6 Rituals of remembrance

The way we remember is deeply rooted in place and familiarity – from memorial sites marked by statues or strewn with mementos, to ceremonial sanctuaries for quiet reflection.

The act of remembrance itself is considered to be a strong unifying force. Sociologist Robert Bellah (1967) said such collective rituals of remembrance are like a  ‘civil religion’ where a  nation’s true values  are expressed through public rituals, symbols and ceremonies.

Here we take a look at 6 rituals of remembrance. Can you think of any others? Share them in the comments.

1. Statues of solidarity

A statue of Alan Turing in Sackville gardens Manchester, surrounded by bouquets of flowers
Alan Turing in Sackville gardens Manchester © Historic England

A memorial to English mathematician Alan Turing was unveiled in Sackville Park, Manchester in 2011 after a fundraising campaign in the nearby Gay Village. Turing was part of the team that cracked the Nazi’s Enigma Code during the Second World War. It is estimated that his work shortened the war by two years, saving 14 million lives.

Turing was prosecuted in 1952 for homosexual acts, and suffered chemical castration as an alternative to prison. He committed suicide in 1954. The plaque on his statue reads “Father of Computer Science, Mathematician, Logician, Wartime Codebreaker, Victim of Prejudice.” Each year on 23rd June, flowers are laid on the statue to mark Turing’s birthday.

2. Battle re-enactment

Reenacters in elaborate medieval costume imitate fighting with wooden swords
Battle of Hastings re-enactment © Antonio Borrillo via Wikimedia Commons

Performed acts such as lantern parades, banquets and battle re-enactments may be overlooked as acts of commemoration.

The Battle of Hastings re-enactment is an annual commemoration of the bloody clash of 1066, held on the site of the historic battle itself, Battle Abbey in East Sussex. The event offers observers and participants the chance to experience the atmosphere and tension of the Norman conquest of England – health and safety included.

3. A moment of silence

Cenotaph memorial surrounded by wreaths with three people stood behind a protective barrier
Cenotaph, Whitehall, Westminster, London © Historic England DP017263

A short period of silent contemplation or mourning is often practiced as an annual ritual of grief following a tragic event. As silence carries no statements or assumptions of beliefs or religion, it is a shared act of remembrance across different cultures and backgrounds.

A minutes silence for Remembrance Day was first observed in 1919 and takes place each year at 11am on the 11th of November. In the national ceremony in London, the Queen and other Members of the Royal Family join political leaders, current and ex-members of the Armed Forces and World War veterans at the foot of the Cenotaph memorial, where wreaths of poppies are laid following the silence.

Britain has also seen a rise in popularity of having a minute’s applause, particularly prior to a football match. This is seen by many as a warmer, more celebratory tribute.

4. Memorial march

People stand ready to march, with plaques bearing the names of the deceased
Peterloo memorial march © The Peterloo Memorial Campaign

The Peterloo Massacre of 1819 saw armed cavalry charge into a crowd of people who had gathered to listen to anti-poverty and pro-democracy speakers. Of a crowd of 60,000 people on St Peter’s Field’s in Manchester, it is estimated that 18 were killed and nearly 700 injured. The national outrage and subsequent media coverage that followed this tragic event is thought to have contributed to more people being given the right to vote.

The annual Peterloo Memorial March takes place in memory of the victims and re-traces the route of the march that took place in 1819. The march is also a campaign for a memorial to be built in memory of the massacre.

5. International memorial days

Israeli flag lowered to half mast -® RonAlmong via Wikimedia Commons
The Remembrance Torch Shines in the Western Wall Plaza. Israeli flag lowered to half-mast © RonAlmong via Wikimedia Commons

The purpose of international memorial days can be two-fold – to serve as a date to commemorate victims of historic atrocities and promote education of those atrocities throughout the world.

On November 1st 2005 the UN General Assembly designated January 27th as International Holocaust Remembrance Day to honour the victims of the Holocaust and mark the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration camp.

In Israel, for Holocaust Remembrance Day – also known as Yom HaShoah – sirens are played throughout the country where everyone is expected to stop what they are doing and observe two minutes silence. During the State ceremony, the national flag is lowered to half-mast, the President and Prime Minister deliver speeches and Holocaust survivors light six torches which represent the estimated six million Jews that died.

6. Memorial flowers

A memorial to garden to George Michael
George Michael’s memorial garden in Highgate © No Swan So Fine via Wikimedia Commons

The use of flowers during memorial services is credited in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest form of religious activity. Meadowsweet pollen was recovered from an excavation of a prehistoric burial mound on Whitehorse Hill, Dartmoor. The discovery was made from investigating the grave of a young adult from Early Bronze Age between 1730BC and 1600BC.

More recently, a memorial garden to English singer and songwriter George Michael sprung up outside the late singer’s home in Highgate, London, after his untimely death in 2016. This unofficial memorial has become a place of pilgrimage for fans from across the globe.

IMMLOGO

Immortalised: the people loved, left and lost in our landscape

A free exhibition at the Workshop at Lambeth, London

30 August – 16 September 2018 | Wednesday to Sunday 10am to 5pm

For millennia, we have celebrated and mourned, marked and memorialised. Through our culture, places, stories and rituals we pass down what matters to us.

It is how we make people immortal.  But who decides who and how we remember

Immortalised explores the ways people and events have been commemorated in England, by the statues, the plaques, shrines and murals that mark heroic, quirky, inspirational and challenging lives.

Find out more

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