Stones matterSep 19th, 2009 | By Ian Poulton | Category: Spirituality
Were there two graves or just one? In memory, the stones stood against the wall on either side of the main door. It was not so long ago. The British History Online website gives a brief history of the building:
Bible Christians were using private houses in the parish from 1824 and Siloam chapel was built in Eastfield Road in 1841. It was licensed in 1847 and registered in 1854. In 1851 the Census Sunday congregation numbered 30 in the morning and 60 in the afternoon, though the afternoon average was 80. In 1907 it became part of the United Methodist church and in the Glastonbury circuit. In 1967 services were held every Sunday evening and on alternate Sunday mornings. The chapel was closed c. 1972.
It closed in 1972? As late as that? A couple of hundred yards from home and it was still open in 1972 without there being any memory of it other than as something from the past.
The graves had a fascination for a schoolboy. Who were these people whose principles kept them out of the village churchyard? Had some intransigent Rector refused them a plot, or had they themselves decided to be separate?
Hundreds, thousands of times, I passed the gateway to the chapel, a short stone-flagged path leading to a firmly shut door. The gravestones, weathered over the years to the point that no inscriptions were legible, bore witness to this as a place different from the other buildings on our road.
At some point, the gravestones disappeared. A slab set in the apex of the front wall of the building still declares ‘Siloam Chapel 1841’ but the graves ceased to be. Were the mortal remains of these ‘Bible Christians’ exhumed for interment elsewhere or were their memorials simply removed, tossed aside or stored away, as if those commemorated had not existed?
Perhaps it is not important. Evangelical Christians, of all people, would not be overly concerned with matters such as headstones; eternal dwelling places are infinitely more important. Yet in the Old Testament, it is important for one’s name to endure. For a person’s name to disappear as though they had never existed is a sign of divine displeasure:
He will give their kings into your hand, and you will wipe out their names from under heaven. Deuteronomy 7:24
Deep within the psyche, at least in Europe, having a known last resting place is something important. The war grave cemeteries that dot much of Western Europe are a testimony to the importance of the remembrance of names in a diversity of cultures. The Pantheon in Paris is a monument to a secular religion in which the dead are valued.
Years later, it is troubling to think those stones disappeared from the yard of that chapel and I have no idea where they might have gone.