The symbolic use of flowers and foliage has long been associated with religious activities. Greenery, including holly and ivy were brought into the home for the pre-Christian winter festival, and by the Middle Ages were also used to deck churches at Christmas. Pre-Christianity, evergreens represented the unconquered life force. Holly was believed to be generally protective against witches and other evils and as such was planted near houses, the idea later adopted by churches, and it is now the most popular plant to bring into the house for Christmas decoration. Ivy is also used for Christmas decorations, although it is also considered to be unlucky, by some, if brought into the house. Another plant used for Christmas decoration is mistletoe, which the Druids believed protected against injury.
The foliage of the yew tree, until the 18th century, was laid in coffins and graves, and has long been used to symbolize both death and immortality, being poisonous but long-lived, and able to re-root its branches to produce fresh saplings. It was planted beside houses and wells to ward off evil, but the custom of planting yews in burial grounds seems to have come with Christianity. Bay leaves were also placed in coffins as far back as the Roman period in Britain, it is both aromatic and symbolised hope in the after life or resurrection with the onset of Christianity, since it can revive after dying back to its roots. It was also planted to protect houses from witches, evil or bad luck. The evergreen plant, box, was used as a cheap substitute for rosemary and thyme, sprigs of which would be dropped into the open grave at a funeral and were symbolic for remembrance. There is a tradition that rosemary never grows taller than the height of Christ when he was on earth, and when they are 33 years old their upward growth stops.
The use of flowers in Medieval and Tudor times was an important part of everyday life and death, particularly within churches. Scented flowers or petals were strewn on the floors, together with herbs and rushes, and carried in wedding and funeral processions. Church interiors were garlanded with fresh flowers for summer festivals and with evergreens for winter festivals. However, the link between flowers and foliage and religious ceremonies was broken with Reformation and from the 16th century until the mid 19th century there were no flowers in churches and mourners carried box, rosemary, rue or thyme, not blossoms, at funerals. Towards the end of the Victorian period, floral tributes were re-introduced, generally symbolic, a tradition that continues to this day. It was the Victorians who also took the symbolism of flowers and foliage and funerals to its greatest height by introducing elaborate gravestones, carved with symbolic floral designs, or graves attended by their own angel in prayer for the souls of the departed.
The churchyard of St John the Divine, Felbridge was first used on 21st March 1866, with the burial of Rosina Lambert, aged four years, but the first headstone was not erected until the burial of Edmund James Import on 24th August 1866, (grave no. D12. 78). This was in the form of a cross, but unfortunately, is no longer standing. The use of the cross is usually in the form of an upright Latin cross mounted on three steps, signifying faith, hope and charity, and is the most commonly used symbol of the Christian faith. It can also be used horizontally, forming the surface of a slab-top grave or vault, for example as can be seen on the Gatty family vault, (grave no. D7. 15-21), erected in 1876, the Whyte slab-top, (grave no. D3. 16), erected in1885, and the Peveritt slab, (grave no. D2. 145-151), erected in 1931. Not all the memorial crosses are carved of stone or marble, and there are examples in the churchyard made of wood, as in the cross of Winifred Mary Page, (grave no. D13. 41), erected in 1918.
Felbridge, being a rural community of workers that served Felbridge Place, did not, in general, have the finances to support the typical elaborate gravestones of the Victorian era, although a few examples can be found in the churchyard.
The earliest example of symbolic carving found in the churchyard is that of the lily. In Christian symbolism the lily generally represents purity, chastity, virtue and innocence. Legend tells that the lily sprang from the tears of Eve, when she was expelled from Eden, and the white lily is also used to symbolise the resurrection of Christ. Other folklore beliefs are that the planting of lilies in a garden will protect against ghosts and evil spirits, and that they symbolise beauty and pride. Different coloured lilies also have different meanings, white means purity, modesty and youthful innocence, pink means talent, yellow means falsehood and gaiety, imperial lilies mean majesty and day lilies mean coquetry. The arum lily, although a great favourite in the wedding bouquet during the 1920s, is also considered unlucky if brought indoors and is frequently associated with death and funerals. The use of lilies at funerals symbolises the restored innocence of the soul at death.
