Strictly speaking the term ‘vernacular’ should be applied solely to language or dialect. It refers specifically to language that ha developed locally and usually means language that is plain, everyday or ordinary. However, the word is commonly used to include anything that is ‘native’ or ‘local’, whether intangible, as in the case of the spoken word, or artefact. It is commonly used to describe architecture that has evolved through local traditions, constructed from available resources and expresses cultural characteristics of the district within which it has developed. It would appear that there is no better word to describe the work of the local, untrained artist or craftsman who made gravemarkers and who operated within the restricted cultural context of his environment. It is incorrect to dismiss all vernacular artefacts as somewhat crude or unsophisticated. Vernacular gravemarkers do have one thing in common–evidence of a creative and inventive mind.
A-Roman funerary plaque, Bologna Museum, Italy.
B-Expanded polystyrene gravemarker, Prince Edward Island, Canada.
A-Iron gravemarker with stencil lettering, Gress, Lewis, Scotland, 20th century.
B-Headstone, Rauschenberg, Hessen, Germany, early 18th century.
Many vernacular memorials were and still are made of materials which disintegrate over time, often very quickly. Permanence appears not to have been a consideration when some woods such as pine, paint and even plastic have been used. Conversely there are vernacular memorials carved in good quality hard stone or made from other materials which will withstand the elements. Some markers are erected as temporary memorials pending the erection of more permanent ones, such as the wooden crosses of traditional Alpine design in the Tyrol. Although these are sometimes made by skilled woodworkers, they are, to all intents and purposes, vernacular.
A-Headstone, Balrothery, Co. Dublin, Ireland.
B-Headstone, Dalry, Ayrshire, Scotland.