The Use of Symbols on Victorian Cemetery Monuments for Anglican and Catholic Religious Group Identification and Differentiation: Urban versus Rural Cultural Contexts, Adelaide, South Australia (1870-1899)

Author: Amber Parrington

Parrington, Amber, 2018 The Use of Symbols on Victorian Cemetery Monuments for Anglican and Catholic Religious Group Identification and Differentiation: Urban versus Rural Cultural Contexts, Adelaide, South Australia (1870-1899), Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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South Australia was designed as a place of religious diversity and freedom where no one church would be placed above the others. Status, funding and government support was removed from the Church of England while the Catholic denomination was freed of years of persecution, discrimination and segregation.

The adherents of the dominant Anglican denomination in South Australia, were not overt in their use of symbols in public life and tended to show religious affiliation through community actions. The minority Catholic denomination in South Australia was, in contrast, very overt in the use of religious symbols. The extent of the religious symbol use and variations between the dominant Anglican and minority Catholic denominations with regard to mortuary memorialisation in urban versus rural contexts is an avenue within archaeology that has yet to be explored.

Religion within cemetery research is an area that has had limited attention or focus from historical researchers with the exception of a few key studies (see Deetz 1977; Dethlefsen and Deetz 1966; Keister 2004; McEgan 2017; Mytum 2009; Mytum 2013; Stone 2009; Veit et al 2009; Zelinsky 2007). Cemeteries present a unique opportunity to study religious expression in a mortuary context through the use of motifs and symbols displayed on headstones. This study investigates the use of religious motifs on South Australian Anglican and Catholic headstones and identifies religious symbols used by both denominations to identify denomination specific religious symbol use. This study incorporated a rural versus urban aspect to investigate the observed dichotomy between these localities identified by Redfield (1940, 1947, 1953, 1955) in terms of his theory of “folk societies”. Redfield argues that more conservative and community minded behaviours are present in the rural communities than in urban communities where diversity and anonymity allow for potentially more innovation and deviation from societal “norms”.

The analysis of 400 headstones, 100 for each denomination in each locality, from the period between 1870 and 1899 shows that religious symbol use was favoured by the Catholic denomination in both the urban and rural samples. In contrast headstones associated with the Anglican denomination, generally did not include motifs, religious or otherwise.

The data did not support Redfield’s “folk society” theory as the conservative religious behaviour seemed to be due to denomination factors rather than locational factors with the Anglican denomination in both the urban and rural samples showing more conservative religious behaviour when compared with the Catholic samples.

High variation was found across the headstones that included religious motifs suggesting that there was not a denominational tradition that needed to be adhered to when memorialising the dead. However, there were three symbols, the cross, the dove and IHS that were the most commonly employed, in some fashion, on headstones from both the Anglican and Catholic samples and were found across multiple motifs. The data show that while there was variation in how symbols were used and the way they were placed/designed on the headstones, neither denomination had a symbol that was specific to its memorialisation practices. However, the IHS symbol was predominantly found on Catholic headstones.

Keywords: Victorian Cemetery Monuments, South Australian Cemeteries, Catholic, Anglican, Folk Society, Rural versus Urban, Religious Mortuary Symbols, Anglican Headstones, Catholic Headstones, Headstone Symbols, Religious Headstones

Subject: Archaeology thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2018
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Professor Donald Pate