagic
My recent trip to Dublin was brief and busy, but luckily I still had a bit of spare time to hunt out some magic. Top of my list of places to visit was St Michan’s, an unassuming church just north of the river Liffey. From the outside, and indeed from the inside, it’s a rather simple place, calm and quiet. But the real magic lies beneath, in the church’s ancient crypt.
The church of St Michan's

The church of St Michan’s

Although St Michan’s was largely rebuilt in the 17th Century, its underground vaults are possibly much older. They are entered through heavy metal doors, built to keep out graverobbers and vandals, and once inside you will see why.

The door to the crypt of St Michan's

The door to the crypt of St Michan’s

The crypts of St Michan’s are the final resting place of some of Ireland’s great and good, their coffins elaborately decorated with velvet and gilded decoration. The tunnels are lined with dark vaults, each piled high with caskets, some of them well preserved, some of them collapsing under the weight of those above.

Coffins in the vault of St Michan's

Coffins in the vault of St Michan’s

But, interesting as they are, I didn’t come here to look at coffins. The highlight of any visit to the crypts  of St Michan’s are the famous mummies. For some unknown reason, possibly to do with the constant temperature, the dry conditions or the methane which allegedly seeps from the ground below, the bodies interred here are unusually well preserved. Over the centuries a few of them have been exposed due to their crumbling coffins, and these ‘mummies’ are now displayed for the benefit of visitors who have a  taste for the macabre, like myself.

The Mummies of St Michan's

The Mummies of St Michan’s

Myths and stories have evolved around the identities of these mummified bodies. One is said to be a nun. Another, who is missing a hand, is alleged to have been a criminal, his lower arm chopped off as a punishment. The most famous corpse is known as the ‘crusader’, and legend tells that he was once a courageous knight; at around 2 metres in height, he was certainly imposing. It is said that those brave enough to rub his finger will be rewarded with good luck.

I suspect that many of these tales may be more blarney than historical fact, but then the Irish never let the facts stand in the way of a bit of magic. Quite right too, I say. So did I rub the leathery, dessicated finger of the knight? Well of course I did. And have I been showered with good luck? Well, let’s just say I will keep you posted.