Church Ope Cove





 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I spent some time at Church Ope today, thinking about pirates! Many of the graves still standing there are worn and difficult to decipher, most of them dating from the early to mid 1700s. I was speculating at the origins of the word Ope with a friend, we believe that it’s possibly a Scandinavian word originally, meaning opening or inlet, and there are several ‘Ope’ places on Portland. Looking across the bay from Church Ope, it’s easy to see why the Vikings found this approach attractive when they visited Portland many centuries ago. I remember visiting the so called ‘pirate graves’ as a teenager and finding the words and images on them far more legible than now. The hourglasses on some of the stones fascinate me; an image that I don’t associate with gravestones nowadays, yet clearly significant in the past, showing the inevitable passing of time, perhaps also the finite aspect of life. It’s a powerful image and it shows how differently time and death were seen in the past. We also spent quite a while wondering who would have been buried in the raised stone graves marked with skull and crossbones. These stones still stand fast and look well constructed. The image of skull/crossbones that we now associate with piracy was once, like the hourglass, an image for death, so may not in fact show a pirate burial. And would a pirate warrant an expensive, respectable burial in the island graveyard? Perhaps not. These ancient graves are nonetheless intriguing and mysterious…