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Pat Springsteen

While on the subject of cemeteries, I give you St James'

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Quote Originally Posted by Pat Springsteen View Post
While on the subject of cemeteries, let‘s fly up Rodney Street now, then up to the Anglican Cathedral. But no, don’t go towards the cathedral doors with all the tourists. Take a look to the left of the huge structure. All the tourists are looking straight ahead, gobsmacked (in the Liverpool parlance) at their first sight of the cathedral; so gobsmacked in fact that they just keep looking straight ahead as they walk up to, then into, the cathedral. They never look to the left. But you are, now. See the small archway, the tunnel winding down to below ground, to below the cathedral. Yes, they are old worn tombstones you can just about see now, lining the walls of the tunnel, inviting you down. Go on then. Leave the tourists to their cathedral. That’s not for you today my lovely soot butterflies. Take the tunnel down. Now see the light at the end of the tunnel and walk towards it to be with the dead: to walk on them, 58,000 of them, mostly below the grass where their gravestones were cleared in 1972 to make a park from the old disused and overcrowded cemetery.

We are now through the tunnel and in the light. It’s blinding today, after the dark. We are standing where David and Constance met in that scene in The Soot Butterflies, where she shows him the paintings of Lilith and asks him to paint her. But enough of that, let’s just take in the view of St James’ Cemetery aka St James’ Gardens. It’s below ground level with the mammoth cathedral above it, looming over like a protective but forbidding gothic matriarch. That’s the word really: gothic. St James’ looks like it’s straight out of a Goth movie. It’s a Goth’s wet dream. It’s a 10 acre hole in the ground to the side of the cathedral because it was originally a quarry, long before the cathedral came. Its stone built much of Liverpool, including the dock walls and the town hall.

When the quarry was spent giving up its stone in 1825, it reinvented itself as a cemetery (with a tip of the hat to the Pere la Chaise Paris cemetery), until 1936, when it became nigh impossible to squeeze another Liverpool corpse in, and was closed, leaving the dead with their graves tight-packed like angel-stone sardines. That’s all grass now, for you to walk on, but although their stones have gone, they are all still there underneath your feet as you walk: 58,000 cursing you for your lack of respect. Can you feel them shivering as you walk over their graves? Or is that you?

Now look behind you. Now turn quickly quick around again to check your exit. The gravestones are still there, huddled like a hunting pack, a sharp left turn from the tunnel as you come in, and like lichened Liverpool hoodies at the end as you leave. They will whisper don’t come back as you pass them by. You do know that, don’t you? But you are not leaving just yet. No, not yet.

Now look to the edge, the one that runs the cathedral way below the level of its foundations. Look to the gravestones placed along the edge like a hopeless retaining wall trying to hold the earth which banks up to the cathedral above: the gravestones of the great and the good, of the Liverpool wealthy, but also of the abject poor. See the large communal stones for the long-gone Liverpool boys’ and girls’ orphanages, with their infinity lists of names written small (so small) and close together so as to fit as many as possible on before a new stone had to be bought and started. Each child has just a date for an epitaph. No much beloved daughter of, no our dearest son. Just their age and their death date: died aged one year, aged one month, one day. I called them the brief stumbling soot butterflies in the novel, and that’s how I think of them. But they are all there now, part of this retaining wall holding the earth that keeps the cathedral up. Soot butterflies holding the great and famous cathedral up, so the tourists can come and see. But the tourists don’t come down here to St James’ … And, if only the soot butterflies knew what they held. Perhaps they do.

Time to fly now, and to where next? Enough of cemeteries I think. Let’s fly to a park I know and the bohemian Lark Lane. Ah, the memories of long hot summer nights standing outside the pub with a beer in my hand on Lark Lane … but I digress. Come on now, keep up at the back!

Love, luck and peace to you

PS, hope you enjoy these photos I took on my phone in St James’ last week. If you want to know more about the place, visit the excellent website of the Friends of St James’ here:


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