BBC Radio Leicester Thought for the Day
© John Denney 21 January 2005
I enjoy wandering about old churches and their churchyards. The graves and the gravestones can be fascinating. Did you know that in old graveyards the dead were buried east-west? The reason was that in mediaeval days, Jesus was expected to return to the earth one day with the morning sunrise. And the dead would be able to sit up straight away and face him. I don’t think that Christians today are so confident about the location of Jesus’ eventual arrival, even if we expect him back one day.
I enjoy unusual epitaphs, and friends have sent some to me. There’s a 19th Century one in Wiltshire that says:
Out of sight
He sought the leak
In Dundee, there’s one that hasn’t quite understood the Christian message of “Love thy neighbour”. It reads:
He lived and died a true Christian. He loved his friends and hated his enemies.
A Biblical reference gave rise to an unintended comment on the occupants of a grave in Hackney:
Here lies the body of
And RUTH, his wife.
“Lord, their warfare is accomplished.”
An epitaph from Aurora Falls, America, takes full advantage of the opportunity offered.
To the Memory of
His widow, aged 24,
Lives at 7 Elm Street,
Has every qualification for a Good Wife
And yearns to be comforted.
And the late, great Spike Milligan has a wonderfully typical statement on his gravestone – in Irish Gaelic – I told you I was ill.
Sometimes, though, there is a good, and truthful, and inspiring epitaph. Benjamin Franklin, the famous scientist and statesman, originally a printer, composed this cheerful epitaph for himself:
The body of Benjamin Franklin, printer, like the cover of an old book, its contents worn out, and stript of its lettering and gilding, lies here food for worms. Yet the work itself shall not be lost, for it will appear once more in a new and more beautiful edition, corrected and amended by its author.
Isn’t that delightful?
I’ve thought about the inscription I’d like on my grave. Something along the lines of
Missed by his family and friends
Who look forward to joining him in heaven
I wonder: what are they going to put on your grave?