Remembering William Cragg
Today, in 1857, St. Stephen’s buried its first sexton, William Cragg, who died March 16 at age 67. Born in Lancashire, England in 1790, he had worked for the parish since it was first organized (1822)--before the church was consecrated (1823). His life marks that of the parish itself. His baby daughters were baptized a month after consecration, providing the first entries in the Parish Register (March 23, 1823). He was so highly regarded by all that the rector and vestry left lengthy eulogies to him in parish records. In the most public tribute, members of the congregation funded an elaborate vault for his burial to be constructed within the churchyard. It is now visible in the Furness Burial Cloister, dramatically lit beneath its glass “canopy,” framed by the other vaults.
As an art historian, I relish what’s there. Its design stands out among its neighbors. Unlike the other flat-lidded box chests, it’s a multi-hipped cruciform vault which evokes a basilica with the crucifix that the shape simulates spanning the lid. It’s a sharply simplified variant on a type that can be found in Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery with more architectural “church” detail (see below). Our bird’s-eye view today, of this basilica-church that once surged powerfully from the ground we stood on, is equally compelling. The inscription, which runs on both sides of the gabled lid, is the most extensive in the Furness Burial Cloister. It's also the only one among all visible at St. Stephen’s to give both an extensive biography and an account of his virtues and reputation.
—Suzanne Glover Lindsay, St. Stephen’s historian and curator