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 noted cenotaphs are instead dedicated to the memories of groups of individuals, such as the lost soldiers of one country or empire.
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.
Among Asian countries, the Cenotaph in Central of Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong, the Cenotaph in Kuala Lumpur, the Cenotaph in Singapore and the Cenotaph in Colombo were erected as memorials to the war dead of World War I.
In Canada, major cenotaphs 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.
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 (from Die Stem van 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.
A cenotaph in the UK that stands in Whitehall, London, 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 and women 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, Ireland, is located in the grounds of Belfast City Hall and is set within a Garden of Remembrance. It is about 9.5 metres (31 ft) 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).
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.
The Battle Monument in Baltimore, Maryland, commemorates the Battle of Baltimore and honors those who died during the month of September 1814 during the War of 1812. It has an Egyptian Revival cenotaph base.
At Virginia Polytechnic Institute, situated atop War Memorial Chapel, there is a cenotaph honoring all Virginia Tech cadets who have been killed in battle. Inscribed upon the cenotaph are the names of the seven Virginia Tech Alumni who have earned the Medal of Honor.
In Livingstone there is a cenotaph at the Eastern Cataract of The Victoria Falls with the names of the men of Northern Rhodesia who died during the Great War 1914–18. It was unveiled by HRH Prince Arthur of Connaught on 1 August 1923.
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 US President William Taft, is located at Arlington National Cemetery.
Cenotaphs have also been the subject of a number of illustrations including:
In India, cenotaphs are a basic element of Hindu architecture, later used by Moghuls 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 Chahatri(s) trace their origin at 2000 years ago at Fort Kangara. 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.
- Skelton & Gliddon – Lutyens and the Great War, published 2008, Pages 23–47 (also see external link below: Cenotaph of Sigismunda and Lutyen's Whitehall Cenotaph)
- "Buildings of outstanding or national architectural or historic interest."
- Dorsey, John & Dilts, James D., Guide to Baltimore Architecture (1997) p. 145–146. Tidewater Publishers, Centreville, Maryland ISBN 0-87033-477-8
- Find A Grave. "Ida Straus". Retrieved 11 July 2010.
- "Titanic Memorials: Archibald Butt Cenotaph, Arlington National Cemetery – Arlington, VA". Retrieved 11 July 2010.
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