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Friday, May 16, 2014

The Protestant Cemetery is Now the Non-Catholic Cemetery, with an Updated History

John Keats' (1795-1821) and Joseph Severn's (1803-79) and his son's tombstones,
with the Pyramid in back; the graves came close to being moved, and this route
turned into a car and tram road, according to a new book on the history
of the cemetery.
The Non-Catholic Cemetery (as we now must call it; previously it had several names and most common being The Protestant Cemetery) is one of our favorite places in Rome, and hit #31 on our Top 40 RST list

Its history also fascinates us - so many stories to tell from those gravestones.  I confess to making an error by repeating a rumor that only Shelley's heart was buried there.  I was quickly corrected by one of the Cemetery volunteers... but the error remains in the print edition of RST, to my embarrassment.  Now I can't claim poor sources for any errors because there's a terrific new book out on the Cemetery:  Nicholas Stanley-Price's The Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome: Its History, Its People and Its Survival for 300 Years.

Keats' tombstone; now
cleaned up; without his name,
as he requested of his friend,
Severn; only "Young English Poet"
 and the words he requested:
"Here lies one whose name
 was writ in water."
We had not known that the cemetery started in 1716 as a concession from the Pope to grant a place to bury non-Catholic members of the Stuart court, which was in exile in Rome.

Gramsci's tombstone, the third most
popular in the cemetery, per Stanley-
Stanley-Price's description of the various attacks on the Cemetery were surprising to me.  In his chronology he has a note for 1888:  "Proposal of 1883 Master Plan to destroy the Old Cemetery is blocked."  Nor did we know the cemetery suffered bomb damage (by the Allies) in World War II.

Stanley-Price relates a late 19th century plan to cut a road for cars and a tram-line through the Cemetery and sever the ancient part - where Keats lies near to the Pyramid, from the merely "old" part (now called the New Cemetery) which was the orderly beginning of the main part of the cemetery.  In the 1880s about 30 meters' length of the Aurelian Wall next to the Pyramid was destroyed to make way for the road, then left boarded up for decades, then in 1930 put back in place ("restored" or rather a simulacra of it put in place).  Hence those lighter colored bricks, the opening for the cat pound, and the placement of numerous memorial plaques on this rather new section of the wall.

The book has nifty sidebars with lists such as  "Artists buried in the 18th century with no grave known today" and "A selection of noted sculptors buried in the Cemetery," as well as some with interesting side stories:  "Hendrik Anderson's sculpture Eternal Life" and "Cosmopolitanism of the cemetery burials." 

Angel of the Resurrection by Franklin Simmons (1839-1913) for wife Ella and himself
The cemetery has a plethora of notable sculptures, and many are described, with their history and artist information, in the new book.

You'll also find out why Gramsci is buried there, even though Italians generally cannot be (it goes back to his in-laws - they were good for something).  And Daisy Miller is buried there - at least in Henry James's novel.

The book - a good read -  generally is available at the cemetery office/book shop, Euro 18, or by mail outside Europe for Euro 37.  See more information on the Web site: The old drawings, maps,  and photos of the cemetery are evocative as well.


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