Friday, January 9, 2009

Angels in Annapolis County

I figured that I should probably explain the image that I have chosen in my profile section of this blog. It is the same image at the top of this post. For those of you unfamiliar with this sort of iconography, this is an angel head or cherubim and it was a common motif on tombstones in this area before 1820. I have also heard these referred to as a winged death heads (I personally vote for the flying deadhead but my suggestion usually elicits frowns). There are a wide variety of styles which were employed by the carvers of these stones. I may take the opportunity to post more of these angel heads in the future.

The angel head is to symbolize the soul's ascension to heaven (ie. becoming an angel) or acts as a symbolic guardian angel for the departed. Deborah Trask, currently the curator of the Mahone Bay Settlers Museum, wrote an excellent book entitled Life how Short Eternity how Long in which she gives a greater background about this style of tombstones. If you can find a copy of this book, it is a very interesting read.

Now the sensible question is "with all the images I could choose from, why did I pick this particular angel head for my profile image"? Well, over the past few years I have worked on a number of projects which have brought me into Annapolis County cemeteries. In that time, I have developed a great appreciation for the art of tombstones. The stones which I find the most interesting are the angel heads, especially those carved in slate. This is partially because these are among the earliest stones in our area and partially for the artistry of the carving itself.

This particular angel head comes from the stone of Douwe Ditmars at Old St. Edwards Anglican Church in Clementsport, Nova Scotia. Captain Ditmars was a Loyalist from Jamaica, New York who came to Clementsport in at the end of the American Revolution. Like many of the Loyalist emigrants to Annapolis County, he was of of Dutch ancestry. Other Dutch names include Amberman, VanBlarcom, VanBuskirk, VanTassel etc. When he was granted land in 1786, much of the current community of Clementsport was included in Captian Ditmars allotment. In fact, he was the one who sold the land for the building of Old St. Edwards Church. Legend has it that the land was sold for one peppercorn, but documentation may not support this story.

So, I have chosen this graceful image of an angel head because I appreciate the artistry of the carving. I have also chosen it because it is one of the best preserved stones of this vintage. Finally, I have chosen it because of the link between this stone and Captain Ditmars. He is one of the links between our community and the historic events of the American Revolution which not only changes the 13 colonies but has a hand in the creation of modern Nova Scotia.

All for now,
RGS

1 comment:

  1. Hello,

    Douwe Ditmars is my ancestor, and this brought back great memories of being in the Clementsport/Annapolis Royal area. Scholars lean toward thinking of the head with wings on gravestones as "soul effigies," representing the soul rising to heaven. Many faces (after the grim skull) often have an enraptured, awestruck or suprised look, which makes sense. This related to ones personal anticipation of death, which is probably why it became so popular. Angels came later in cemetery "art." Although some of the heads are cherubic, there are many that aren't. The carvers may have intended child-like/innocent rather than cherub in those cases. The early stones in Annapolis County (at least) were made in New England. I've found stones there that very closely resemble some of the the Nova Scotia stones, including Douwe's. Interesting site, by the way!

    Doug Sinclair

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