Category Archives: tomb stones

A Visit to the Cloisters

Many moons ago, back in grad school, my friend Andrea Rossi Reder told me about this wonderful museum of Medieval and Renaissance art, the Cloisters, that was constructed like a medieval cloistered monastery.  It took me a few years to get there, but my husband and I visited one spring some time ago.  It was a beautiful place, near Fort Tryon Park, overlooking the Hudson River.  I not only enjoyed all the exquisite art and the ancient-styled construction, but loved wandering the  herbal garden in the sun and warmth of spring.  Last week, my husband proved is is indeed “goals” by taking me back there after another stretch of many years.  This winter visit had charms of its own.  I had forgotten just how much I enjoyed the museum.
After taking the A-train from the 125th St. station, we hopped the 100 Bus to St. Nicholas Street, then another subway, and we were right outside Fort Tryon Park.  Crossing the park showed us the bleak beauty of winter, the red bar berry bushes, crimson hemlock berries,  and the frosty-blue berries of another type evergreen.  acloisters2We even got to see a fluffy, black squirrel, rare in my neck of the woods.  Then the Cloisters loomed through the trees against azure shading down to soft winter-blue skies .

 

 

These sculpture, likely not Medieval, greeted us as we made our way up the drive.  acloisters3We took turns guessing what the hell they were as we approached. I hit the jackpot with the conjecture of, “Pears?” For once, modern sculpture stuck in the middle of nature didn’t appear so terribly intrusive.

 

I like this shot of  the arched entry way. Note the cobblestone drive way.  We had to dodge a few not so Medieval buses dropping off passengers here. acloisters5I’ll apologize in advance for not having pictures of Yang.  We used his Ipad and I hate trying to take pictures with the darned thing. 

 

 

 

 

After entering and moving through the great hall, we moved off to the side to the square surrounding the cloisters garden, now closed off from us by glass – allowing us to look out at the neatly mown ghost of the  summer garden, while keeping the December cold outside.  acloisters10During the warmer months, this area is all open.  When I visited Mont St. Michel and saw their cloister garden growing within the monastery, high atop the island mountain, I realized the inspiration for the Cloisters garden.  Even with winter’s hand stilling the garden, the December sunshine filled the indoor court surrounding it with brightness and beauty.  acloisters9The carvings on the capitals of the columns were fascinating – humans, beasts (mythological and fanciful), gods – I could swear I saw C’thullu.  

 

 

We went back into the building proper, then wandered from room to interconnected room, drinking in the sacred images culled from monasteries, churches, and castles – excited to find these treasures opened up to our experience, but, perhaps, a bit troubled that they had been stripped from their original homes.  Still, here, they are restored, protected, and cherished. acloisters16Towards the end of our meander, we came across this carved altar with the golden reliquaries of a saint and her attendants – I think St. Ursula.

 

 

Female and male martyrs of the early Church were honored in stained glass, wooden statuary, and paintings. There were tons of artwork  of St. Margaret.   However, in honor of acloisters20my BFF Barbara, I have to include this statue of St. Barbara.

 

 

From the other side of the arch in the same chamber, here is one of my favorite statues of the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus.  She is clothed in the sun and stands on the crescentacloisters21 moon.  Just to the left, you can see a carving of St. Christopher bearing the child Jesus.  These statues are more colorful than some of the others.  I don’t remember if their paint had been restored.  Most likely the case.

 

 

acloisters14Here are some more particularly striking carvings of Virgin and Child.  What must the colors have been like when this piece was even relatively new? The thought takes my breath away.  If you can look closely at the folds of Mary’s robes and the strands of her hair, you’ll be filled with amazement at the workmanship.  Truly, this work is a loving prayer.

 

 

 

 

Similarly, look at this exquisite piece.  I am amazed  at the fluid drapery of the folds ofacloisters32 her clothing, the mobile shape of her body, and the moving tenderness of her expression.  The soft shining polish of this wood dissolves any impression of stiffness and immobility.  The statue seems a fluid prayer of gentleness, love, and faith.  What a pity the Protestant Reformation looked at these works and only saw “painted idols” instead of art’s living prayer to God.

 

 

 

There is also a room in the lowest level, at the far end of the gallery, acloisters24designed like a crypt, that displays effigies. The ceiling is shaped into beautifully vaulted Gothic arches – again, I remembered Mont St. Michel.   I noticed one family had a faithful dog under the feet of the various sculpted forms of generations of its nobility. acloisters25 The novel The Undying Monster gives an intriguing play to this custom as a hint to the UM haunting its family through innumerable generations.  I guess when I go, they will have to surround me with  effigies of my plethora of cats!