The lily is to be found on the headstone of Emily Jane Bingham, (grave no. C1. 83), who was buried on 27th January 1868, aged nineteen years, the image of this lily has a broken stem just below the flower head. Mrs Frances Gatty, widow of George Gatty and owner of Felbridge Place had the stone erected. The inscription reads: This stone was erected as a tribute of regard by Frances Gatty of Felbridge Place. The headstone itself has the carving of a lily, set within a quatrefoil, with four small unidentified flowers or leaves, set equally around the outside of the quatrefoil. The whole design was originally painted and traces of the paint can still be seen. The background was pale blue and the lily white, which symbolises youthful innocence, and in the case of Emily, must have seemed an appropriate symbol to use for one who died at a young age. There are several other lily carvings to be found in the churchyard, one on the headstone of Elizabeth Stevens, (grave no. D9. 11-14), buried 19th October 1889. Again the lily is set in a quatrefoil, but shows no sign of paint, although it is of a similar style to that found on Emily Binghams stone, with the broken stem. However, it cannot have been used as a symbol of youthful innocence as Elizabeth Stevens was aged seventy-two years at her death, perhaps in this case it symbolised the restoration of innocence of her soul.
The lily, features on the headstone of John Knell, (grave no. D6. 40-46), who was buried on 1st January 1894, aged seventy-two years, this time the stem is not depicted as broken and the lily is set within a circle with an arc of passionflowers leaves and tendrils carved above, and inscribed: Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God, taken from Matthew 5: 8.
The passionflower was once revered as a message from God and was believed to represent the mysteries of passion, later adopted and used to symbolise the mysteries of The Passion, (the Suffering of Christ). The twisted and plaited corona filaments were thought to represent the Crown of Thorns, the stigma were the three nails, the ten sepals were the Apostles present at the Crucifixion and the tendrils were the cords that bound Jesus. Further, the five-lobed leaves represented the hands of the prosecutors and the round spots on the undersides of the leaves, the thirty pieces of silver. The most general use of the passionflower is to symbolise belief and faith.
There is also a representation of the passionflower, carved within a circle on the headstone of Arthur George Worsell, (grave no. D5. 11-18), who was buried on 29th May 1894, aged thirty-eight years. However, possibly the most elaborate representation of the passionflower can be found on the Celtic cross of Elizabeth Davies Postlethwaite, (grave no. D6. 32-39), who was buried on 6th July 1901, aged seventy-one years. Here both the East and West uprights of the cross are carved with an upward growing passionflower, whilst the centre of the cross has a single head of passionflower. This symbolic use of belief and faith contrasts with the use of Celtic knots and designs that adorn the North and South sides of the cross, although the interlocking knots symbolise eternity and the everlasting. Other examples of the Celtic cross that are found in the churchyard are made of cast iron, that of Esther Bonny, (grave no. D7. 108), buried on 3rd January 1917, aged seventy years, and another one located to the South of the North gate leading from the London Road, (grave no. C2. 56). Unfortunately, there is no name on the cross and the grave number has not been recorded against any burial in the Burial Register so there is no way of knowing who this cross is dedicated to.
Combinations of flowers and foliage are also found on some of the headstones. The headstone for the Bingham family, (grave no. C1. 66-73), erected in 1895, has a wealth of varieties of flowers carved into an arc-shape at the top of the stone. At the centre there is a rose, which together with the rest of the flower stems, is tied with a ribbon. To the right of the rose there are three flowers that look like stylised calendula and at the point of the arc on the right, a lily. To the left of the rose there are three stylised flowers that look like flax or geranium, then two daisy flowers and a lily bud in the corner of the arc on the left. The rose, especially if it was red, originally symbolised love, pleasure and a womans beauty, but later came to symbolise all forms of love, and in Christianity, white roses symbolise purity, silence, innocence and worthiness. Early Christians called the calendula Marys Gold, hence marigold, and would place them by the statues of the Virgin Mary. The calendula symbolises sacred affection, grief and remembrance. The flax flower symbolises, among other things, fate, and the geranium symbolises steadfast piety, either of which would be appropriate symbolism. The daisy is primarily known as the symbol of childhood innocence, and is associated with simplicity and modesty.
A different combination of flowers and foliage can be found on the headstone of Alfred Daniels, (grave no. D4. 78), who was buried on 19th April 1910, aged sixteen years. The central image is that of a stem of a rose, with leaves, buds and flowers, to the right there is a sprig of lily-of-the-valley, and to the left a bunch of oak leaves. The rose, as stated before, symbolises love, the lily-of-the-valley symbolises purity, unconscious sweetness and renewed happiness, and the oak leaves symbolise bravery.
Another much used piece of foliage is that of ivy, the evergreen leaf symbolises immortality, eternal fidelity, ever faithful and dependent love, and, particularly during the Victorian era, the love of a wife for the husband to whom she clung, like ivy to the oak. The image of ivy can be found on the headstone of Clara Dadswell, (grave no. D7. 121-123), who was buried on 31st July 1923, aged forty-four years. The use of ivy, as decoration, can be seen entwined on the wrought iron handrail to the right of the South door to the church. This was placed there to commemorate the life of Ivy Doris Paice, (grave no. A8. 2), who was buried on 13th April 1995, aged eighty-eight years. It may have been used for the symbolic meaning, but probably because of the name association of Ivy, which ever, the wrought iron ivy seems a fitting memorial to a lady who was related to the last blacksmith family to operate in Felbridge during the 20th century.
