Blog Archives: September 2013

Patron saint of FDs, pray for us

Monday, 30 September 2013

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Posted by Richard Rawlinson

It’s a crying shame St Joseph of Arimathea shares his feast day with St Patrick on 17 March. The patron saint of funeral directors gets ignored in a wash of green and Guinness. But the world’s most famous undertaker is particularly special to Britain, and well worth your prayers seeking his intercession. His story takes us from the cross and tomb of Our Lord to Glastonbury and the Holy Grail.

Mentioned in all four Gospels, Joseph was a wealthy merchant and follower of Christ who demonstrated tremendous bravery and kindness: he went to Pontius Pilate asking for permission to take Christ’s body from the Cross at Calvary and prepare Him for burial; he cleaned the tortured, bloodied body, anointed it with oils, shrouded it in linen and carried it to a cave tomb he’d prepared for his own use.

The Bible says nothing more about Joseph but legend continues his story. It’s said he was uncle of the Virgin Mary, a claim originating from the tradition that the senior male relative of a crucified man is responsible for dealing with the body. With Our Lady’s older husband, St Joseph, no longer alive, our Joseph stepped forward.

It’s said he made his money trading metals which took him to the northern reaches of the Roman Empire, including the tin mines of Cornwall. As an account for some of Jesus’s ‘lost’ years between childhood and ministry, it’s claimed great uncle Joseph took Jesus with him on one of these trips, hence William Blake’s Jerusalem:

And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon England’s mountains green?

And was the holy Lamb of God

On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

Joseph’s ties with England continue. He’s said to have accompanied Apostle Philip, Mary Magdalene and other followers of Christ on a preaching mission to Gaul, with Joseph then sailing across the Channel to the island with which he was already familiar.

Possibly the first missionary in Britain between AD37-50, Joseph settled in Glastonbury. Not only did he have firsthand credibility as a missionary but he also brought sacred relics: vials of Christ’s blood and sweat from the Cross, and the cup used during the Last Supper. The Holy Grail, no less.

Here, Bible-extending apocryphal tales mix with Medieval myths about Avalon. Some say Joseph is the original founder of Glastonbury Abbey, which is also claimed as the burial place of King Arthur. The Holy Grail is said to be hidden in Chalice Well, near the Abbey, since destroyed during the Reformation. Glastonbury’s parish church remains dedicated to St Joseph.

These stories make a case for Joseph as patron saint, not just of undertakers, but of all England rather than George, the dragon-slayer. Some also judge Jerusalem as a better choice of national anthem than the one we have.

FDs, do you know how lucky you are?

 

You can’t keep a bad man down

Monday, 30 September 2013

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Everyone deserves a second chance, and if we believe what we read on the testimonials page of the Mary Mayer Funeral Home in Southend-on-Sea, then Mark Kerby, better known to readers of this blog as former jailbird and serial fraudster Richard Sage (everyone deserves a second name) is a reformed character. 

As if. ‘Mark’ has racked up no fewer than 8 county court judgements against him in the course of his reincarnation. He’s not been paying his bills. See here: Mayer Report1 (1) 

 

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In his days of mischief-making, Mr Sage/Kerby enjoyed a little foray running an air ambulance. He’s had another crack at this, but seems to have come unstuck. According to the Insolvency Service on 30 April 2013:

European Medical Assistance (EMA), a company which passed itself off as a worldwide emergency medical assistance provider but had no ability to provide these services, has been wound up in the public interest by the High Court in London, following an investigation by The Insolvency Service.

The company and its appointed director, Mark Kerbey, failed to co-operate with the investigation and failed to produce any documents and information in support of the company’s claimed trading activities. 

Commenting on the case, David Hill, an Investigation Supervisor with The Insolvency Service said: 

“This company claimed it would help people in their direst need, when they required urgent medical attention. In fact it intended to do nothing of the sort but took people’s money in exchange for a sense of reassurance that was utterly unfounded. 

“Furthermore, the company cynically took advantage of young people who were keen to gain experience of helping others. In winding up this company, the Court is sending a strong message that there is no place in the business arena for organisations like this. 

“The Insolvency Service will investigate abuses and close down companies if they are found to be acting against the public interest.” 

See the full report here. Find out more about Richard Sage, his life, times and countless misadventures, here

 

 

Innards

Sunday, 29 September 2013


 

 

What Salvador Dali and Vincent van Gogh’s innards would have looked like if they looked anything like how they painted. 

The presence of the dead is essential

Saturday, 28 September 2013

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The funeral of Mitul Shah

We bear mortality by bearing mortals — the living and the dead — to the brink of a uniquely changed reality: Heaven or Valhalla or Whatever Is Next. We commit and commend them into the nothingness or somethingness, into the presence of God or God’s absence. Whatever afterlife there is or isn’t, human beings have marked their ceasing to be by going the distance with their dead — to the tomb or the fire or the grave, the holy tree or deep sea, whatever sacred space of oblivion we consign them to. And we’ve been doing this since the beginning. 

The formula for our funerals was fairly simple for most of our history: by getting the dead where they needed to go, the living got where they needed to be. 

Ours is the species that deals with death (the idea of the thing) by dealing with our dead (the physical fact of the thing itself). 

The presence of the dead is an essential, definitive element of a funeral. 

These four essential, definitive elements, then: the corpse, the caring survivors, some brokered change of status between them, and the disposition of the dead make a human funeral what it is. 

Stements extracted from an essay by Thomas Lynch here

If Mr Lynch is right, how much more essential and elemental to bring the dead to their funeral for all to see and mourn, as in the photo above of of Mitul Shah, killed by terrorists in the Westgate mall in Kenya. 

