04 July 2005

Monday Menagerie V

PyroManiac devotes Monday space to esoteric and offbeat things, in the hope that these will supply learning experiences for us all.

The Bunhill Fields nonconformist burial ground

Graves at Bunhill FieldsMy first introduction to Bunhill Fields was an article by Warren Wiersbe in his book Listening to the Giants: A Guide to Good Reading and Great Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980). Wiersbe was my pastor for six years and one of my earliest mentors. His book and its predecessor, Walking with the Giants, introduced me to a number of authors and historical church leaders who became my favorites. The Bunhill Fields article (which, if I recall correctly, was an appendix in Listening to the Giants) made such an impression on me that when I first began to visit London in the early 1990s, I always tried to stop by that little-known non-conformist cemetary, where some of the greatest figures in Puritan and Baptist history are buried.

It's a peaceful place and a rare bit of quiet greenery in a noisy, concrete part of London. To get there, first make your way to the Liverpool Street Station. From there it is an easy quarter-mile walk to City Road. Or you can take your choice of the 214, 275, or 205 buses to City Road. Get off at Wesley's Chapel (which is well marked). Bunhill Fields (which is not so well marked) is directly across the street.

Bunhill Fields

I suspect the cemetary's history is not fully appreciated by the hundreds of modern Londoners who walk through it or eat their lunch there daily. But here you will find the graves of several Protestant luminaries, including John Owen, John Bunyan, John Gill, and John Rippon.

Here's an account of Bunyan's death and burial, from an 1884 work titled Brave Men and Women, by O. E. Fuller:

In the Summer of 1688 he undertook to plead the cause of a son with an angry father, and at length prevailed on the old man not to disinherit the young one. This good work cost the benevolent intercessor his life. He had to ride through heavy rain. He came drenched to his lodgings on Snow Hill, was seized with a violent fever, and died in a few days. He was buried in Bunhill Fields; and the spot where he lies is still regarded by the Non-conformists with a feeling which seems scarcely in harmony with the stern spirit of their theology. Many Puritans, to whom the respect paid by Roman Catholics to the relics and tombs of saints seemed childish or sinful, are said to have begged with their dying breath that their coffins might be placed as near as possible to the coffin of the author of the "Pilgrim's Progress."

Bunyan's tomb was restored in 1862, so what you see here is a Victorian-era monument, but the gravesite is the original:

John Bunyan's tomb
John Bunyan's tomb

When the refurbished tomb was complete, Charles Spurgeon was asked to be the speaker at a dedication service held May 21, 1862. The weather that day was too rainy to hold a service by the gravesite, so Spurgeon spoke from the pulpit of Wesley's chapel across the street.

You didn't have to be named John, and you didn't have to be a theologian to be buried at Bunhill Fields. This is also the final resting place of literary giants such as Daniel DeFoe (author of Robinson Crusoe), poet William Blake, hymn writer Isaac Watts, and dramatist Joseph Reed. Also prominent are the graves of Susannah Wesley (mother of John and Charles), Thomas Bayes (the mathematician who developed Bayes's theorem of inverse probability and gave his name to the theory known as "Bayesian probability"), and George Fox, founder of the Quaker movement.

Here's a map to the famous grave sites in the cemetery. And here's a website with more pictures and information.

One of the most intriguing—and disturbing—tombs in the cemetary is the vault of Dame Mary Page. One side of her tomb says, "Here lyes Dame Mary Page relict of Sir "Gregory Page Bart. She departed this life March 4 1728 in the 56th year of her age." The other side includes this timeless epitaph:

Dame Mary Page

"In 67 months she was tapd 66 times
Had taken away 240 gallons of water
Without ever repining at her case
Or ever fearing the operation."


