The Devil's Grave, A Masonic Epitaph
The Devil’s Grave, A Masonic Epitaph
by Charles E. S. Fairey, 2015
In the graveyard of Stoke Minster, where a church has stood since the Anglo-Saxon Period, and situated in the old centre of the City of Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire, there is a grave which is referred to by locals and the churchwardens as ‘The Devil’s Grave.’
The grave was listed as a Grade II building on 19th April 1972, to protect it for future generations (http://www.thepotteries.org/listed/123a.html). The grave can visited and found within the churchyard, by using the following guide: https://stokeminster61.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/guide-leaflets-the-minster-grounds.pdf.
The Devil's Grave, A Masonic Epitaph
This grave is in fact the resting place of an 18th Century Freemason. However it became known as ‘The Devil’s Grave’ due to its misunderstood carved images and the fact that the schoolchildren studying at the Church’s School, St Peter's, mistook the image of Death over a skeleton as the Devil.
The schoolchildren invented a folk tale, which says if you hit the figure of the Devil (Death) with a stone three times and then spin round three times, the Devil would appear!
A ‘Great Story’ and an Exquisite Gravestone full of Masonic Symbolism, and also including a Memento Mori Poem, only the second such one I’ve found up to now in this area, which I'll leave readers to ponder on, because that's what they're for, here it is:
"Time was I stood as thou dost now,
To view the Dead as thou dost me.
In time thou’l lie as low as I,
And others stand and look on thee,"
There may be another verse, as the poem’s 4th line ends with a comma, but it may now lie beneath the ground as the gravestone has settled, however, another more likely interpretation, as the grave has a line underneath this last line, is that there is no second verse, and the comma is included on purpose, to invoke something within the reader, whether wholly known or unknown, to thee.
If we now look at the imagery of Death, at the top left of the stone, we see that it is in the form of ‘Father Time’ with angelic wings, and that he is pushing down the skeleton with his left foot upon his Masonic Apron protected groin, whilst the skeleton holds an arrow, curved and with feathers, to Death’s groin, with both skeletal hands, whilst Death is pictured with a belt of two arms and the belt’s two hands clenched over his groin. Death in his hands is holding an hour glass in the middle of the arrow, pushing down the arrow, to make it curved, with the hour glass above the skeleton’s chin and mouth, representing that the skeleton’s time is up. A scythe with a loop exists above the skeleton’s forehead, with the scythe facing upward and in the direction of Death, but behind the arrow. The Skeleton is wrestling with him, with all his might, knowledge and wisdom.
For Death’s right hand dropped his circular scythe
And like thy Metaphysical Master my brow was broke
And my soul escaped from the Ouroboros of life,
For I had wrestled from Father Death all of time
And my grip was sure and true, his secret mine,
For now with the power of Tubal Cain
Death’s supposed mystery is mine to gain.
At the top middle of the stone are the words which would make anyone ponder, for it says:
"Time and Death shall lie no more."
The image of a skeleton holding an arrow is an image associated with ‘The Ankou’, another character in the guise of ‘Death’, who is linked with Tubal Cain’s ancestor Cain, who was the Biblical character and first child of Adam and Eve, who was linked with agriculture and crops, as well as metal smiths, and who killed his brother, Abel, and thus was cursed to walk the darkness as a wandering ghoul searching for those about to die, by God, for the whole of time. Please see my article which is all about ‘The Ankou’ and its many associations @ http://www.mysticmasque.com/history-mystery/the-ankou-churchyard-guardians-black-dogs-and-memento-mori.
I was but dead but now I live
My rod and arrow sustained me like Abiff,
With Isis I became the Horus
For Osiris’s secret is the Ouroboros,
And born again in time everlasting
The Great Work and Kingdom Coming,
For in the eternal night with light I loom
Waiting on the breeze for her fragrant bloom.
For the Maiden of Death taught us true
For Life through Death is the Maiden’s ruse,
For the God Kings left their allegorical clues,
Symbol upon symbol in plain viewed sight
Yet in the darkness of the night I found the Light.
