Hanging out with Vampires, Sorcerers and Witches at your local Cemetery

Before I release some more Merlin fanfiction over the weekend, I’d better carry on with my regular blog post about locations that inspire my writing for those of you who are not into sorcery and early medieval whodunnits!

I had planned to stroll around Caerphilly and take more pictures of Welsh castles, but with record rainfall in June, I’m forced to turn to my pictures of Llandaff Cathedral, a very lovely building, even if it isn’t a castle with turrets and eye-candy-knights.

There’s no hope of a photo opportunity this Saturday either, when the worst rainfall is expected and my Italian flatmate and I have tickets to see Shakespeare’s Macbeth performed at Cardiff Castle…at an open air theatre, naturally! Why Welsh people haven’t grown gills and fins yet  is a mystery even Merlin would be hard pressed to solve.

Llandaff Cathedral, according to its website, is one of Britain’s oldest Christian sites and was already a place of worship in the 6th century (when the BBC’s King Arthur and Merlin allegedly lived). There are no remains of the original church left, however, a Celtic cross which once marked the spot is still on display by the door of the Chapter House today.

The pictures you see here are showing the Cathedral as it has been since 1107, when Bishop Urban, who was the first bishop the Norman invaders appointed, had the cunning plan a much larger church by the River Taff would give him not just greater prestige but also a greater flock into the bargain.

Over the centuries many alterations and additions created the Llandaff Cathedral complex of buildings we see today, with a 13th  century Chapter House and “new” 14th century windows – presumably installed after a savvy medieval double glazing salesman had convinced the bish “that it was high time Llandaff replaced those awful Norman panes with something more fashionable, if the bishop wanted to be counted among the A-list celebs of the day.”

The cemetery and sanctuary with its ancient tombs (one of which belongs to none other than St. Teilo) are perfect places for taking spooky pictures, which serve as my inspiration for vampire stories or witchcraft and sorcery. It may seem a strange occupation for a plump, middle-aged German to hang around Welsh cemeteries on Sunday afternoons, but Cardiff has an abundance of rather lovely final resting places (Heath and Cathays cemeteries being the other places I’ve been haunting of late).

The names on tombstones are excellent help when I’m stuck on naming my fictional characters set in period context. It would take far longer to trawl through books than it takes to stroll past a few tombstones with a notepad and pencil or snapping away with my camera.

Another advantage is that gravestone inscriptions often give away far more details about people’s lives and their death than the person originally commissioning the stone had presumably intended. While Spike Milligan’s wonderful epitaph “I told you I was ill” is deliberately placed by the deceased himself, other inscriptions show the feelings a person burying a family member might have had about the corpse. Some inscriptions show  feelings of love and affection, respect and gratitude, others betray jealousy, disappointment, dislike and even hate.

Causes of death in centuries gone by can also be found on gravestones. Particularly moving are those tombs dedicated to women who died during childbirth.  It’s one thing to read about historic high infant mortality rates in a book, but quite another to see babies’ birth dates and the few hours or days they survived hewn in stone. more often than not, the babies embarked on their eternal journey accompanied by their young mothers.

There are stories for your very own Twilight sagas to be gleaned from some of the inscriptions on tombstones, as they mention several generations of the same family. If you are writing a short story or novel set within a certain period of time or just within a general historic context of “18th/19th/20th century” and you are stuck for inspiration, visit your local cemetery…it’s a great place to hang out on an overcast afternoon, not just for Buffy and her Scooby gang, but also for vampire and witchcraft writers.

If you come across any sorcerers like Harry Potter searching for his origins or Merlin having mislaid one of King Arthur’s swords during last Sunday’s visit to the Celtic Cross, ignore them and move on; they are most likely a figment of your over-stimulated writer’s brain – and if they’re not, you’d better not mess with them, as wizards don’t the Welsh weather any more than you do, but they might blame the constant rain on you, Muggle visitor, and open the nearest grave just for you.

If you come across any vampires and you haven’t got Buffy’s Mr. Pointy with you…RUN!


(all photographs by Maria Thermann, animation sourced from heathersanimations.com)