I’d read about this graveyard in Allan Heller’s book, Philadelphia Area Cemeteries (2005), so after years of knowing it was there somewhere on the Main Line, I finally made the trip. No more than an hour’s drive from center city Philadelphia, St. David’s Cemetery is near the Devon Horse Show grounds in Devon, Pennsylvania. You’d never find it without a map (see map here), GPS, or detailed directions. It’s a couple miles south of the Horse Show grounds on Valley Forge Road. The cemetery is nothing you would ever casually drive past. St. David’s is so far into the elite estate grounds of Wayne, PA, that the cemetery keepers probably never have to worry about vandalism (except for the local rich kids who apparently shot holes in the glass rear window of one of the few mausoleums). This is not just an old rich section of suburban Philadelphia, it is colonial. Fields and stone property walls, all in museum condition.
|Lichen-covered mausoleums at St. David's Cemetery|
|Heller's book on Amazon|
|General "Mad" Anthony Wayne tomb with St. David's modern church beyond|
The parish has a large and active churchyard cemetery, with plots available only to parishioners of St. David’s Episcopal Church (the modern church and associated buildings are across Valley Forge Road from the cemetery and chapel, at 763 S Valley Forge Rd, Wayne, PA).
|Welsh dragon and castle engraving on monument|
website, “The church building provided shelter for soldiers of both sides,” referring to the role played by the cemetery’s little chapel during the Revolutionary War. There was certainly much less activity during my visit - this was rush hour on a Tuesday, but I can’t remember more than one car going down the road in the hour or so that I was there. The various gates to the cemetery were all open, but there wasn’t a soul around.
|1715 Chapel in background|
Wolf-tables abound, as do many well-preserved marble headstones.
Many of the older broken stones had been cemented back together with care. Family plots with well-known Philadelphian surnames are well-maintained. Although the grounds were brightly lit by the setting winter sun, the tall and voluminous evergreens put most everything in deep shadow. Most of the flat slabs were covered with a slick slime of pine needles, mud, and ice. I slipped off one that I should not have been standing on, trying to photograph the epitaph.
When I noticed a sign on the maintenance shed at the border of the cemetery that said “Bathroom Out of Order,” I realized that I had to use a bathroom. You know how that sort of conditioning goes – you look at your watch and its noon, so all of a sudden you’re hungry? Maybe the chapel had a bathroom, I thought.
The quaint, stone chapel stands at the end of the main walkway as you enter the cemetery. This is the original church building which, according to the St. David’s website, has been in continual use as a church since 1715. As I passed its large side windows, I saw a movement inside of the well-lit interior – possibly a man wearing a long dark waistcoat moving quickly in the direction of Valley Forge Road. I went to the door, opened it and glanced in - I figured it was the sexton and I would ask to use the “room.” It’s a small chapel, one room, but there was no one there. I called out. No answer. I had definitely seen movement inside. Just one of those cemetery things, I guess.
|Chapel windows facing Valley Forge Road|
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - Old St David's at Radnor
What an image of peace and rest
Is this little church among its graves!
All is so quiet; the troubled breast,
The wounded spirit, the heart oppressed,
Here may find the repose it craves.
See, how the ivy climbs and expands
Over this humble hermitage,
And seems to caress with its little hands
The rough, gray stones, as a child that stands
Caressing the wrinkled cheeks of age!
You cross the threshold; and dim and small
Is the space that serves for the Shepherd's Fold;
The narrow aisle, the bare, white wall,
The pews, and the pulpit quaint and tall,
Whisper and say: "Alas! we are old."
Herbert's chapel at Bemerton
Hardly more spacious is than this;
But Poet and Pastor, blent in one,
Clothed with a splendor, as of the sun,
That lowly and holy edifice.
It is not the wall of stone without
That makes the building small or great
But the soul's light shining round about,
And the faith that overcometh doubt,
And the love that stronger is than hate.
Were I a pilgrim in search of peace,
Were I a pastor of Holy Church,
More than a Bishop's diocese
Should I prize this place of rest, and release
From farther longing and farther search.
Here would I stay, and let the world
With its distant thunder roar and roll;
Storms do not rend the sail that is furled;
Nor like a dead leaf, tossed and whirled
In an eddy of wind, is the anchored soul.
References and Further Reading
Read about the origin of the Welsh dragon, the symbol of Wales
St. David's Episcopal Church website