Once I had seen the beautiful Memento Mori headstones in Edinburgh, I was hooked and I wanted to find more. As an early birthday present, Mark took me to the wonderful county of Northumberland with an extensive list of graveyards to explore that contained listed Memento Mori headstones.
Mycroft Studio Cottage in Rochester
Our home for the week was Mycroft Studio Cottage in Rochester near Otterburn, Northumberland. We chose this cottage based on price, good reviews and its location. The cottage is located on the edge of the Gold Tier International Dark Sky Park perfect for seeing the stars without any light pollution. We had a number of clear skies at night and you could see the milky way with our naked eyes. It was absolutely perfect and so was the home made bread and the bottle of bucks fizz that was provided to us when we arrived.
We found the cottage to be exactly what we expected and the owners have thought of everything you should and could require as there was nothing that we needed.
The cottage is owned by Paul who has an extensive amount of knowledge about the area and when he inquired about the purpose of our visit, I did my usual smile, thinking of what reaction I’m going to receive when I tell him that I love visiting old graveyards to photograph them. To my surprise, he showed genuine enthusiasm and told us of some churches that have skulls on the headstones that we should visit. PERFECT HOST as far as I’m concerned!
Not only is Paul friendly, he has what a good host should have, passion to ensure his guests thoroughly enjoy their stay. If you’re thinking of following in our footsteps, then please consider Mycroft Studio Cottage.
A Taphophiles Memento Mori Headstone Itinerary
Seriously, you’re asking me what a taphophile is?
I would describe myself as a taphophile as I love to visit old graveyards and cemeteries to photograph the headstones and try to capture the beauty of death and what the dead still have to say to us, the living, centuries later – Amanda Norman
Graveyards to Explore – Day 1
St Cuthbert’s Church in Elsdon
Situated approximately a 10 minute drive from Mycroft Studio Cottage is St Cuthbert’s Church in Elsdon. The weather wasn’t great as the rain was barely managing to hold off, but I still remember my excitement of spotting my first Memento Mori headstone, then another, then another until I lost count. It was also here that I discovered to check both sides of a headstone to find Memento Mori symbols as it’s common to see a skull and crossbones on the reverse. Click the link to find out more about St Cuthbert’s Church.
The above headstone shows a number of common mortality symbols including skull and crossbones with an hourglasswere used in the 18th century to remind the living that we all become dust and bones no matter what our status is in life. The hourglass reminds us that our time on Earth is running out. Memento Mori is the latin phrase for ‘Remember you will die‘.
Leaving Elsdon, we headed towards a hill known as Steng Cross to see Winter’s Gibbet, so called after the body of William Winter was suspended in chains after being hung for the murder of Margaret Crozier in 1791. There his body remained with bits of rotten flesh falling to the floor making easy pickings for the creatures that fed upon it. It’s a bleak place and feels like it is out in the middle of nowhere and at one point, there did used to be a replica stone head hanging from the gibbet, but sadly not anymore.
St Giles, Netherwitton Death Head
A ghostly edit of a death head or soul effigy on a headstone from St Giles churchyard in Netherwitton. I particularly like the soft face and sunken in small eyes and it also has a look of the sun. Please visit the Cemetery Death Heads page that also has a gallery of my favourite death head photographs from numerous places.
St Andrew’s Church in Hartburn
With over 1000 years of history, St Andrew’s Church in Hartburn is one of my favourite churchyards that we visited whilst in Northumberland. I could have spent a full day in this graveyard with the number of Memento Mori headstones found here. They are so beautiful and I highly recommend that you visit. Inside the church is also worth looking at and I found this beautiful verse: –
So when oe’r Springs soft Blossoms, Winter’s breath,
With keen severity diffuses death,
The Bud and Flower in dust promiscuous lie
And cease to bloom beneath the churlish sky.
St Andrew’s Chuch in Bolam
St Andrew’s Church in Bolam is worth a visit. Such a nice graveyard that on the day we visited, was being cleared by the community whilst children played among the headstones, which was very nice to see.