An arrow of iron made her blush
But we seldom share, hush for hush,
For the Rosy Cross my heart doth adore
And to Her, Death, at my End I doth allure,
For Her Shrouded Embrace is eternal life
For She’s the Queen of our fraternal hive,
Yet our Magdalene is square and true
If only the Grail you seek you truly knew,
For once he was but now he’s left
But Magdalene rose and art we blessed,
For Death has rosy cheeks and a fragrant kiss
Oh what wonder to be in the Master’s bliss.
On the top right of the stone are carved three angels, these most likely represent Hope, Faith and Charity, watching over the grave’s occupant. Sadly, their faces have been damaged, so we cannot see their expressions. The number three is known as the perfect number, representing the beginning, the middle and the end, and therefore is often symbolic of a deity.
The Devil's Grave, A Masonic Epitaph - Detail
To the centre of the gravestone is a Freemason’s Arms Banner, with the words “FREE MASON’S ARMS”, depicting the Sun with thirteen rays in number, to the left, which most likely represents the thirteen apostles, i.e. the twelve apostles and the thirteenth, the Magdalene, with the Sun representing Christ. The moon and seven stars to the right, most likely represent the Virgin Mary, surrounded by her Seven Stars, which are often depicted surrounding her halo. The square and compasses upon the Volume of the Sacred Law at the bottom, represent the Three Great Lights of Freemasonry, with Jacob’s Ladder hiding behind.
Of course we have to remember that this grave is there for the interest of both freemasons and the wider public, and serves for the observer, to think about what the symbols mean and what they in fact represent. There may be several interpretations of each symbol and its interaction with others, it all depends on the knowledge and experience of one’s life, Masonic or otherwise, and upon the will and love of one’s heart, to reveal what they mean to each individual.
To the centre of the Heraldic Shield is most likely a Past Master’s Jewel, which is made up of a compass, a rule, and the letter ‘G’ (which represents ‘The Grand Geometrician of the Universe’), along with two stonemason’s tools eitherside of the compass, but still within the circle, which all represent the grave’s occupant’s rank, and part of the myth of our Metaphysical Master. These are then surrounded by a circle with a beehive at its top and six bees buzzing around the circle.
The Beehive is used as a metaphor since bees labour industriously within the hive, and it is an appropriate symbol to Freemasons because if they labour intensively upon interior work, to know thyself, then their industry shall be rewarded.
The bees travelling from the hive, and going out around the circle, i.e. all encompassing, into the wider world, and then returning to the hive, is symbolic of the brethren of Freemasonry and the wider world. For the bees / brethren, after exploring the wider world, return to the hive / lodge with the honey / wisdom, to share and impart their efforts / works, to the wider audience of the hive / lodge, for the better advancement of the whole of the hive / lodge (Freemasonry).
The six bees and the hive itself, may represent a seven pointed star, and denote that the Master represented by the hive, and his six other officers, equates to the Masonic saying: “Three rule a lodge, five hold a lodge, and seven or more make it perfect.” Seven being such a sacred number, with much knowledge abounding from this number, can represent many many things, but seven included here may also symbolise the seven liberal arts and sciences, which a freemason is expected to research with zeal.
At the top of the Heraldic Shield, is an Urn, surmounted upon what looks like a Corinthian type pedestal, this Urn most likely represents that which we are all looking for, the Holy Grail. To the left of the coat of arms is a Junior Warden’s Badge of Office and to the right a Senior Warden’s Badge of Office, a Plumb Rule (used by stonemason’s to make sure an upright element is perpendicular / vertical), and a Level (used by stonemason’s to make sure a horizontal element is level / horizontal), respectively.
The Junior Warden’s Badge of Office to the right, includes the Square, representing the Master, the Level, representing the Senior Warden, and the Plumb Rule, representing the Junior Warden, this may mean that this is a Past Master’s Jewel representing that the occupant was possibly of Grand Rank, and had attained all three Principal Provincial Offices, and the inclusion of that on the right, the Senior Grand Warden, may represent his Grand Rank. If we link these Jewels with the centre, the symbols depict the three principals of a Provincial or Grand Lodge. That is, the Grand Master, the Senior and Junior Grand Wardens, and possibly represents not just his rank, but also his fellow senior officers within the Provincial or Grand Lodge.
