is a mark of a grave, or a monument, to remind the passer by that a person is buried beneath. In the earliest ages a heap of stones, or a single upright stone, such as the menhir, seems to have marked the resting place of the dead. Among the early Britons the cromlech that is, two or three stones standing upright, with one or more across them on the top was a common form of tomb. But contemporary with them was the simplest of all structures, the mound of earth.
When the Romans came, they brought over with them, among otthr customs their modes of burial. Considering the time of their occupation, the remains of their tombs belonging to this period are not so numerous as might be expected; but still there are several, and in most cases they consisted of a single stone with an inscription commonly addressed to one or more of the heathen gods. A few instances of stone coffins of this period have been found, as at York. To this kind of tomb, or rather stone coffin, the name of sarcophagus is usually applied.
The Saxon marks of interment were probably mounds of earth only; and it is only by the nature of the pottery or other implements and articles of dress found in the graves that the burial places of the Saxons can be distinguished from those of the Britons. Of course among the later Saxons, when Christianity prevailed and they were buried in the church- yard, more lasting memorials were erected, though, with the exception, perhaps, of a few doubtful fragments, we have no examples to refer to.
The sepulchral monuments throughout the Middle Ages were of great importance from an architectural point of view; and, while we find them following the prevailing style, we frequently find also that on them was lavished the most elaborate work possible. The examples which remain to us are those which were placed within the church. No doubt there were many tombs of no mean design or work placed in the church-yard, but they have, for the most part, perished.
Of the former we have many of the 12th century (some, perhaps, of the 11th). The covers of these were at first simply coped, afterwards frequently ornamented with crosses of various kinds and other devices, and sometimes had inscriptions on them; subsequently they were sculptured with recumbent figures in high-relief, but still generally diminishing in width from the head to the feet to fit the coffins of which they formed the lids. Many of the figures of this period represent knights in armor with their legs crossed; these are supposed to have been either Templars, or such as had joined, or vowed to join, in a crusade to the Holy Land. The figures usually had canopies, which were often richly carved over the heads, supported on small shafts which ran along each side of the effigy, the whole worked in the same block of stone. This kind of tomb was sometimes placed beneath a low arch or recess formed within the substance of the church wall, usually about seven feet in length, and not more than three feet above the coffin, even in the center. These arches were at first semicircular or segmental at the top, afterwards obtusely pointed; they often remain when the figure or brass, and perhaps the coffin itself, has long disappeared and been forgotten. On many tombs of the 13th century there are plain pediment-shaped canopies over the heads of the recumbent effigies, the earliest of which contain a pointed trefoil-arched recess. Towards the end of the century, these canopies became gradually enriched with crockets, finials, and other architectural details.
In the reign of Edward I the tombs of persons of rank began to be ornamented on the sides with armorial bearings and small sculptured statues within pedimental canopied recesses; and from these we may progressively trace the peculiar minutiae and enrichments of every style of ecclesiastical architecture up to the Reformation.
Altar, or table tombs, called by Leland "high tombs," with recumbent effigies, are common during the whole of the 14th century. These sometimes appear beneath splendid pyramidical canopies, as the tomb of Edward II in Gloucester Cathedral, Hugh le Despenser and Sir Guy de Brian at Tewkesbury; or flat festoons, as the tombs of Edward III and Richard II at Westminster, and Edward the Black Prince at Canterbury. Towards the middle of the 13th century the custom commenced, and in the earlier part of the 14th prevailed, of inlaying flat stone with brasses; and sepulchral inscriptions, though they had not yet become general, are more frequently to be met with. The sides of these tombs are sometimes relieved with niches, surmounted by decorated pediments, each containing a small sculptured figure, sometimes with arched panels filled with tracery. Other tombs about the same period, but more frequently in the 15th century, were decorated along the sides with large square-paneled compartments, richly foliated or quatrefoil, and containing shields.
Many of the tombs of the 15th and 16th centuries appear beneath arched recesses fixed in or projecting from the wall, and enclosing the tomb on three sides. These were constructed so as to form canopies, which are often of the most elaborate and costly workmanship: they are frequently flat at the top, particularly in the later period. These canopies were sometimes of carved wood bf very elaborate workmanship; and sometimes the altar tomb of an earlier date was at a later period enclosed within a screen of open-work, with a groined stone canopy, and an upper story of wood, forming a mortuary chapel or chantry, as the shrine of St. Frideswide at Christ Church, Oxford.
In the early part of the 16th century the monuments were generally of a similar character to those of the preceding age; but alabaster slabs with figure son them, cut in outline, were frequently used. The altar-tombs with figures in niches, carved in bold relief, were also: frequently of alabaster, which was extensively quarried in Derbyshire. Towards the middle of this century the Italian style of architecture had come into general use; Wade's monument, in St. Michael's Church, Coventry, 1556, is a good example of the mixture of-the two styles which then prevailed.
In the two following centuries every sort of barbarism was introduced on funeral monuments; but the ancient style lingered longer in some places than in others. The tomb of Sir Thomas Pope, founder of Trinity College, Oxford-who died in 1558-in the chapel of that society, show's the altar- tomb in its debased form, after the true era of Gothic architecture had passed away.
A few traces of square tombs remain in our churchyards, but they are in all cases much decayed by the weather. There is also a kind of stone known as a head-stone, which is chiefly used in modern times; but while there are few medieval examples remaining, there is no reason to suppose but that they were very numerous. One at Temple Bruer is probably of the 12th century; another at Lincoln is probably of the 13th. A very simple example from Handborough church-yard is possibly of the 15th century.