 

 

We also made it into the unicorn room, with all the famous tapestries.  I was not pleased to see so many unicorns so mistreated.  No wonder they’re so hard to find nowadays – or it could have to do with the dearth of virgins. acloisters33jpg Nevertheless, I couldn’t report on a visit to the Cloisters without a picture of the most famous unicorn tapestry.

 

 

There were also displays of jewelry,  fine utensils, and various types of game boards. acloisters27There were several chess boards with figures carved from ivory or bone (whose?!), often with the knight displaying an accurate depiction of armor on man and horse.  My favorite was this chess set made out of amber.  If you look closely at the board, you can see pictures created in the chess squares.acloisters31

 

 

Of course, we also did some touristy things in town.  arockefeller3After a wonderful dinner at Alice’s Teacup – with equally wonderful tea! – we went to Rockefeller Center and got a look at the famous tree as well as the skating rink.

 

arockefeller5

 

 

 

 

So, by eight o’clock or so, we were on our train, heading back to Connecticut.  Our dogs might have been barking, but we ended the day culturally and spiritually enlightened.

Autumnal Woodlawn Cemetery – No Blinking!

.
Three years ago, Yang and I took an autumnal visit to Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.  This was our second visit.  Our first was in the summer, and we took many woodlawn1photos of the gorgeous sepulchres with their ornate carvings of lions and sphinxes, as well as beautiful stained glass inside.  This time, with the fall leaves beginning their metamorphoses into vivid colors, we concentrated on the outdoor imagery.  I love the way this angel is framed by the flaming curve of the branch and leaves above it.

 

 

woodlawn4I also found this figure fascinating, straining for freedom, emerging from his marble prison – perhaps to burst the bonds of the body’s clay and fly away on the sharp wind of the north to eternity.

 

 

 

woodlawn10We found this image especially beautiful, the soft orange of the tree leaves providing a brilliant background contrast to the soft grey/white of the stone and  the gentle and flowing draperies of woman portrayed here.

 

 

 

 

 

This woman draped meltingly over the tomb stone in her anguish was a deliciously melancholy image to ponder.woodlawn2 I actually manged to find a piece similar to this monument from Toscano to add to my own Halloween graveyard in my front yard this year.

 

 

 

I’m fascinated by this monument.  My guess is that the chap memorialized in Roman senatorial garb must have been a judge or a  high political figure. woodlawn3 I hope he met a better end than Julius Caesar!  I thought the warm orange of the tree behind his imposing statue made an appealing contrast.  Stern but not harsh features on this chap.

 

 

 

 

Happily, we found a wonderful living denizen in the cemetery.  woodlawn9Woodlawn also contains a beautiful reflecting lake, and this Great Egret found it just the ticket!  Of course, he was probably more up to fishing than reflecting – a bird’s got to eat!
There were other typical Victorian monuments, wonderfully complemented by the fall colors.woodlawn6  Here is a mother with her children.  One hopes this is not a comment on the high mother/child mortality rate but rather a celebration of deep feelings between parent and children.
I was intrigued by this praying woman, high atop her monument.  woodlawn11She almost has an aspect of the Catholic Virgin Mary, not what you would expect in a seemingly predominantly Protestant cemetery.  Again, the autumn trees provide a pleasurable contrast to the cool white and grey-aged stone.

 

 

This cemetery is indeed a pleasure to stroll through, just be sure to bring your camera – whatever season you visit!

Here’s a link that gives you a virtual tour.

 

Halloween, Yang style

.

I just got all the tombstones and a few  haunting creatures up in my front yard.  I still have to add several more supernatural visitors, but the eerie atmosphere is starting to coalesce.  Just to give you an idea of what things will look like, I’ll share with you some images from last year’s outside decorations.

cemetery4 Here’s a vertical shot of the graveyard in the front lawn.  Yang joined in the fun by getting the iron fencing and putting it up for me.  Mr. Bones there seems to be chuckling over something the ghoul in black just told him.  Did they see into the future for this year’s election?

I think this chap iscemetery3 recovering from one of the Halloween parties that I have every year.  Either that or he’s someone I caught plagiarizing.  See any red marks on him?

We also were visited by a few witches, ghouls, and demons, flying joyously on the fall winds.  Some of them are looking right at you,cemetery6 and they seem awfully glad to see you – for what reason, I’m not sure.  it’s probably not good for you!

 

 

Back to those pesky skeletons again!  They’re worse than cemetery5ants in the summer – and just as hungry.  Heh, heh, heh!

 

 

And lest I forget, Here are some shots of our homemade dancing ghosts!  cemetery8These guys (or gals) usually go up closer to Halloween because if there’s too much rain and wind the ground gets too soft to support them and they become staggering, collapsing ghosts.  As Quentin and Beth say, there’s  nothing worse than cemetery7when your ectoplasm starts to sag!