“Merry Meet, Merry Part, and Merry Meet Again.”
If we draw a triangle from the Urn to the Plumb Rule and then to the Level, and then square-off the triangle, we notice that this triangle passes straight through the Square and Compasses sitting on the Volume of the Sacred Law, usually represented by a Bible, and close to the Sun and Moon symbols. However we may also notice that if this is drawn correctly, then the letter ‘G’, representing ‘The Grand Geometrician of the Universe’, is in the centre and the circle which surrounds it, then becomes a hidden ‘Eye’, watching those who are looking at the Stone, which most onlookers would not coherently see.
The All Seeing Eye is always depicted in the middle, often high up in Masonic Symbolism, and the Sun should normally, but not always, be depicted on the left whereas the moon on the right, and usually both are on the outside of the twin pillars, which some of you may be familiar with.
* * * * * * *
Even today many view this grave with interest and wonder, for many do not know what to make of this beautifully carved edifice, and only guess what it means. The gravestone is there to make one wonder and think, not just the whole world, but also a freemason, and in the spirit of Freemasonry, it acts as a ‘tracing board’ for those who wish to try and learn, and understand, what the occupant is trying to impart. But as mentioned above, it is up to the individual, their knowledge, understanding, experience and wisdom, and the will and love of their hearts, to interpret the many symbolic meanings of this splendid epitaph, and take what they will from this monument, as well if they wish, my interpretations above.
For those in darkness shall not understand
Whilst those in the Light, will raise my hand
And like thy Metaphysical Master offer me their grip
And upon necromancy the five points of fellowship,
For Death’s secrets the Master has attained
Merry Meet and Merry Part and Merry Meet Again.
The Glebe Hotel, opposite Stoke Minster on Glebe Street
For some, who have come to see this grave, and have mastered the arts of the freemason, and unlike the schoolchildren, they know that to knock three times without a harmonic rhythm shall only allow the dead to slumber and watch, but if with the attainment of the skill taught to us of the resurrection of our Metaphysical Master, even the dead can be raised from the deep.
But remember once they have risen, they must be watered and fed, for outside an evening moonlit lodge, a place of refreshment must be found, and what better place than the ‘The Glebe Hotel’ opposite this ancient place of rest, and over a pint or two, the living freemason might learn from a brother who has been both a Master in Life as well as Death.
Once called from rest to be refreshed, the secrets I found must be shared,
In Faith, he resurrected me,
In Hope, he raised me up,
In Charity, a Brother showed he cared,
And all of Death and Time I bared,
For a fellow Master had griped my hand, and my hourglass he topped with sand,
But he knew that my time was short, but a drink for me he with coin had bought,
So I lingered for awhile, and spoke of my time upon the tile,
Of what I once was, and what I now know,
Oh the Glory to be amongst a Master and a Fellow.
Seldom known are the secrets of Death, but this gravestone interests not just those who have no knowledge of Freemasonry, but also interests those within the fraternity too, and so I have shared this gravestone so that others might visit and ponder for awhile, but I have also researched who this Freemason was, and from whence he came.
* * * * * * *
The stone records that this is the grave of Herbert Stansfield, and it reads:
“To the Memory of / HERBERT STANSFIELD Late of Middlewich /
who died January 17 : 1799 Aged 64 Years.”
A little research tells us that Herbert Stansfield was indeed from Middlewich in Cheshire, because he is recorded as living there on the 1785 Land Tax Record as the occupier of a property owned by a Joseph Wilkinson, paying 2 shillings and 5 ¼ pence in tax.
