A graveyard will say a great deal about the history of the community it serves and the lives and status of the individuals locally commemorated. Sometimes, seemingly out of context, the monument of a person of national importance will be found sited amongst those of his or her contemporary villagers.This is the case in the churchyard of St Dingat, Llandovery, Carmarthenshire, which contains the grave of a leading Egyptologist, Sir John Gardner Wilkinson 1797 – 1875. As a young man he spent 12 years in Egypt and subsequently published in 1837 ‘The Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians. Including their Private Life, Government, Laws, Arts, Manufactures, Religion, Agriculture and Early History, derived from a comparison of the paintings, sculpture and monuments still existing, with the account of ancient authors ‘. This book, in three volumes, became the standard account of Egyptian civilisation in English until the early twentieth century. In addition, his unpublished archive, now housed in the Bodleian Library, is of huge importance.
The location of his grave, apparently chosen by himself, reflects the fact that his wife’s sister was married to the rector of Llandovery College nearby. His wife Caroline, buried in the same grave, was a companion of the famous promoter of Welsh language, culture and music, Lady Llanover. Furthermore, he designed the monument himself which was reputedly based on an ancient Lycian tomb.
Last summer a group of Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries mostly from Wales visited the churchyard in the course of their summer tour and were dismayed to find the monument to this notable antiquarian quite overgrown. The help of the Diocesan Advisory Committee has been enlisted to encourage the parish to clear the vegetation to allow the monument to be seen and the inscription read, and perhaps also to provide some additional interpretation of its interest in the church.
Is there a memorial commemorating a notable person in your local churchyard?