Lessons from Coxwold Church: Man is a Bubble

At St Michael’s Church in the pretty village of Coxwold in North Yorks, are a number of incredibly grandiose funerary monuments. They are so bulky and overpowering, that the communion rail is required to ‘jut out’ in a tongue shape in order to accommodate the communicants in so cramped a chancel.

The memorials all belong to the same aristocratic family- the Belasyses. Being grand folk, they could not resist the opportunity to flaunt their wealth and status in death, as well as in life. I wonder if they knew the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16; the finest grave does not mean the most desirable after-life. The first tomb beongs to Sir William and Lady Belasyse. Yet look how gaudy it is! It would not look out of place on Blackpool prom.

A second tomb belongs to his son and his wife, who have themselves depicted praying, facing the altar. In their Jacobean finery, they look the very models of pious English landowners. Dressed to kill in flowing robes, here is a family on the up. 

Next door is a son’s and grandson’s massive baroque, marble sepulchre; it is an excessive, classical testimony to their worldly greatness. By this time, one has been made an earl and wants the world to know it. In huge seventeenth century periwigs and even Roman dress, the two figures gaze around, enjoying the admiration of the living.

A fourth monument is likely overlooked. It is far plainer than the others present, but that wouldn’t take much effort. Whereas the others are overly decorated and fanciful, this one is elegant for its restraint. Although gothic, reflecting the early nineteenth-century's taste for that style, there are no effigies or grand boasts, little to excite the eye.

Upon it, however, is written the following words: omnis homo bulla omnis caro gramen, which, translated:

Every man is a bubble, all flesh is grass.

This is the tomb of the last Lord Fauconberg- descendant of the others, and perhaps better aware of wealth and status’ transient nature. Each one of these great men and women are now in eternity. They are bereft of estate, title, wealth and gentility. All that matters is what they did with Jesus Christ. The poorest of their tenants- if he embraced the gospel- is now wealthier than these noble folk ever were. And if these great magnates entered eternity without Christ- they are now worse off than the meanest of serfs.

 

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Mark 8:36