We also find when looking at the Marriage Licences and Bonds for Cheshire, that he applied for a licence to marry a Mary Jackson, also of Middlewich on the 4th of May 1791, and both of them were Widowers. The record also tells us that they were to be married in the Parish Church of Middlewich, St Michael’s & All Angels, recording both their ages as ‘fifty’, and not surprisingly, that he could read and write, because he had signed his own name.
Surprisingly, the Marriage Licence also lists his occupation as a ‘Mason’, which means that he was not only a Freemason, but rather than being a speculative freemason, he was also an operative stonemason. This means that with all likelihood he designed and carved his own gravestone, so when we view his grave and touch this stone, our hands are also touching that same surface which he had lovingly carved with his own hand, using the same tools which all freemasons are familiar with, albeit in the majority as allegorical symbols, rather than being actual stonemasons by profession as well. However the date of his death and his age must have been added by someone else, after his demise.
I wonder if those same schoolchildren or even interested folk really realised that the person in slumber below had also carved his own deathly epitaph.
Herbert Stansfield is both a less common first name and surname, so therefore it is quite easy to track him down in historical records. Looking further afield in the West Riding’s of Yorkshire, we find him again, this time he marries on the 26th of April 1761 at St John’s Church in Halifax. His first wife was named Mary Wilson, which means the lady he married in Middlewich; Mary Jackson was his second wife.
If we now look for his birth, we find that he was baptised in Halifax on the 25th July 1736, and that his father was also called Herbert Stansfield, and that his father was also a (stone) Mason.
If we look at his age on the gravestone, recorded as 64, and look at the baptism of 25th July 1736 and his death date on the stone of 17th of January 1799, his actual age at death would have been 63 years old. Whoever carved the date of his death and age must have made a slight error.
If we now look for his father’s marriage, we find that his father married an Ann Bradley in Halifax on the 19th of October 1730.
If we look at burial records, we find that his father was buried in Halifax on the 24th of November 1773, and was baptised, also in Halifax, on the 27th of September 1709, with his father being recorded as Henry Stansfield, the grandfather of the grave’s occupant.
We also find a reference to Herbert Stansfield in Chapter 6: Building the Canal, in ‘The Thames & Severn Canal, Humphrey Household, 2009’, where we are told that he was a gang leader of a one of many teams building the canal, along with fellow (stone) masons: “John Nock, Edward Edge, Thomas Cook, John Holland, and James Jackson.”
A Website dedicated to the Cotswold Canals (https://www.wottonheritage.com/cotswold-canals-griffin-mill-lock-a10), details that “The Red Lion lock in Chalford further up the valley bears the date 4 December 1784, and the name of the mason, Herbert Stansfield”. This means that Herbert Stansfield must have been in charge of the building of this lock, and had carved his name with his skilled hand to record his hard work for posterity.
A genealogical website gives us Herbert’s family tree, the details of which are as follows, (http://freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~calderdalecompanion/mms39.html):-
Herbert Stansfield's Family Tree
* * * * * * *
So now we know a little more about the stonemason and freemason, and the gravestone and its epitaph of Herbert Stansfield, and I think the only way to end this article is with a verse:
This Epitaph I carved with mine own hand
So that Time and Death’s grip proved a slip,
And like the Master I could be raised
For history teaches that no one is really erased,
For up above the Golden Eye doth blaze
Yet seldom few escape the living’s maze
For this being called “The Devil’s Grave”
Only from whence, the Master may rise,
Like Christ from Death walked from Cave
And True Sight given to lift all the veil’s lies,
Amongst the stars now in obsidian sky
Up Above in Immortal Mansions Most High,
Yet below I hear the cries and sighs
Of those incoherent of the scythes and wise.
The substituted secret and its word
Is just that once the truth is heard,
For in truth we surrender our inherited veil
And All the compass surveys, is revealed without fail
But only if the eye doth not turn away
And the ears don’t ignore what we secretly say.
* * * * * * *
To see with the mind and not just the eye, is Second Sight
But no longer can we then ignore, the secrets of the Light.
We may only reap, what we inherently sow.
A life not lived, is no life at all.
No matter how small the ripple, it is better than no ripple at all.