My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I picked this guidebook up from the caretaker at the English Cemetery in Florence. The little chapbook contains a scant amount of history, followed by 63 capsule biographies of people buried in the cemetery. Despite being commonly called the English Cemetery, the permanent residents include expats of 16 nations. They skew toward British, followed by more than 400 Swiss, nearly a hundred North Americans, 50-some Orthodox Russians, and more than 80 Italians.
The booklet delves briefly into the prejudice faced by non-Catholics in Italy in the 19th century. In fact, Catholic clergy led attacks on freshly dug graves in the cemetery’s earliest years. Most of the earliest Italians buried here died in prison after being jailed for their beliefs. I could have used more background on the persecution.
The historical overview is, unfortunately, the weakest part of the book. I suspect it was translated from the Italian, but that wouldn’t explain why the first page opens with a modern description of the cemetery, then jumps back to the cemetery’s foundation, then leaps back 600 years earlier to when the medieval wall was built around the city, before skipping forward to the Renaissance. It helped me to take notes as I was reading.
While the booklet does include both color and black-and-white photos, they aren’t labeled and also aren’t placed in the book anywhere near the text they illustrate. For example, the photo of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s monument appears on a page after her biography — but unless you knew what you were looking at or were reading with a magnifying glass, you’d never see the connection at all.
Clearly, the world needs a new, improved, updated guide to this lovely little cemetery full of history and one-of-a-kind artwork.
There is one copy listed for sale on Amazon, but it’s $89. At this moment, there’s also one for under $5 for sale on ebay.