 

 

 

 

 

So, I’ll just close with this nice horizontal shot of the whole front yard, to let you drink in the entire spooky panorama.  Try not to be too scared as you drive up the street.  This year, I have even some new tomb stones!  It may not be Mt. Auburn or Hope Cemetery, but it’s home sweet creepy home to me!  cemetery1

Birds and Beasts at Mt. Auburn Cemetery

We went to Mt. Auburn looking for birds and beasts. In the past, we’ve seen rabbits, ground hogs, foxes, hawks, and robins, but we had a few surprises this time. This is a lovely catbird. 2mtauburn1I’m afraid you can’t quite distinguish his/her black cap. We have at least one who lives near our house and is rather friendly, visiting the bird feeders, sipping from the bird baths and fish pond, and plucking up multi-legged critters from the ground. We also saw tons of robins. I wanted to include this picture for my British viewers. Your robins are adorable, petite, and feathered lovely blue and rust. Ours, as you can see, are longer and larger, with a grey/black body and striking rusty-red tummy. Their faces and build are similar to your blackbirds, MtAuburn10though yours are really black. I heard that your robins were struggling.  How are they doing now?

 

Here was a nice surprise! Down by one of the ponds, we 2MtAuburn3found quite a few painted turtles sunning themselves. Look at this guy stretch his hind legs. Seems comfy, doesn’t he/she. Meanwhile, in the pond, a baby was swimming around like crazy, having a ball. maybe this guy on the shore was a watchful parent?2mtauburn4

 

 

 

 

 

 

2mtauburn7We really had a surprise when we saw and were able to follow a Great Blue Heron around the cemetery. We expected to see him wading in one of the ponds. That’s how we usually see them, but not this guy.2mtauburn5 He just took himself on the most casual of strolls, looking around, chilling out. maybe he was looking for a friend?

Okay, here he is paying his respects.2mtauburn6

 

Heading back to our car we got the biggest of surprises!2mtauburn8 A flock of about 8 or 9 wild turkeys! Notice the “beards” hanging from some of the birds. I’d never noticed that before.2mtauburn9

 

I talked to a woman who was planting some flowers at a relative’s grade, and she told me the turkeys were making her nervous. 2mtauburn11Apparently, a turkey had gotten too aggressive with one of the workers in the cemetery last week, with things had not going well for the turkey. I have heard that these wild bird can be exceptionally bold. These guys didn’t bother us, but then, again, we didn’t bother them, either. I prevented Yang from mentioning either dreaded trigger word: Thanksgiving or drumstick.2mtauburn10

Once More, DON’T BLINK!

Recently, Yang and I decided to take a stroll in one of our favorite cemeteries, Mt. Auburn in Cambridge, MA.  So, to avoid the July heat and try to catch sight of some interesting birds, we left early in the morning and managed to get in around 8:00. mtAuburn1 Parking in a slightly different location, we almost immediately came across this monument to Edwin Booth, a famous Shakespearean actor of the nineteenth century.  Unfortunately, his mental health in later years led him to take the method acting thing a bit too far, his Richard III indomitably driving Richmond off the stage and his Othello trying to strangle Desdemona for real – maybe an inspiration for Ronald Colman’s A Double Life? Still, he posed far less of danger than one of his actor sons, John Wilkes.

mtAuburn2

 

 

Here you can see some wonderful reliefs carved on series mtAuburn3of family tomb stones.

mtAuburn4

 

This beautiful woman, perhaps an embodiment of the soul, presides over a family vault.mtAuburn5

 

 

Walking up the hill towards the tower that gives a beautiful panorama of the cemetery as well as of Boston and its environs, mtAuburn6the slope that rolls down into the rest of the cemetery provides a peaceful, shaded landscape.  This day we didn’t see any exciting creatures at the top of the tower, which you ascend via a spiral stone staircase in the center.  MrAuburn7Once, when we were up there, we saw several hawks circling.  Here’s a nice shot the stone path leading up to the tower.  I also had to take a photograph of the enormous roots of this ancient tree snaking across and underground.  There’s a Lovecraft moment in here somewhere.

 

 

 

From lectures on cemetery tours and material I’ve read on monument art, MtAuburn8I feel fairly safe conjecturing that the kneeling female figure represents the soul of the recently departed and the angel’s lifting a cloak from her represents this sacred figure lifting the veil of life cloaking us from God’s radiance, preparing the soul to ascend to heaven.  Interesting that the soul usually is portrayed as female.  A connection to the goddess Psyche?

 

Another intriguing relief.  Any comments on the symbolism?

mtAuburn7

 

 

 

 

 

 

MtAuburn11Here’s a figure to give all the Dr. Who fans the willies.  How would you feel if this child cherub came to life?  A comforting figure or not?

 

 

MtAuburn12