Memorial inscriptions: Introduction

Pages 507-509

Cardiff Records: Volume 3. Originally published by Cardiff Records Committee, Cardiff, 1901.

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Ecclesiastical Memorial Inscriptions.

A BOOK purporting to contain the corpus of the records of any place would be certainly incomplete, were it to omit the inscribed memorials of its dead. The inscriptions on the tombstones in our old parish churches and churchyards possess a definite value, well recognised by antiquaries. The tombstone is commonly the only depository of certain particulars concerning the deceased, such as the day of his death, his age, his place of origin, his family connections—facts which are not usually to be found with the entry of burial, in the Parish Registers. An additional motive for the publishing of tombstone inscriptions lies in the lamentable rapidity with which these memorials are constantly disappearing. Rain and frost cause slate monuments in the churchyard to split or flake on the surface, so that the inscriptions are the first part to perish. Letterings on freestone are soon choked with moss, those on granite are obliterated by lichen. Every winter sees the disappearance of some of the inscriptions in almost any churchyard. It is, therefore, with good reason that the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Monuments has from its inception busied itself with the copying and, when possible, the publication of the inscriptions on sepulchral monuments. Any assistance which can in this respect be rendered by local effort is a meritorious contribution to historical research. Readers of the "Cardiff Records" will hardly have needed even so much by way of explanation of my including in this work the humble memorials of our departed whose remains are resting in the churchyards of this district. Neither will they, I think, find fault with me for adding the inscriptions on the benefaction board, the bells and storied glass in the church of Saint John, &c., since these are important local records.

It is well to refer, at this stage, to the numerous tombs and tombstone inscriptions which must at one time have existed in the old premier parish church of Saint Mary. This was a large cruciform structure with central tower, and stood on the site now occupied by the tram sheds, on the west side of Great Western Lane, behind the Theatre Royal. The gradually diverting course of the river Taff at this point formed a loop or sudden curve, little by little encroaching upon Saint Mary's churchyard; until at length, in 1607, a violent storm and flood washed down the church itself. It was not, however, till the beginning of the 19th century that the last vestiges of the churchyard disappeared. Down to that time a piece of the ancient burial ground still remained, and was enclosed, on its three landward sides, by a wall, having an iron gate fastened with a padlock. No doubt some few gravestones were then to be seen, but no record of their inscriptions has been preserved.

The interior of Saint John's is well stocked with memorial tablets, though few of them are of any considerable age. At one of the restorations, a number of these tablets were fixed on the inside walls of the tower—some of them at so great a height that it is very difficult to read the inscriptions. The Herbert tomb is of such archæological importance as to require a special description, in conjunction with the Herbert Aisle. Of the ancient churchyard cross nothing remained, since the Reformation, save the platform and lower portion of the shaft. Upon this a beautiful storied Calvary has lately been erected, and forms an interesting adornment of the churchyard.

I have printed the memorial inscriptions in Roath church, and the older ones in the churchyard, together with similar selections from Llandaff, Llandough and Penarth. It will be understood that this collection includes only the older tombstone inscriptions. Saint John's churchyard, and all the churches, are closed for interments. At Llandaff a new cemetery has been formed out of land adjoining the churchyard on the north. I have not included any of the inscriptions in the old Cardiff cemetery, at Adamsdown—much less the new one near Crwys Bychan—though the former is worthy of attention.