Saturday, September 24, 2011

Winged Heads in the Garrison Burial Grounds

Earlier this week I had some time to take a walk around the perimeter of Fort Anne with my daughter. An active three year old, she quite enjoyed the opportunity to run up and down the ramparts. As we made the turn around the Courthouse and started heading back to where we started, her attention was drawn to the Garrison Burial Grounds. Through the years I have grown to appreciate cemeteries and the various historical treasures that can be found there. Lest there be any confusion, I mean the treasures above ground in the form of artistic tombstones and information. I am not big on the whole disturbing the dead concept.

I was quick to agree to a walk through the burial grounds when she asked if we "could go see those things". I figured that this would be a good chance to chat about graveyards and also to possibly get a few pictures. As often happens, I was drawn to the winged heads or soul effigies that are found in this burial ground. As a side note, my campaign to get people to call these flying deadheads has not gained much traction. These symbols are spread through many of the early cemeteries in Nova Scotia but, there is such a rich collection at Fort Anne that I figured that I should take the opportunity to collect a few images.

The oldest soul effigy in this burial ground is found on the stone of Bathiah Douglass who died in 1720. This stone, featured at the top o this post, is also the oldest grave stone found in Nova Scotia. The original winged death heads were a bit more gruesome than the later ones. The early ones feature a skull with the eyes blanked out and teeth frozen in a perpetual grin. By the 1760s the image becomes somewhat softer with the face of a cherub replacing the skull. While I like both varieties, I generally find the early ones more engaging.

Now, what do they represent? There are actually a number of concepts at work with the winged death head. One of their primary purposes is to remind the viewer of the inevitability of death. They are a reminder that death can come quickly. The heads are also a symbol of the soul mounting toward heaven.

This is not a complete collection of the winged death heads at the Garrison Burial Grounds. Some of the stones have been damaged by ice through the years and have lost their faces. These parts are stored in the museum at Fort Anne. I also ran into the problem of my walking companion getting impatient with how slowly I was taking pictures. Oh well, a good excuse for a future trip.

All for now,

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