St Bartholomew Church in Kirkwhelpington
Our final church of the day was the lovely St Bartholomew’s in Kirkwhelpington that had some beautiful Memento Mori headstones. It has fine examples of both types of cemetery death heads e.g. your typical skull and crossbones and cherub face with wings.
Graveyards to Explore – Day 2
Unfortunately, it rained so hard on day two of our exploration that I wasn’t willing to take my camera out of its bag. It was actually quite miserable as the graveyards we visited on day 2 just didn’t match the excitement of my first day. Looking back on it now, of course it wouldn’t when the weather is affecting my enthusiasm. We visited, St Mary in Holystone and St Michael in Alwinton, which had a good graveyard.
Graveyards to Explore – Day 3
St Oswald, St Cuthbert and King Alfwald Church in Halton, Northumberland
We begin today’s journey of exploring graveyards in Northumberland with a visit to a church in Halton that is named after two saints and an ancient king of Northumbria, St Oswald, St Cuthbert and King Alfwald. There is not an abundance of memento mori headstones here, but it is very scenic and peaceful and well worth visiting. The image below shows the chest tomb that caught my attention due to the number of different mortality symbols shown.
Mortality Symbols and their Meanings
Memento Mori is latin which translates to ‘Remember you must die‘. Drapery seen on headstones in this case, the bag that contains the bones, usually depicts the veil between life and death and the crossing of that plane and to others it can symbolise God’s protection until Resurrection.
St Andrew’s Church in Corbridge
There is an absolute gorgeous church and graveyard to be found in Corbridge, Northumberland.
St Andrew’s Church has its origins in the Anglo-Saxon period and was founded by St Wilfred. Corbridge itself is a really nice village to relax in with numerous coffee shops. The graveyard has an exciting number of good headstones to photograph. The one I have chosen for display here is a headstone with a death head that is dedicated to brothers. I just love the stone engraved lettering and the wonderful swirls, which you don’t see on modern headstones.
St John Lee Church in Acomb
Such a beautiful church and graveyard that must be visited. I had an extremely hard time picking just one photograph from this location as I was spoilt for choice. The image below was chosen as it sums up the beauty and the headstones in this particular graveyard.
The church of St John Lee, was rebuilt in 1818 and prior to this there was a medieval church. The graveyard has a lot of medieval headstones that are truly fascinating. The church is dedicated to a local hermit who was reported to be a worker of miracles and it is believed that one miracle occurred in 1765 at the church, when a 90 yr old Northumbrian piper threw away his crutches after using them for 26 years, to walk to church for his wedding to a 25 yr old. Reference Wikipedia.
St Mungo’s Church, Simonburn
As you leave the graveyard of St Mungo’s Church in Simonburn, the headstone below is sure to catch your eye. It’s a message from beyond the grave and I thought it would be nice to feature it here. The graveyard itself is another one well worth visiting. There are not many headstones featuring the classic skull and crossbones, but nonetheless, you will find a lot of mortality symbols and cherubs with wings.
St Cuthbert’s Church in Bellingham
It’s certainly worth visiting St Cuthbert’s Church in Bellingham as there are some wonderful headstones in the graveyard and the interior of the church is very nice. Dating back to 1180, this church certainly has been through the wars and was laid to waste during the border wars with Scotland. In the 1660’s during a restoration, three cannon balls were found in the roof. Trying to pick my favourite graveyard photograph was a difficult choice and in the end I chose a nice scenic shot to show you why you should visit.
Graveyard Photography for Taphophile’s and Graveyard Tourists
If you’re looking for that special gift for a taphophile or graveyard tourist, please consider purchasing a special framed print, which is also signed from my Etsy Store.
By purchasing a framed print, you will be supporting the upkeep of my graveyard photography, which is something I really enjoy doing. I also provide custom requests, so please get in touch if you’re after something totally unique. Please take a look and feel free to share as this also supports my work.