In a 1980 Newsletter thanks were given to those who took on the responsibility of cutting the churchyard grass in a very difficult summer. A request was made for a second cut, as well as continuing help ion the clearing and opening up of the ground behind the north side of the church.
In the Middle Ages the ground to the north (or Devil’s side) was rarely used, and headstones were not used at all before 1600. Early ones in our churchyard are small. The period 1750 to 1810 is the golden age of churchyard sculpture. The stones reach a maximum size of 4 to 5 feet, are 3 feet wide, and 4 inches thick. We have some examples of this period with the quaint round cherubs’ heads at the top. The cherubs are said to represent the soul that is freed to be with God. After 200 years many of the inscriptions are still legible but inevitably frost damage is causing some of the inscriptions to flake and the names and epitaphs will soon be lost forever. In this period we find recorded more than just the name of the deceased and the year of death, but the introduction of phrases like ‘In Memory of –‘ and ‘Sacred to the Memory of –‘.
The early 18th century saw the Church at its lowest ebb, and there was little Christian hope of immortality found, and the hour glass was a popular symbol. In the 1750s, with the rise in non-conformity, symbols of the resurrection and quotations from the Bible appear. One endearing inscription, now covered up in the chancel, avers: ‘I am not ded but sliping here’; one can’t help thinking of the downward slope!
From about 1810 we find the style changing with the introduction of the first mass-produced designs, and crosses – previously considered a Papist symbol – appeared. From the 1860s the contemporary revivals of Goth architecture is seen in the headstones, which are now thinner, being machine made, and having pointed arches on the top of the stone. The railed tombs show the idea of the tomb being then considered a property, which had to be protected and enclosed. The Greek revival in English architecture was seen in the use of Doric columns on chest tombs and the pedestal tomb topped with a Grecian urn and often oval commemorative panels*.
How lucky we are in Penallt that the custom is kept up of loving care and tidying the graves on the Saturday before Palm Sunday (and at other times) but, alas, there is so much more that could and should be done to preserve this quiet, lovely and ancient place, with its unique position overlooking the Wye.
* Notes on tombstones gratefully acknowledged from Staunton Church Festival booklet.
[from: Penallt – A Village Miscellany]