Another symbol of union between a husband and wife can be found in the use of clasped hands as seen on the headstone of Thomas B Jones, (grave no. D7. 47-53), who was buried on 14th December 1909, aged seventy years, and Edward William Barnes of the Star Inn, (grave no. D11. 118-121), who was buried on 30th April 1922, aged sixty-four years. Clasped hands symbolise concord and farewell, and are often used to represent the everlasting union of a husband and wife. In the case of Beatrice Robinson, (grave no. A3. 9), who was buried 19th August 1936, her husband chose to erect a granite obelisk, adorned with a carved cross, that symbolises eternal life and her Christian faith, a touching gesture to the memory of a lady who accidentally drowned in Furnace Lake, Furnace Wood.
Apart from flowers and foliage, there is some use of the symbolism of birds found within the churchyard. The cross that bears the name of Albert Victor Brand, (grave no. 13. 54-60), who died of his wounds and was buried at St Marie Cemetery, Le Havre, France, has ivy clinging to it and a carved dove in flight at the centre of the cross. The dove, in Christian art symbolises the Holy Ghost and is widely linked with gentleness and innocence, and is used especially as a term of endearment. It is also the symbol of a messenger of peace or deliverance, as is found in Genesis 8: 8-12. In the case of a victim of war, the dove was probably symbolic of endearment and deliverance. Another image of a bird can be found resting on the top of the headstone of Richard Norman (grave no. D2. 2-15), who was buried on 28th October 1874, aged sixty-nine years. This may be another dove, but it is less well carved and more weathered. A more recent dove can be found on the headstone of Gordon Bernard White, (grave no. D2. 64), who was buried on 12th August 1997, aged seventy-three years. This is a stylised dove in flight and is a relief carving set in a circle, whereas the previous two doves are in the form of attached statues. The use of the circle also has a symbolic meaning, that of eternity.
There is a relief carving of a bird and oak leaves found on the headstone of Daniel Alexander Wilkinson, (grave no. B2. 8), who was buried on 18th September 1982, aged seven years. The bird resembles either a finch or robin, again within a circle. If a robin, it may symbolise cheerfulness and friendliness. In folklore it was thought that if a robin found someone lying dead, they would cover the face with moss, leaves or flowers, being that it was a charitable bird that loves mankind both alive and dead. Another legend, probably from the medieval period, says that the robin got its red breast when it injured itself trying to pluck out a thorn from Christs Crown of Thorns, and according to a well-known rhyme the robin and the wren were both sacred: The robin redbreast and the wren are God Almightys cock and hen.
There is only one statue of an angel found in the churchyard of St John. This is a life size angel, kneeing in prayer on the base of the cross of the Smith family plot, (grave no. D10. 33-39), erected in 1915. The image of the angel symbolises the immortal spirit being attendant upon God and is conventionally portrayed as a winged being in human form. In the medieval period it was one of nine orders of spiritual beings (listed from highest to lowest in rank): seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominations or dominions, virtues, powers, principalities, archangels and lastly, angels. The angel is often seen as a sweet-tempered being, guardian spirit or guiding influence. It has been said that a large proportion of Victorian angels were badly carved, but the angel on the Smith grave is particularly well carved, with good attention to the detail of the drapery and hands, somewhat reminiscent of a Burne-Jones angel.
Another popular Christian symbolic image found in the churchyard is that of the initials IHS. These can be found on the cross of Katherine Ellen Fellows, wife of the first vicar of Felbridge, (grave no. A4. 2-4), buried on 14th September 1871, aged thirty-nine years. IHS represents the Greek capitals of IHC, the first two and last letters from [greek text not on web page version] meaning Jesus in Greek capitals. This graphic symbol is often misread as Iesous Hominum Salvator, Jesus Saviour of Men, In Hoc Signo, In this sign (sc. ye will conquer), and In Hac Salus, Salvation is in this, meaning the cross. The initials can also be found on the headstone of Blanche Emma Sophie Louise Blaker, (grave no. D12. 56-63), who was buried on 25th March 1908, aged fifty-three years. Here the initials are interwoven within a lozenge shape with what appears to be the image of a stylised bramble or hop trailing behind. The bramble has the symbolic meaning of lowliness or remorse and the hop has the symbolic meaning of injustice. Another symbol for Christian faith can be found within the Bingham family plot, (grave no. C1. 66-73), that of a small wooden fish, dedicated to Roy Edward Bingham who was buried 23rd November 1996. The fish is one of the oldest symbols used for Christ because the Greek word for Fish, ICQUS contains the initial letters of, Jesus Christ, Gods Son, Saviour. In the early days of Christianity, when being Christian meant almost certain death, if you found yourself in conversation with a chance acquaintance, a follower of Christ would draw a picture of a fish with his stick on the ground, or would use the word in some way so that the person spoken to would recognise the sign, if a Christian. If the sign was not recognised it indicated that the person was not a follower.