 

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The cremation of Mitul Shah

Grim (Reaper) up north

Friday, 27 September 2013


 

Posted by Richard Rawlinson

Manchester’s Southern Cemetery is the inspiration for Cemetery Gates by cheery northern pop combo The Smiths. It’s also the resting place of Man U manager Sir Matt Busby, Salford artist LS Lowry and Tony Wilson, founder of the Hacienda nightclub and Factory Records, which represented 1980s bands such as Joy Division.

 

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Manchester Southern Cemetery gates

 
The largest municipal cemetery in the UK, it opened in 1879 with four mortuary chapels for Anglicans, Nonconformists, Catholics and Jews. Only one is currently used for funeral services, the others remaining semi-derelict due to the decline in burials.

 

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Chapel at Manchester Cemetery

 

There are no plans to re-open them as deconsecrated chapels for secular funerals, even to alleviate the fast-turnaround cycle of Manchester Crematorium, opened in 1892 immediately adjacent to the cemetery. Even the oldest crematoria offer as legal mandatories lavatories and disabled access as well as waiting rooms, sound systems and the rest. It’s often too costly to bring back unused cemetery chapels to modern working standards.

Manchester Crematorium is a response to concerns about the living conditions of industrial workers in late-19th century Manchester. Its founders argued that acres of cemetery could be better used for housing to relieve overcrowding. Their campaign motto was ‘Save the Land for the Living’.

 

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However much some of us like the idea of burial (woodland, grave recycling etc) and different venues for services, are we flogging a dead horse? Is the age of the multiplex crematorium/resomatorium here to stay, offering several chapels sharing the same disposal factories underneath? Is there any future for graves when space-efficient memorial walls allow for envelope-sized plaques ordered on a 10-year lease?

 Footnote: Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, who hanged himself aged 23 in 1980, is buried in Macclesfield.

 

Ian Curtis

What’s next?

Friday, 27 September 2013

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Don’t underestimate the insistence of the human ego on a negotiated immortality and the dread of losing even this. If all the people on earth die, and there are no more to come, it also means that my traces, my genes and the children who carry them, my influence on others, words I have written and spoken, music and art I may have created, all the shouts and whispers of who I am, are also erased. I die twice. SANDRA SHAPIRO

While I do care about the future of my friends and family, I do the things I enjoy doing regardless of what happens after my death because, according to my existentialist perspective, there is no purpose to life besides taking advantage of what it gives us. NATALIE BARMAN

Source in response to this

The Protestant death ethic

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Puritan

 

From the Westminster Confession of Faith, 1646, the foundational doctrine of the Scottish reformation church. 

WHEN any person departeth this life, let the dead body, upon the day of burial, be decently attended from the house to the place appointed for publick burial, and there immediately interred, without any ceremony.

And because the custom of kneeling down, and praying by or towards the dead corpse, and other such usages, in the place where it lies before it be carried to burial, are superstitious; and for that praying, reading, and singing, both in going to and at the grave, have been grossly abused, are no way beneficial to the dead, and have proved many ways hurtful to the living; therefore let all such things be laid aside.

Howbeit, we judge it very convenient, that the Christian friends, which accompany the dead body to the place appointed for publick burial, do apply themselves to meditations and conferences suitable to the occasion; and that the minister, as upon other occasions, so at this time, if he be present, may put them in remembrance of their duty.

The Other Taj Mahal

Thursday, 26 September 2013

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Not this Taj Mahal

Received from Jo Vassie at Higher Ground Meadow, written by Times journalist Francis Elliot.  To see photojournalist Simon de Trey-White’s full blog post with excellent and touching photos go here

Villagers made fun of former postmaster Faisal Quadri when he first began building a Taj Mahal replica on the land next to his house but no more, now he commands respect in the sleepy village in rural Uttar Pradesh.  He refers to the monument as ‘yaadgaar’ meaning ‘in memory of’ and he built it to honour the wife he loved for 60 years, Begum Tajmulli, who died on the 23rd September 2011 aged 73. Quadri, a retired postal clerk began work on the tomb resembling a miniature Taj Mahal, 5 months after Begum died, in February 2012

Armed only with a dog-eared brochure from a visit to the Taj Mahal many decades earlier and a few rough sketches, Mr Qadri began working on his own scaled-down version in the field to the rear of his modest home four hours drive from Delhi. Though made of concrete and unfinished (he says it will cost a further 600,000 rupees to clad the structure in marble) the place has real presence and is remarkably reminiscent of Shah Jahan’s monument in an affectionate thumbnail sketch kind of way.

“He was a king,” he says of Shah Jahan, who built the Taj in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal.

“I have to build according to my capacity. Also he used government money to build it — I have taken money from no one.”

The final stone will bear the inscription. “This is not the Taj Mahal but it is the memory of love.”

See Simon de Trey-White’s blog post here

Funerals as psychotwaddle

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

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Writing about contemporary American memorial services (ashes optional), Thomas Long describes a funerary trend that some might discern in contemporary British celebration of life funerals — if you subscribe to his bracingly reactionary death-view: 

Even when they are crafted by caring people who are full of goodwill, these services often lack coherence. At their worst they are formless and aimless, without tradition or structure, sail or rudder. They can so easily slip into random odds and ends thrown together like a high school talent show, a pot-pourri of made-up pageantries and sentimental gestures combined with a few leftover religious rites that have broken loose from their moorings and floated downstream. Many have become a form of improvisational theater with upbeat emcees … less a story of what [the person who has died’s] life and death mean and more a pot of ritual spaghetti thrown against the wall in hope that something will stick.

The Good Funeral. 

 

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