Sunday, 26 July 2015

The Sleeping Children

I love Cathedrals and old churches, and usually make an effort to have a look at them whenever I am near one. The one attraction that always draws me are the wall memorials and of course the effigies. I have seen quite a few now, but there is one that really sticks in my mind.


Inside Lichfield Cathedral you will find "The Sleeping Children"; it is the memorial to Ellen-Jane and Marianne Robinson, who died in 1813 and 1814, and it is breathtakingly beautiful, and the history of it is even more tragic.




In the history of the memorial they mention the Boothby Memorial, which is equally beautiful, and an inspiration for this one. There is an interesting article about Penelope Boothby at "Pigtails in Paint"

The images of the Boothby Memorial below were taken by Laurence Manton at the Graveyard Detective, and are used with his permission.




In 1826 the poet, William Lisle Bowles wrote a poem about the Sleeping Children sculpture:

Look at those sleeping children; softly tread,
Lest thou do mar their dream, and come not nigh
Till their fond mother, with a kiss, shall cry,
'Tis morn, awake! awake! Ah! they are dead!
Yet folded in each other's arms they lie,
So still—oh, look! so still and smilingly,
So breathing and so beautiful, they seem,
As if to die in youth were but to dream
Of spring and flowers! Of flowers? Yet nearer stand
There is a lily in one little hand,
Broken, but not faded yet,
As if its cup with tears were wet.
So sleeps that child, not faded, though in death,
And seeming still to hear her sister's breath,
As when she first did lay her head to rest
Gently on that sister's breast,
And kissed her ere she fell asleep!
The archangel's trump alone shall wake that slumber deep.
Take up those flowers that fell
From the dead hand, and sigh a long farewell!
Your spirits rest in bliss!
Yet ere with parting prayers we say,
Farewell for ever to the insensate clay,
Poor maid, those pale lips we will kiss!
Ah! 'tis cold marble! Artist, who hast wrought
This work of nature, feeling, and of thought;
Thine, Chantrey, be the fame
That joins to immortality thy name.
For these sweet children that so sculptured rest
A sister's head upon a sister's breast
Age after age shall pass away,
Nor shall their beauty fade, their forms decay.
For here is no corruption; the cold worm
Can never prey upon that beauteous form:
This smile of death that fades not, shall engage
The deep affections of each distant age!
Mothers, till ruin the round world hath rent,
Shall gaze with tears upon the monument!
And fathers sigh, with half-suspended breath:
How sweetly sleep the innocent in death!


My own images of the Sleeping Children Memorial do not do it justice, unfortunately I did not get back to the cathedral to rectify the situation. However, if I do get back to that city one day, be rest assured I will visit Ellen-Jane and Marianne, two girls who have reached through the ages to touch so many that pause at their effigy.

DR Walker 2015.