The use of the rock, which symbolises everlasting strength, can be found supporting the cross of Rev John Thorp, (grave no. D6. 8-15), Vicar of St Johns between 1889 and 1914. This symbol proclaims Christ as the unshakable and eternal foundation, as defined in the well-known hymn, Rock of ages, cleft for me, written in 1775. The Thorp grave, not only has the symbol of the rock and cross, but also IHS. The final Christian symbol to be found in the churchyard is that of an open book representing faith everlasting and can be found frequently in the churchyard. One example is that of Edith Mary Heselden, (grave no. E1. 6), buried on 6th May, 1949, aged sixty-six years, there are also two childrens graves in the form of a book, that of Linda Mary Fox who was buried on 4th June 1962, aged six years, and Louise Agnes Riddles who was buried on 5th September 1990, aged only eleven days, both are found in the childrens plot, against the churchyard wall in front of the West gable. The headstone of Linda Fox has a cord book-mark carved in the centre of the book, whilst the stone of Louise Riddles has a carved rose laying on the book.
These are by no means the only symbolic carvings and statues to be found in the churchyard at St John the Divine, Felbridge, there are many more, both old and new, although it is possible that the symbolic meaning of the images on more recent headstones may not have been the persuading factor in choice, it is more likely that the image was liked in preference to its true symbolic meaning. There are several beautifully carved floral images that are so stylised that it is impossible to determine the variety of flower or foliage, for example on the cross of Henry Taylor, (grave no. B1. 11-13), who was buried on 1st July 1871, aged sixty-one years. There are also floral tributes that have been lost, for example, around the cross of PC James Baldwin, (grave no. D3. 84-87), who was buried on 8th October 1898, there were at least three glass domed parian-ware floral tributes. These were popular during the Victorian era, usually about 18ins (45cms) in diameter with a hemi-spherical glass dome protecting a circular cushion arrangement of flowers. The flowers were made of parian, which is a fine porcelain that looks like marble. There was still evidence of some of these in the late 1960s, although by then broken and well scattered, and at least one of the varieties of flowers was the daisy, symbolic of innocence, appropriate for a young man who was stabbed to death whilst on duty. Unfortunately, there is no sign of anything surviving on or near the grave today.
Dictionary of English Folklore by Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud
The Language of Flowers, compiled by Nugent Robinson P F Collier, 1882, FHA
Burial Register for St John the Divine
Tombstone Art & Symbols, http://www.tales.ndirect.co.uk/A_H.htm1
I. H. S., http://www.feltwellnorfolk.freeserve.co.uk/written/ancient_churches.htm
Symbolism behind the most popular Christian memorial carvings and statues
Agrimony Thankfulness, gratitude
Almond blossom Hope
Apple blossom Better things to come
Asphodel Regrets follow to the grave
Bay leaf I change but in death
Bluebell Everlasting love
Bramble Lowliness, remorse
Aster, (single) I will think of you
Calendula Scared affection, grief
Carnation, white Remember me
Chrysanthemum, white Truth
Cypress Death and mourning
Daisy, Michaelmas Farewell
Forget-me-not True love and forget-me-not
Geranium Steadfast piety
Honesty Honesty and sincerity
Lemon blossom Fidelity
Lily, white Youthful innocence, purity, chastity and resurrection
Lily-of-the-valley Purity, unconscious sweetness and renewed happiness
Oak leaves Bravery
Passionflower Belief and faith
Sweet pea Departure
Rose bud Purity
Violet, blue Faithfulness
Water lily Pure of heart
Zinnia Remembrance and affection
Dove Gentleness, innocence and messenger of peace
Fish Christian faith
Robin Cheerfulness, friendliness and sacred
Angel Immortal spirit or guardian
Book Faith everlasting
Celtic knot Eternity
Hands Concord and farewell
Heart Love and devotion
Hourglass Passage of life
IHS IHSOUS, Jesus
Obelisk Eternal life
Rock Everlasting strength
Scythe Time, the Grim Reaper
Sundial Passage of time
Sword Justice and fortitude