Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


Post-Medieval Coffin Depictions at St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney

A watercolour I did of the cathedral (2022)

Last September 2022, My husband Ian and I went on our very-belated honeymoon to Edinburgh and the Orkney Islands. One of the sites that we visited that we were totally in awe of was St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, the largest town on Mainland Orkney. The original cathedral was constructed in the 12th century, when the islands were under Norse rule, and was named for Magnus Erlendsson, Earl of Orkney. It was constructed in the Romanesque style with examples of Norman architecture as well, and was built with local red sandstone from Kirkwall and yellow sandstone from the island of Eday (where the memoir ‘Close to Where the Heart Gives Out’ is set. Here is an interview with the author!).

We had the chance to visit the cathedral twice, and I still don’t think we saw everything! There were amazing examples of late and post-medieval funerary sculpture throughout the church, with beautiful memento mori designs throughout. On our second visit, I noticed that some of the ledgers that had been set upright against the walls of the church had coffins as part of the designs, and that not all of the coffin styles were the same. I pulled out my sketchbook and raced around the cathedral as it was about to close, quickly writing down the dates and coffin styles on all the ledgers that had one, to conduct a quick survey on coffin styles depicted in 17th-century Orkney funerary monuments!

Continue reading

1 Comment

PhD Fieldwork 3: Surveying Field Stones at St. Augustine’s Cemetery 1

This week we wrapped up my fieldwork surveying in New Perlican! This part of my project, which I’ve written about a few times already in earlier blog posts, involves using a total station theodolite to survey and record the location of gravestones at historic burial grounds in New Perlican in order to create maps of the sites for the local archives and to use in my dissertation research on the evolution of the burial spaces in a single community over 400 years. You can find those earlier posts here: PhD Fieldwork Part 1, PhD Fieldwork 2, and Burial Ground Mapping.

This last round of surveying (before all the total stations vanished to field schools and Labrador for the summer) took place at St. Augustine’s Cemetery 1, and yes, there is a second one of the same name! Due to the size and complexity (ie: trees) of the site, I decided to record only the field stones at this location. Often overlooked, field stones are locally sourced grave markers that typically don’t have inscriptions but show a lot of importance in burial marking traditions in a community.

The goats (and sheep) of New Perlican visiting us on site (2022)
Continue reading

Leave a comment

Death on the Screen: Taboo, Ep. 1 & 19th Century Burials

The TV show Taboo, beginning in 1814 London, was created by Steven Knight, Tom Hardy, and Chips Hardy. Airing in 2017 originally with a second season rumoured, the show has just arrived on Canadian Netflix, so we’ve just started in. Why am I writing about a gritty long-18th century set TV program, you may be wondering? Well, one of the first scenes in the first episode involves a funeral. It was an excellent example of the impact that research can have on a television show, to really portray the life and death that people lead during the period, through the accurate display of all aspects of their daily lives, funerals included.

Screen capture of funeral procession in Taboo, Episode 1.
Continue reading