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The Cenotaph, London

A cenotaph is a tomb or a monument erected in honour of a person or group of persons whose remains are elsewhere. It can also be the initial tomb for a person who has since been interred elsewhere. The word derives from the Greek κενοτάϕιον (kenos, one meaning being "empty", and taphos, "tomb"). Although the vast majority of cenotaphs are erected in honour of individuals, many of the best-known cenotaphs are instead dedicated to the memories of groups of individuals, such as the war dead of one country or empire.

The Cenotaph, London

Probably the best-known cenotaph in the modern world is the one that stands in Whitehallmarker, Londonmarker. It was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, who conceived the idea from the name of a structure in Gertrude Jekyll's garden, and constructed from Portland stone between 1919 and 1920 by Holland, Hannen & Cubitts. It replaced Lutyens's identical wood-and-plaster cenotaph erected in 1919 for the Allied Victory Parade commissioned by David Lloyd George, and is a Grade I listed building. It is undecorated save for a carved wreath on each end and the words "The Glorious Dead", chosen by Rudyard Kipling.
The Cenotaph on Whitehall, London, in November 2004 (with wreaths laid down on Remembrance Day).

The sides of the Cenotaph are not parallel, but if extended would meet at a point some above the ground. Similarly, the "horizontal" surfaces are in fact sections of a sphere whose centre would be below ground.

It is flanked on each side by various flags of the United Kingdommarker which Lutyens had wanted to be carved in stone. Although Lutyens was overruled and cloth flags were used, his later Rochdalemarker cenotaph has stone flags. In the years following 1919, the Cenotaph displayed a Union Flag, a White Ensign, and a Red Ensign on one side and a Union Flag, a White Ensign, and a Blue Ensign on the other side. On 1 April 1943, an RAF Ensign was substituted for the White Ensign on the west side of the monument. The flags displayed as of 2007 represent the Royal Navy, the British Army, the Royal Air Force, and the Merchant Navy.

The Cenotaph is the site of the annual National Service of Remembrance held at 11:00 a.m. on Remembrance Sunday, the closest Sunday to 11 November (Armistice Day).

Uniformed service personnel (excluding fire and ambulance personnel) always salute the Cenotaph as they pass. It was, for example, very noticeably the only salute made by the Royal Horse Artillery driver of Diana, Princess of Wales's funeral carriage during that procession; on that occasion he did not even salute the Queen.

A replica/miniature model of this cenotaph can be found in Cookstownmarker, Northern Ireland and the Cenotaphmarker in Manchestermarker, England (also the work of Lutyens) is very similar.

The Cenotaph, Belfast

The Belfast Cenotaph was unveiled on 11 November 1929 by Viscount Allenby as a memorial to the war dead.

The Cenotaph in Belfastmarker is located in the grounds of Belfast City Hallmarker and is set within a Garden of Remembrance. It is about high with a background of a colonnade about high. On either side of the Cenotaph are ornamental cast bronze brackets. It includes several carvings including laurel wreaths, symbolising victory and honour, attachments to the mouldings of the cornices and capitals. The lettering is engraved in Roman type.

The Cenotaph is the site of the annual main Northern Ireland memorial held at 11:00 a.m. on Remembrance Sunday, the closest Sunday to 11 November (Armistice Day).

Cenotaphs around the world

Memorial Cenotaph, Hiroshima, Japan
Cenotaphs have been erected in many countries around the world since ancient times. It was a common tradition in the ancient world, with many examples built in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and across in Northern Europe (in the shape of Neolithic barrow). The practice is still continued around the world. Lutyens' cenotaph influenced the design of many other war memorials in Britain and the British sectors of the Western Front, as well as those in other Commonwealth nations.

The Cenotaphmarker in Centralmarker, Hong Kong Island, Hong Kongmarker and the Cenotaph in Singaporemarker were erected as memorials to the war dead of World War I. In Canadamarker, major cenotaphs commemorating the nation's war dead in World War I and later conflicts include the National War Memorialmarker (a cenotaph surmounted by a bronze sculpture entitled "The Response") in Ottawamarker, Ontariomarker and the Victory Square Cenotaph, in Vancouver, British Columbiamarker.

A cenotaph in Yale University's Hewitt Quad (or Beinecke Plaza) honours the Men of Yalemarker who died in battle. The John Fitzgerald Kennedy Memorialmarker in Dallasmarker is often described as a cenotaph.

One of the most famous non-European examples is the concrete Memorial Cenotaph at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Parkmarker, designed by Kenzo Tange to commemorate the 200,000 victims of the August 1945 atomic bomb attack.

