Project Canterbury

Monuments and Memorials.

By Percy Dearmer.

London: The Warham Guild, 1915.

Rood Beam and Figures at St. Mary’s Church, Primrose Hill, by Mr. Gilbert Bayes, in memory of Thomas R. Way, the artist. The hanging Trendle designed by Dr. Dearmer and executed by Mr. F. Smythe Greenwood.

DURING this sad time, when so many are giving their lives for the great cause of freedom and justice, the question of memorials of the departed becomes one of very special importance. It is, above all things, important that memorials set up in honour of our brave ones should not end in dishonouring their memory by becoming permanent disfigurements of the parish churches of our country. Already, alas! ugly tablets have been set up in a few churches, about which [2/3] it can only be said that the next generation will wish them away, and that after a certain number of years they will be removed by a generation which is more zealous than our own for seemliness and reverence in the house of God. Tablets are indeed not necessarily bad. If a competent artist makes them, they may be good and In cases where many names have to be recorded they may be inevitable, even when some more valuable and useful object is also given. But it must be remembered that nearly all our old churches are already more or less defaced by the tablets which are in them, that the possible space is very limited, and that the beauty of the finest church cannot survive the intrusion of a heterogeneous collection of such things upon its walls. If only one or two tablets and monuments are put in a church in each generation, such a church, it is no exaggeration to say, is doomed so far as its beauty is concerned. And, as every one knows, the defacement—one might almost say, the defilement, in some cases, of our churches has been by no means confined in the past to mere oblongs of badly lettered marble. It is disingenuous of us to protest against the destruction of churches by the Germans, if we ourselves ruin our own churches in a vain attempt to honour the very men who are resisting those destroyers. For, be it remembered, there are already very many churches which have been made so repellent and irreligious that they have suffered not less, and sometimes more, than a church which has been ruined by shell-fire and conscientiously restored.

[4] The first principle, then, in raising a memorial, is that the church should be rendered more fair and godly by it, and not less. We have to honour the departed by restoring the spirit of holiness in those places which their spirits now look down lovingly upon. Many people are little interested in our parish churches, which yet, so far as their original fabric is concerned, are by far the most lovely things in England. They are half-consciously repelled by the kind of motley desolation which they find. In old times these churches acted as a magnet: they were open all day, they were used daily for prayer; and they were rich and glowing with ornaments, unerringly good to an extent which we seldom realize. They drew men to them, and all England loved and frequented them. They were indeed pervaded through and through with memorials of the departed; but these memorials were without arrogance, and were for use and beauty. There was a certain warmth of homeliness about the ornaments, now so rare and priceless, which were heaped in them by gifts and legacies, till their very costliness attracted the cupidity of those chartered brigands who robbed them in the reign of Edward VI.

If, then, we are to restore a beauty of holiness which shall attract, and not repel, mankind, we shall take great care to see that our memorials add to the beauty and usefulness of our churches—buildings most of which we hold as a legacy and trust from those long dead ancestors of ours who In the deepest sense made their churches a success, whereas we and our immediate [4/5] ancestors have converted them into a failure—desolate for all their incongruous ornaments, and almost unloved. We shall try and make them once more the centre of daily devotion, the house of prayer, the familiar meeting ground of the parish, its picture-gallery and treasure-house, its school and resting-place for young and old, haunted by silent worshippers, and frequented as a common home by rich and poor.

It is clear, then, that when a memorial is desired, our first question must be, “What ornament does our church need which comes easily within the amount of rnoney that is to be given?” The donors will often have no ideas beyond a marble tablet; it is not their fault that the richer possibilities have not been laid before them by bishops and archdeacons in the past. But they will, in so far as their purpose is a true one, be rejoiced at the prospect of honouring their beloved dead in a way that will leave a legacy of grateful and affectionate thought in the church for ever, making it truly richer and more lovely. A little more trouble will sometimes be needed, and sometimes a little more humility; for indeed such moral qualities lie behind all good art; and, if we think only of saving trouble and expense, we shall continue to express ourselves basely. But it is not very difficult to think of the various ornaments needed in a church, to inquire about prices, and to get drawings! It is precisely to help in such matters, and to bring artists and craftsmen within reach of the public, that the Warham Guild exists.

According to the money to be spent, the form which [5/6] the memorial is to take can be arranged. Nothing should be too small, nothing (if the donor has means enough) too great. The familiar form of a stained-glass window is good, but only if a real artist be employed. Thousands of memorial windows have been put up during the last century; but every one knows how our churches have been disfigured by these things, which flaunt mean and false ideas about religion and about God In the most obtrusive of all possible ways. Every one knows that if nearly all these windows were shattered, our churches would be incomparably better; and that sooner or later the glaring blemishes must go. Most incumbents are waiting for the chance: in some cases the moment has come, and a bad window can be replaced by a good one designed by a true artist as a memorial.

But there are many other and often better forms which memorials may take, at small or great cost, from a guinea and a half to several hundred pounds. Dr. Hermitage Day, In his recent book on Monuments and Memorials in the Arts of the Church Series (Mowbrays), gives very valuable information on the subject, and suggests the following list of suitable ornaments which may be given as memorials:—


After all, the gist of the whole matter lies in the inscription so often seen, “To the glory of God, and in memory of ——.” A memorial should not be erected for private arrogance and selfish display, but should be given to the service of God, for his honour and worship and glory, and in pious memory of the friend who has passed into the world where indeed the glory of God is the only thing that matters.

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