Cenotaph in London
A cenotaph is an "empty tomb" or a monument erected in honour of a person or group of people 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 = kenotaphion (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 lost soldiers of one country or empire.
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 Northern Europe (in the shape of Neolithic barrows). 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.
Cenotaphs in the United Kingdom
Many towns throughout the United Kingdom have erected cenotaphs. Two of the most widely known are described here.
A widely known cenotaph in the UK is the one that stands in Whitehall, London. It was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, and replaced Lutyens' identical wood-and-plaster cenotaph erected in 1919 for the Allied Victory Parade, 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 Lloyd George. It was intended to commemorate specifically the victims of the First World War, but is used to commemorate all of the dead in all wars in which British servicemen have fought. The dates of the First World War and the Second World War are inscribed on it in Roman numerals. The design was used in the construction of many other war memorials throughout the British Empire.
The Cenotaph in Belfast is located in the grounds of Belfast City Hall and is set within a Garden of Remembrance. It is about 9.5 m high and presents several carvings including laurel wreaths, symbolising victory and honour. The Cenotaph is the site of the annual Northern Ireland memorial held on Remembrance Sunday, the closest Sunday to 11 November (Armistice Day).
Cenotaphs in Canada
In Canada, major cenotaphs inspired by Lutyen's memorial in Whitehall, London, commemorating the nation's war dead in World War I and later conflicts include the National War Memorial (a cenotaph surmounted by a bronze sculpture entitled "The Response") in Ottawa; Montreal, Toronto, Hamilton, Victoria and the Victory Square Cenotaph, in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Cenotaphs in South Africa
A cenotaph is the focal point of the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, South Africa. It is situated below the other main point of interest, a marble Historical Frieze in the Hall of Heroes, and is visible through a round opening in the floor. The Hall of Heroes itself has a dome from the summit of which one can view the interior of the monument. At noon on 16 December each year the sun shines through another opening in the dome onto the middle of the cenotaph, where the words 'Ons vir Jou, Suid-Afrika' (Afrikaans for 'We for Thee, South Africa') are inscribed. The ray of sunshine symbolises God's blessing on the lives and endeavours of the Voortrekkers. 16 December is the date in 1838 that the Battle of Blood River was fought.
Durban, South Africa, has a striking and unusual cenotaph made of granite and lavishly decorated with brightly coloured ceramics.
Cenotaphs in the rest of the world
In the United States, a cenotaph in Yale University's Hewitt Quad (or Beinecke Plaza) honours men of Yale who died in battle. The John Fitzgerald Kennedy Memorial in Dallas is often described as a cenotaph.
Among Asian countries, the Cenotaph in Central of Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong, the Cenotaph in Malaysia, the Cenotaph in Singapore and the Cenotaph in Colombo were erected as memorials to the war dead of World War I.
The Church of Santa Engrácia, in Lisbon, Portugal, 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.
One of the most famous cenotaphs is the concrete Memorial Cenotaph at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, designed by Kenzo Tange to commemorate the 200,000 victims of the August 1945 atomic bomb attack.
A cenotaph was erected inside the Manila North Cemetery in the Philippines in honor of the 24 Scouts who died in a plane crash en route to the 11th World Scout Jamboree.
The Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence, Italy, contains a number of centophs including one for Dante Alighieri,who is buried in Ravenna.
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. Two such cenotaphs are dedicated to victims of the RMS Titanic, whose bodies were not recovered after the sinking. The cenotaph of Ida Straus serves as the gravestone for her husband Isidor Straus at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, and the striking cenotaph of Major Archibald Butt, aide to President William Taft, is located at Arlington National Cemetery.
Cenotaphs in art
Cenotaphs have also been the subject of a number of famous illustrations, notably:
- The Cenotaph to Reynold's Memory (John Constable, c. 1833)
- Elevation for Newton's Cenotaph, Perspective (Etienne-Louis Boullée, c. 1785)
- The Cenotaph of Jean Jacques Rousseau (Hubert Robert, 1794)
Chhatris (cenotaphs) in India
In India, cenotaphs are a basic element of Hindu architecture borrowed from Islamic architecture, as seen in most of the mausoleums of Mughal Emperors which have two burial chambers, the upper one with a cenotaph, as in Humayun's Tomb, Delhi or the Taj Mahal, Agra, while the real tomb often lies exactly below it, or further removed. The term chhatri, used for these canopylike structures, comes from Hindustani word literally meaning umbrella, and are found throughout the northwestern region of Rajasthan as well as in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. 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 chhatri is painted in the same manner as the Haveli.
- Grave (burial)
- Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
- Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
- War memorial
- The New London School explosion cenotaph Memorial
- Cenotaph of Sigismunda and Lutyen's Whitehall Cenotaph