I was lucky enough to have the chance to take a walk around Boston recently with Donna La Rue, a woman who's so knowledgeable about Boston, it's staggering. Part of our walk included several burial grounds, including King's Chapel, and while there, a particular stone caught my eye.
This is the stone of Joseph Tapping. Tapping, a shopkeeper, died in 1678 at the age of 23.But it was not Tapping's story that caught my attention. What caught my eye was the scene depicted on the lower portion of the stone. Near the base of the stone, two figures are shown locked in battle over a brightly lit flame. The figure closest to the right is winged and carries an hour-glass. He is Time. Time’s opponent is skeletal, carries an arrow, and is poised to snuff out the flame of Tapping's life. Death wants to claim Tapping's life, and Time struggles to stop him.
A little ways from Tappng's stone is the marker of Rebecca Garish, aged 22 and a half when she died in 1745. Garish's stone also depicts the battle between Time and Death. Sixty-seven years after Tapping's stone was carved, the battle scene is the predominant image carved on the stone, and has been moved to the top. The composition of the image has also changed. No longer do Time and Death stand on the same side of the flame: now they stand opposed. And no longer are they locked in physical battle, Time's hand stilling Death's arm: now they face each other, Death's snuffer poised over the flame and Time's hand caught in mid-gesture or reach.
A further walk around the burial ground shows at least two more stones with the same imagery. The markers for both Rebecca Sanders (d. 1745/6) and Samuel Adams (d. 1728) also depict Time and Death battling over the flame of someone's life, each with their own nuances.
If you're interested in learning more about Boston's historic burial grounds, I'd recommend Preachers, Patriots & Plain Folks by Charles Chauncey Wells and Suzanne Austin Wells.
Today marks Sari's last day working with us. It has been great having her here this summer. The library staff wish her luck on her ongoing studies