The size of Dame Mary's tomb indicates that she was from a very wealthy family. Indeed, John Gill apparently disapproved of the ostentatious display of honor shown to the Lady at her funeral. Soon afterward, Gill wrote a piece titled "An Essay on the Origin of Funeral Sermons, Orations, and Odes. Occasioned by Two Funeral Discourses, Lately Published on the Death of Dame Mary Page, Relict Of Sir Gregory Page, Bart. The One by Mr. Harrison, with an Oration at Her Interment; and an Ode Sacred to Her Memory. The Other by Mr. Richardson. With some Observations on each of them."

Gill began,

I have for some time been of opinion, that the custom of preaching Funeral Sermons, and making Orations at the interment of the dead, took its rise from some such practice first in use among the Heathens. Two discourses of this kind having been lately published on the death of the Lady Page, both attended with some odd circumstances, which I am sensible you are no stranger to, they have occasioned some fresh thoughts on this subject, the result of which I now send you, together with some few observations on the said discourses, all which I humbly submit to your impartial judgment.

The full essay, which is much to long to reproduce here, is part of the John Gill collection available from Ages Software.

Finally, here's more from Spurgeon on Bunyan:

Bad men die out quickly, for the world feels it is a good thing to be rid of them; they are not worth remembering. But the death of a good man, the man who was sincerely a Christian—how different is that! And when you see the body of a saint, if he has served God with all his might, how sweet it is to look upon him—ah, and to look upon his coffin too, or upon his tomb in after years! Go into Bunhill-fields, and stand by the memorial of John Bunyan, and you will say, "Ah! there lies the head that contained the brain which thought out that wondrous dream of the Pilgrim's Progress from the City of Destruction to the Better land. There lies the finger that wrote those wondrous lines which depict the story of him who came at last to the land Beulah, and waded through the flood, and entered into the celestial city. And there are the eyelids which he once spoke of, when he said, "If I lie in prison until the moss grows on my eyelids, I will never make a promise to withhold from preaching." And there is that bold eye that penetrated the judge, when he said, "If you will let me out of prison to-day, I will preach again to-morrow, by the help of God." And there lies that loving hand that was ever ready to receive into communion all them that loved the Lord Jesus Christ: I love the hand that wrote the book, "Water Baptism no Bar to Christian Communion." I love him for that sake alone, and if he had written nothing else but that, I would say, "John Bunyan, be honored for ever." And there lies the foot that carried him up Snow Hill to go and make peace between a father and a son, in that cold day, which cost him his life. Peace to his ashes Wait, O John Bunyan, till thy Master sends his angel to blow the trumpet and methinks, when the archangel sounds it, he will almost think of thee, and this shall be a part of his joy, that honest John Bunyan, the greatest of all Englishmen, shall rise from his tomb at the blowing of that great trump. You cannot say so of the wicked. What is a wicked man's body but a rotten piece of noisomeness? Put it away, and thank God there are worms to eat such a thing up, and thank him still more, that there is a worm called Time, to eat up the evil influence and the accursed memory, which such a man leaves behind him. All this have I seen, and applied my heart unto every work that is done."


Matthew said...

Man... they sure don't make many Baptists like Bunyan anymore.

Cindy Swanson said...

Fascinating stuff. If I ever get to London, I'll definitely make a trip to Bunhill Fields.

Scott Nichols said...

I'm loving the London Travelogue. I was there about 6 years ago and seeing and reading about the sights I saw then brings back great memories.

Simon said...

I walk past Bunhill cemetery every day on my way to work.
Coincidentally, I was reading the back cover of a John Owen book I have on my desk, and I discovered that he was buried at Bunhill.
Five minutes later I click on the Pyro blog and it is the subject of the day!

I have also yet to visit Wesley's chapel, the centre of Methodism, which is across the road.

One day when the weather is good i'll take a walk down to Bunhill on my lunch break and check out the graves of everyone's favourite dead theologians! Perhaps they should move Jonathan Edwards' grave from the USA and complete the set!

KS said...


Can you share more pictures of the tombstones and what is written on them?