There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Three Favourite Gravestones: Armenia, China & Wales

This might seem a morbid topic for a post, but as Lynne so often says, 'it isn't really a holiday unless you've been round a graveyard.'

Père Lachaise in Paris and Highgate Cemetery in London are well established on the tourist trail, but the graves of non-famous people in non-major cities can be just as interesting.

1) Grave of a Baker, near Goris, Southern Armenia.

We had driven out from Goris to see some ancient cave dwellings. Getting as close to the caves as we could - which was not actually close enough to make them interesting - we walked through a graveyard. Several of the newer headstones bore representations of the deceased in a style we have not seen anywhere else.

The grave of a baker, near Goris, southern Armenia

I imagine he was proud of his profession and wanted the casual visitor to know that he had spent his life producing fine bread - an honourable and noble calling.

2) Miao villager, An Chi village, Guizhou Province, South West China

The Miao are one of China's largest ethnic minorities. 10 million Miao live in communities across south west China with another 1.5 million in northern Vietnam and Laos (where they prefer to be called Hmong). The Miao are divided into a multitude of subgroups, speaking several different though related languages. The Chinese and Vietnamese traditionally classify the groups by the dominant colour of the women's traditional clothing. An Chi, in rural south west Guizhou, is a Black Miao village.

Black Miao women, An Chi

Graves are situated throughout the village and adjoining fields. The distribution appears random but the graves are all in auspicious sites, carefully chosen by the village shaman.

Black Miao gravestone, An Chi
The gravestone names the deceased and gives a detailed genealogy including not only forebears but also descendants who are added, generation by generation, in ever smaller script as they arrive in the world.

3) The Davies Family Vault, St Cynog's Church, Penderyn, South Wales

Lynne is a keen genealogist and despite the problems caused by the Welsh National Surname Shortage, has traced both our families back through many generations.

It has long been a source of amusement to her then when searching for the graves of my ancestors it is usually sufficient to walk into the churchyard and head for the largest monument. It worked for my paternal grandmother's family in Magor in 2010, and we had found the technique effective for my other grandmother's family in Penderyn twenty years earlier.

Penderyn is a village on the southern edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Since 2000 it has been the home of the first (and only) malt whisky distillery in Wales. More importantly to my ancestors it is only a long drop kick north of the industrial valleys of South Wales, where they made their money.

The Davies family vault, St Cynog's, Penderyn
The picture was taken in 1991. Little has changed, except my daughter
 and I are now more than 20 years older

The angel on the top of this Victorian monstrosity is probably pointing the way to heaven. I prefer to think the mason was a cricketer (as, doubtless, God is too) and the angel is the celestial umpire giving my ancestors 'out'.

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