Voortrekker Monument from the front
The Cenotaph, on Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong
The Cenotaph in 1945, when the United Kingdom resumed control over Hong Kong after Japan surrendered
The Voortrekker Monumentmarker stands in Pretoriamarker, South Africa. The two main points of interest in the building are the Historical Frieze and the Cenotaph Hall. The unique marble Historical Frieze is an intrinsic part of the design of the monument and is situated in the Hall of Heroes. The focus point of the monument is the cenotaph. On top of the Hall of Heroes is a dome from where one can view the interior of the monument. It is through an opening in this dome that the sun shines at twelve o'clock on December 16 each year onto the middle of the cenotaph and the words 'Ons vir Jou, Suid-Afrika' or Afrikaans for 'We for Thee, South Africa'. The ray of sunshine symbolises God's blessing on the lives and endeavours of the Voortrekkers. 16 December was chosen as it is the date in 1838 that the Battle of Blood Rivermarker was fought.

The Church of Santa Engráciamarker, in Lisbonmarker, Portugalmarker, turned into a National Pantheon since 1966, holds six cenotaphs, namely to Luís de Camões, Pedro Álvares Cabral, Afonso de Albuquerque, Nuno Álvares Pereira, Vasco da Gama and Henry the Navigator.

Chhatris (cenotaphs) in India

In Indiamarker, cenotaphs are a basic element of Hindu architecture borrowed from Islam. They are termed chhatris, meaning canopy, and are found throughout the northwestern region of Rajasthanmarker. In the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan, chhatris are built on the cremation sites of wealthy or distinguished individuals. Chhatris in Shekhawati may consist of a simple structure of one dome raised by four pillars to a building containing many domes and a basement with several rooms. In some places, the interior of the chhatris is painted in the same manner as the Havelis.
View of Chhatri (Cenotaph) of Scindia Rulers at Shivpuri, India
Some of the best-known chhatris in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan are located at the following cities and towns:

Many other chhatris exist in other parts of Rajasthan. Their locations include:
  • Jaipurmarker - Gaitore is an enclosed area in a narrow valley where the cenotaphs of Jaipur's rulers are located. The cenotaphs of the former rulers of Jaipur consist of the somewhat typical chhatri or umbrella-shaped memorials. Jai Singh Chhatri is particularly noteworthy because of the carvings that have been used to embellish it.
  • Jodhpurmarker - White marble Chhatri of Maharaja Jaswant Singh II
  • Bharatpurmarker- the cenotaphs of the members of the Jat royal family of Bharatpur, who died fighting against the Britishmarker in 1825, are erected in the town of Govardhan. The chhatri of Maharaja Suraj Mal of Bharatpur has fine frescos illuminating the life of Surajmal, vividly depicting darbar and hunting scenes, royal processions and wars.
  • Udaipurmarker-. Flanked by a row of enormous stone elephants, the Lake Pichola island has an impressive chhatri carved from gray blue stone, built by Maharana Jagat Singh.
  • Haldighati - a beautiful Chhatri with white marble columns, dedicated to Rana Pratap, stands here. The cenotaph dedicated to Chetak, Rana Pratap's famous horse, is also noteworthy.
  • Alwarmarker - Moosi Maharani ki Chhatri is a beautiful red sandstone and white marble cenotaph of the rulers of Alwar.
  • Bundimarker - Suraj Chhatri and Mordi Ki Chhatri, Chaurasi Stambh Chhatri and Nath Ji ki Chhatri are located in Bundi. Rani Shyam Kumari wife of Raja Chhatrasal on the northern hill constructed the Suraj Chhatri and Mayuri the second wife of Chhatrasal on the southern hill erected Mordi Ki Chhatri.
  • Bikanermarker - Devi Kund near Bikaner is the royal crematorium place with a number of cenotaphs. The chhatri of Maharaja Surat Singh is most imposing. It has the spectacular Rajput paintings on the ceilings.
  • Nagaurmarker - Nath Ji ki Chhatri, Amar Singh Rathore-ki-Chhatri

The region of Madhya Pradeshmarker is the site of several other notable chhatris:

Cenotaphs for the missing

Although most notable cenotaphs commemorate notable individuals buried elsewhere, many cenotaphs pay tribute to people whose remains have never been located. One of the most striking cenotaphs to be found in Arlington National Cemeterymarker is that of RMS Titanicmarker victim Major Archibald Butt, aide to President William Taft, whose body was not recovered after the sinking.

Cenotaphs in art

Cenotaphs have also been the subject of a number of famous illustrations, notably:

See also


Further reading

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