Come Ye Blessed...
THE VALE OF BELVOIR ANGELS
A little about the stones themselves.
The Belvoir Angel design on these stones takes the form of a stylised angel, wings unfurled and wearing a ruff; with the design normally running across the full width of the stone, which is normally but not always at the top. Mostly, there is a single angel, but sometimes there are two if it for a double grave. Traditionally, it is thought that an angel motif on a gravestone symbolises the flight of the soul to heaven after death. This is probably what we have here!
The carvings are of great quality, and are sometimes accompanied by, in comparison, crude depictions of things such as crossed bones and hourglasses. One example, at Whatton In The Vale in Nottinghamshire has a depiction of a skeleton just about to throw a dart!
Swithland stone was easy to work with and allowed a lot of text to be included on these stones. With great respect to these fabulous craftsmen; their skill with lettering was less good. Sometimes words were started on one line and finished on another. Letters were sometimes missed out or spelled wrongly. What they do provide is a fascinating piece of history where we can learn a little about the deceased; how they lived and died; the latter being particularly applicable to the grave of a murder victim at Rearsby, Leicestershire.
Very little is known about the stonemasons who carved these stones. It is suggested though that it may have been a family run business possibly operating from Hickling, a village close to the Nottinghamshire/Leicestershire birder.
Hickling has the highest number of surviving Vale Of Belvoir Angel stones, 33 being found in the church grounds there, with neighbouring Upper Broughton (25) and Nether Broughton (34) also having large concentrations. These three villages account for roughly a third of all surviving known examples.
With regards the ages of these stones, the earliest surviving example dates from 1681, from the church grounds at Melton Mowbray. The earliest example from inside the Vale of Belvoir itself is from Redmile from 1690. The oldest surviving stone is dated 1759, from Old Dalby. This gives a production span of getting on for 80 years.