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On abandoning sacred places

2 Mar
Kohekohe Presbyterian Church, Awhitu Peninsula, Auckland. Deconsecrated in 1976. Photo: Su Leslie, 2013

Kohekohe Presbyterian Church, Awhitu Peninsula, Auckland, New Zealand. Deconsecrated in 1976. Photo: Su Leslie, 2013

There are many littled churches like Kohekohe dotted around New Zealand. Our devout nineteenth century settler ancestors built churches as a matter of course wherever townships sprang up.

Population shifts and a decline in church attendance has led to the abandonment of many of these small, rural places of worship.

The old church at Kirkmichael, Perthshire, Scotland. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

The old Free Kirk, or Duff Memorial Church at Kirkmichael, Perthshire, Scotland. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

Like the Kohekohe church, the now-abandoned Free Kirk in Kirkmichael was built in the 19th century. It came into existence because of a schism in the Church of Scotland whereby the evangelical wing of the church broke free from the established Church. In Kirkmichael, the Free Kirk stands south of the River Ardle, along a narrow farm track, while the established Church is on the north side, on a site that has been used for worship for around 1000 years. The Free Kirk ceased to be a place of worship in the 1950s.

It may seem odd to think of graves as abandoned, yet when I walk in old cemeteries, I feel the same sense of abandonment I experienced with these churches.

A church is left empty when those for whom it is a special place no longer visit, but of course, graves continue to hold the remains of the deceased. Their abandonment comes not as emptiness, but as neglect. When those for whom a grave is a special place no longer visit, moss and weeds grow, stones crumble and vandals do their worst.

Headstone of Arthur John Percival. Helensville Cemetery, Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014

Headstone of Arthur John Percival. Helensville Cemetery, Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014

I saw this headstone while walking in Helensville Cemetery. I have no connection with the young man buried there; I photographed it purely out of curiosity. Arthur Percival’s headstone was erected by his Masonic brethren.  I assumed this to be because he either had no family, or they could not afford it. A quick bit of research tells me that Arthur was born in Nelson, New Zealand, had married Elizabeth Poynter in 1885 and left his widow with three young children. I know his parents were still alive at the time of his death, and I also know from a newspaper report of a trial at which Arthur Percival was called as a witness that he had been the Postmaster in Helensville.

The people who mourned the death of a young father in a small rural community are themselves long dead and his grave is abandoned.

Fallen headstone. Thomas and Mary Elizabeth Batts, Symonds Street Cemetery, Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

Fallen headstone. Thomas and Mary Elizabeth Batts, Symonds Street Cemetery, Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

Like Arthur Percival, both Thomas and Mary Elizabeth Batts died over a century ago, and their headstone is not only abandoned, but toppled and apparently incomplete. According to a 1950s memorial inscription record, the headstone also contained an inscription for the couple’s son Thomas, who died – age 23 – in 1881.

I found records for the birth of four other children to Thomas and Mary Elizabeth Batts, as well as newspaper announcements for the marriages of their daughters. It is likely then, that there are descendents of the Batts – perhaps still living in Auckland. But like many of us, they may not even know the names of these ancestors – let alone where they are buried. We do not deliberately abandon our dead – but without stories and artifacts to keep their memories alive, there is often little incentive to do otherwise.

This post was written in response to the Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge. Here are some other blogger’s responses to the theme “abandoned” that I have enjoyed:

http://angelinem.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/weekly-photo-challenge-abandoned/

http://memorycatcher.me/2014/03/01/weekly-photo-challenge-abandoned/

http://100parts.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/abandoned/

http://redstuffdan.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/weekly-photo-challengenge-abandoned-shoe/

http://thejeremynix.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/weekly-photo-challenge-abandoned/

http://photobyjohnbo.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/weekly-photo-challenge-abandoned/

http://svetlanagrobman.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/weekly-photo-challenge-abandoned/

http://claycreationsbydanies.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/weekly-photo-challenge-abandoned/

http://haksphotos.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/weekly-photo-challenge-abandoned/

http://beeblu.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/wpc-abandoned-tilly-dont-look/

http://marantophotography.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/six-hundred-abandoned-photos/

http://bohemiacademia.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/weekly-photo-challenge-abandoned/

http://miradordesign.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/weekly-photo-challenge-abandoned/

http://dswalkerauthor.com/2014/03/01/weekly-photo-challenge-abandoned/

http://looneyatoms.com/2014/03/01/weekly-photo-challenge-abandoned/

http://allentimphotos2.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/weekly-photo-challenge-laughing-with-abandon/

http://azbeemergirl.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/weekly-photo-challenge-abandoned/

http://ohtheplaceswesee.com/2014/03/01/weekly-photo-challenge-abandoned/

http://collinesblog.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/abandoned-for-the-winter/

http://dawnblanchard.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/weekly-photography-challenge-abandoned/

http://theapersson.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/weekly-photo-challenge/

http://joanfrankham.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/abandoned-weekly-photo-challenge/

http://aartigarde.com/2014/03/01/weekly-photo-challenge-abandoned/

http://betigaklaten.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/weekly-photo-challenge-abandoned/

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44 Responses to “On abandoning sacred places”

  1. Bams Triwoko March 2, 2014 at 9:58 am #

    Stunning pictures… Have a great weekend… :)

    • Su Leslie March 2, 2014 at 6:12 pm #

      Thank you :-) I hope you also have a good weekend.

