St Edburg’s Church has more than 80 monuments commemorating the dead over the last 500 years.
Various stone wall-monuments, brasses, stained glass windows, with even one of wood, they are a rich and varied source for examination of artistic tastes through the generations. Because they have always been there, they often are not in the forefront of our minds when we visit the church as they are part of a backdrop with which we may be very familiar. A new visitor may well focus more on the church as a whole than on the monuments.
This is a pity. They form an important collection showing the range and standard of artistic talent available to the residents of a small market town in Oxfordshire over the last 500 years, including changes in taste over time. From the early 18th century at least five nationally and important sculptors and, in the 19th century, several leading stained-glass workshops have worked here.
Monuments can also tell us much about how people thought about themselves (or their near relatives) and how they wanted to be perceived by others. At one extreme there is the over-the-top grandiosity of Sir Thomas Grantham’s memorial of 1728 by two Flemish sculptors. The detailed and cramped biography of the surgeon Thomas Roblyn devotes 10 lines to the three years he spent as a naval surgeon in the eastern Mediterranean and only three to the following 53 years in Clifton and Weston-Super-Mare. Sarah Kendall’s simple wooden memorial of 1803 (not shown in this article) quotes extensively from a metric version Psalm 4 and is clearly concerned principally with her relationship with God.
Grand memorials in churches, at least in St. Edburg’s, went out of fashion after World War 1. Instead in a trend beginning in the later 19th century, people have chosen to be remembered by things which are useful to the church. All our stained glass windows, apart from one very small one, are both memorials and proclaim a Christian message. Many of the items which support our use of the church has ben given as memorials. These include the reredos behind the high altar and its six candlesticks, the altar cross, some of the furnishings of the church and, most recently, the bibles we use in the Lady Chapel and for our main services.
The very varied approaches and content of the memorials should provide a point of stimulation for each of us to think about how we want to be remembered, and, more importantly about how we want to live now. Do we want to focus on worldly aspects of our lives or do we want to think more about our relationships to God and to our neighbours? Jesus of course said that love of both God and our neighbours were the most important commandments.