How to Read a Graveyard: Journeys in the Company of the Dead

Peter Stanford

How to Read a Graveyard: Journeys in the Company of the Dead

Death is the one certainty in life, yet, with the decline of religion in the West, we have become collectively reluctant to talk about it. Our contemporary rituals seek to sanitise death and distance us from our own inevitable fate. If we want to know how previous generations dealt with death, graveyards (famous and not) tell us the history -- if we are able to read them. If we want to know how we struggle today with understanding or facing up to death, then graveyards provide a starting point. And, if we want to escape the present taboo on acknowledging our mortality and contemplate our own end, then graveyards offer a rare welcome. From Neolithic mounds to internet memorials via medieval corpse roads and municipal cemeteries, war graves and holocaust memorials, Roman catacombs, Pharaonic grave-robbers, Hammer horrors, body-snatchers, Days of the Dead, humanist burials and flameless cremations, Stanford shows us how to read a graveyard, what to look out for in our own, and how even the most initially unpromising exploration can enthral. 3.4 out of 5 based on 5 reviews
How to Read a Graveyard: Journeys in the Company of the Dead

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Religion & Spirituality, History
Format
Pages
RRP
Date of Publication March 2013
ISBN 978-1441179777
Publisher Bloomsbury
 

Death is the one certainty in life, yet, with the decline of religion in the West, we have become collectively reluctant to talk about it. Our contemporary rituals seek to sanitise death and distance us from our own inevitable fate. If we want to know how previous generations dealt with death, graveyards (famous and not) tell us the history -- if we are able to read them. If we want to know how we struggle today with understanding or facing up to death, then graveyards provide a starting point. And, if we want to escape the present taboo on acknowledging our mortality and contemplate our own end, then graveyards offer a rare welcome. From Neolithic mounds to internet memorials via medieval corpse roads and municipal cemeteries, war graves and holocaust memorials, Roman catacombs, Pharaonic grave-robbers, Hammer horrors, body-snatchers, Days of the Dead, humanist burials and flameless cremations, Stanford shows us how to read a graveyard, what to look out for in our own, and how even the most initially unpromising exploration can enthral.

How to read a graveyard: Travels among the dead of the Somme | Peter Stanford | Independent

Reviews

The Independent

Jay Merrick

... a humane, delicately religious attempt to celebrate the one fate we will all share, but probably think and talk the least about … it's not Stanford's assiduous fact-finding that resonates. It's those moments when he conveys impressions of graveyards that strike home with a poetic and humane weight.

19/04/2013

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Scotland on Sunday

Stuart Kelly

By turns, Stanford is mordantly wry on funereal euphemism, pleasingly melancholic, and insightful on church history, the bureaucracy of decay and putrefaction and the shifting etiquettes of grief. For a book about our mortal end, Stanford manages to be curiously uplifting and affirmative.

06/04/2013

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The Daily Telegraph

Thomas Marks

At times, Stanford’s feel for the more quotidian aspects of cemeteries imparts an excessively casual tone to his prose (“Compare and contrast, as they used to say in my O-level papers, with the modest stone on Keats’s grave” and so on). While this may in principle suit his attempt to make cemeteries seem less alien, in practice it can have the disconcerting effect of rendering a conversational manner as stiff writing.

10/04/2013

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The Sunday Times

Josh Glancy

Stanford is a Catholic writer by trade, and the book is unapologetically slanted towards Christian graveyards and rituals. More problematic, though, are the long digressions on war or papal history, and the grave-by-grave accounts of his walks round each particular burial site, which begin to drag. Nonetheless, it is hard to disagree with his assertion that everyone would be well served by an occasional walk round a cemetery, and he is effective in bringing each one he visits to life with his thoughtful reflections on society’s changing relation to mortality.

31/03/2013

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The Mail on Sunday

Craig Brown

The episodic nature of How To Read A Graveyard gives it a stop-start feel, so that ideas are brought up, dropped, and then brought up again a hundred pages further on. But it is nevertheless stuffed full of fascination.

23/03/2013

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