  2. Why?Matters! March 2, 2014 at 11:15 am #

    Wonderful shots!

    • Su Leslie March 2, 2014 at 7:29 pm #

      Thank you :-)

  3. kerlund74 March 2, 2014 at 11:17 am #

    A bit spooky… Great interpretation.

    • Su Leslie March 2, 2014 at 6:13 pm #

      Thanks; I find cemeteries such a fascinating place to learn about the past.

  4. Island Traveler March 2, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

    Irresistibly good! Beautiful images . Have a great weekend.

    • Su Leslie March 2, 2014 at 6:14 pm #

      Thank you so much :-)

  5. derrycats March 2, 2014 at 1:08 pm #

    Wonderful pictures and reflections. Thank you.

    • Su Leslie March 2, 2014 at 7:29 pm #

      Thank you :-)

  6. Photography Journal Blog March 2, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

    I really enjoyed this post, despite the unsettling reality that you are writing about. The photos are beautifully edited. Thanks for mentioning my post, I appreciate it.

    • Su Leslie March 2, 2014 at 7:14 pm #

      Thank you. And you’re welcome – I really loved your series of “tea” photos. The final shots were lovely

  7. Tina Schell March 2, 2014 at 3:01 pm #

    Very nice! Love that second church shot with the posts in front of the door; lovely composition.

    • Su Leslie March 2, 2014 at 7:17 pm #

      Thank you Tina. That shot is quite special to me as I went to the village of Kirkmichael looking for traces of my ancestors. I found a headstone for my 3x great grandparents in the other churchyard, which was very exciting. My family has no recent connection with the village – the ancestors I found were born at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

  8. The Retiring Sort March 2, 2014 at 3:44 pm #

    This is a wonderful post, and the photos are perfect!

    • Su Leslie March 2, 2014 at 7:29 pm #

      Thank you so much :-)

  9. Angeline M March 2, 2014 at 5:56 pm #

    Beautiful photos. I especially love the second one for its mute colors and composition.
    I have visited an old cemetery nearby and took photos, but something holds me back from posting photos of the graves and headstones.
    Thanks for the pingback.

    • Su Leslie March 2, 2014 at 7:21 pm #

      Thanks Angeline. I am a sociologist and social historian, and am totally fascinated by monumental masonry and inscriptions. I understand your reluctance to post the photos; there is a part of me that worries about intruding on people’s lives, but I hope I am honouring the dead by trying to find out more about them and tell a little bit of their story.

  10. Colline March 2, 2014 at 10:10 pm #

    You have captured the sense of abandonment perfectly in your photos.

    • Su Leslie March 2, 2014 at 10:19 pm #

      Thank you :-)

  11. Gerry C. March 2, 2014 at 10:33 pm #

    Bravo. It is encouraging to realize that abandoned structures often rekindle deeper human emotions and sentimens when viewed through the lens of time elapsed.Buildings are often cold and impersonal but the human beings whose lives are influenced by what these edifices represented in their time are somehow remembered by either written record or human remembrances.

    • Su Leslie March 2, 2014 at 11:35 pm #

      Thank you; I really appreciate your comments. :-)

  12. mithriluna March 3, 2014 at 4:00 am #

    Amazing images and very interesting history. Great post.

    • Su Leslie March 3, 2014 at 4:13 am #

      Thank you :-)

  13. Karen March 3, 2014 at 4:32 pm #

    Great photos and love the history to go with them.

    • Su Leslie March 3, 2014 at 6:38 pm #

      Thank you Karen; I take photos based on how I think a shot will look, but then when I go back to them, I find myself wanting to “know” the story. This is especially true of headstones. I’m collecting quite a set of family histories that are not my own :-)

      • Karen March 3, 2014 at 6:52 pm #

        A great project. :)

      • Su Leslie March 3, 2014 at 7:05 pm #

        Thanks

  14. Su Leslie March 3, 2014 at 7:21 pm #

    Reblogged this on Shaking the tree and commented:

    As if I didn’t have enough to do researching my own family … I can’ t resist knowing about other people’s!

  15. greenmackenzie March 3, 2014 at 10:20 pm #

    Lovely take on the challenge….and I love the abandoned atmosphere of your lovely photos.

    • Su Leslie March 4, 2014 at 1:30 am #

      Hi Seonaid. Thanks so much :-)

  16. Gallivanta March 5, 2014 at 2:59 am #

    Haunting images. I find it sad that we let our graveyards and old churches go to ruin. They contain so much history.

    • Su Leslie March 5, 2014 at 3:31 am #

      Thank you. I agree; I spend quite a lot of time in churchyards and cemeteries, and am amazed at how neglected many graves are. When we first came to NZ from the UK, I can remember my mother being absolutely appalled at the state of the local cemetery.

      • Gallivanta March 5, 2014 at 10:24 am #

        I would like to spend more time identifying family grave sites and checking on their condition and giving them a friendly pat. Letting them know that someone cares :).

    • Su Leslie March 5, 2014 at 4:51 pm #

      It’s so terribly easy for graves to fall into disrepair; families grow up and move away. So many people never knew great grandparents – maybe not even their names. There is such a contrast in cemeteries between recent and older graves. It makes me sure that we start out with good intentions, and life just gets in the way. Your project sounds like a great one.

      • Gallivanta March 5, 2014 at 11:50 pm #

        I am sure we do start out with good intentions.

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