Friday, July 25, 2008

Laid to Rest

I enjoy cemeteries. Well its more like I enjoy visiting cemeteries. They can be among the more fascinating sights in a city: St. Peter's in Salzburg, Pére Lachaise and Montparnasse in Paris, Highgate in London, San Michele in Venice, Mt. Pleasant in Toronto, local parish churches around Southwestern Ontario. They record much of the history of a place and a culture and more often than not they are pleasant places with old growth trees, shrubbery and flowers - wild and cultivated. They can often be an oasis of quiet in the centre of a busy city. Il Cimitero Acattolico di Roma (the Non-Catholic Cemetery of Rome) is very much of that nature. When we were there last Saturday a few families were picnicking on the grass in the shadow of the Pyramide in the Zona Antica, several pair of lovers were doing what lovers do in a park and a small group of Italian students were sitting in a circle having a heated discussion on the troubles of the world. Outside the walls the sun beat down on the pavement, motorinos horneted by and cars rumbled on the cobblestones but inside it was cool, peaceful and calm.

The first person buried in the area of Porto San Paolo was in the 1st century BC when Caius Cestius was laid to rest in the Pyramid he had ordered built as his tomb. If the inscription on the tomb is to be believe it only took 330 days to erect this rather grandiose memorial to a man who history remembers only for his command that it be constructed. And the only reason his tomb is still extent was that with good Roman logic it was easier, faster and cheaper to incorporate it into the Aurelian Walls, built to enclose the city, than to tear it down.

Prior to the Papal authorities giving permission for non-Catholics to be buried in the “unconsecrated” ground near the Cestius Pyramid – at the time an area known for its less than sterling reputation – its believed that non-Catholics were buried in unmarked graves near Piazza Flaminia along with the Roman prostitutes. The first person known to be buried in what became il Cimitero Acattolico was an Oxford scholar named Langton who died in 1738 at the age of 25. In the 270 years since some 4000 persons have been laid to rest – some famous: Keats, Shelley, Severn; some infamous: Gramsci, Jussupoff; others simply ex-patriots who died while living in Rome or Italy.
Print of a nightime funeral.Non-Catholics were not allowed to bury their dead during the daytime. The purpose was two fold - not to provoke the local populace, who often reacted violently to "heretic" burials and to protect the mourners from the curious. Often armed guards where required to stop attacks on funeral parties.

The glorious jumble of monuments in the cemetery proper included everything from the simple recording of dates on a stone slab to elaborate mausoleums and gravestones with what seems to be the life history of the deceased. Inscription
The history of the cemetery - so often threatened by Papal and city authorities - is as fascinating as the people buried there. Much of what I've learned (and the two items I've posted here) come from a guide published by the Cimitero Administration and sold in their Visitors' Centre. I mention the Centre because it is entirely staffed by volunteers and once I stop working I've decided to volunteer to work with them. It will give me a chance to practice my Italian, do a bit more exploring and be a small part of the history of Rome.

For a look inside the Cemetery click on the entrance gate:
To a slideshow (The interval time can be adjust to allow time to read the captions)

And I wasn't surprised to see that I Gatti della Piramide (The Cats of the Pyramid) have their own website.

26 lulgio - Sant'Anna e Giocemo

5 comments:

Sling said...

Aren't cemetaries great!
The art and history,and the opportunity to pause and reflect.
I enjoyed the tour very much willym.:)

Fanny Birkenruth said...

Willym, this was so interesting, and I so enjoy your photos -- this was wonderful. (Of course I had to visit the cats' site, and have implored my son to make me a Felix for my computer too. He's going to, as soon as I send him to programmer's school.)

I love cemeteries, and this one is absolutely gorgeous. In Hungary I used to walk in the cemeteries with my dog, and never saw anyone else. Finally one day my landlady told me that the Hungarians think that's kind of creepy, hanging around a cemetery just because. The Odd American strikes again.

evilganome said...

Thanks for the tour. Here in Boston we are lucky enough to have both the Mt. Auburn Cemetery and the Forest Hills Cemetery which are really beautiful as well as a number of small burial grounds around the older areas of the city.

Bev said...

Remember the Polish Military Cemetery, especially on All Saint's Day with all the candles? ... It was so lovely. Rather like a park. And very moving on that particular day... thanks for reminding me

Mr. Litman said...

Thanks for the wonderful tour around the non-catholic cemetery. It is, indeed, a reflective place. Will I find a resting place there someday?