Category Archives: Church burial

People buried in chapels, churches, cathedrals, mosques, synagogues, and other houses of worship.

Cemetery of the Week #123: Stoke Poges Churchyard

Vintage postcard of Stoke Poges Churchyard, pre-1924

Vintage postcard of Stoke Poges Churchyard, pre-1924, when the spire was removed.

St. Giles Church
Church Lanes
Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, SL2 4NZ, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 1753 642331
Founded: circa 1086
Size: 3 acres
Number of interments: unknown
Open: St. Giles’ Church is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Legend says that Thomas Gray was inspired to write the “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” while visiting this small churchyard in the heart of England. Famous and Curious Cemeteries claims the poem is “the greatest tribute to any burial ground.” It may be one of the goth-est poems every written, with verses such as this:

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike the inevitable hour:
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Yew tree, porch, and wooden grave boards, about 1790

Yew tree, porch, and wooden grave boards, about 1790

The church served the manor, which stands 200 yards away, and never had a village nearby. The manor itself was probably a Saxon thane’s home until the Norman Conquest in 1066. The Normans didn’t waste any time before settling in; by the 1080s, they were already building the first church. The Chancel (the part near the altar) walls and pillars in the Nave (the main body of the church) remain of that Norman church.

The church is first mentioned in 1107, when it was “made over” with money tithed to the Priory of St. Mary Overie in Southwark. It was remodeled every hundred years or so, enlarged and improved. In 1702, the spire was erected – Gray admires it in his poem as the “ivy-mantled tower” – but the ivy damaged the spire and it was removed in 1924, when it was in danger of collapse.

The word Stoke meant a stockaded place. It was large and important enough in 1086 that the lord of the manor became known as William of Stoke. In the 13th century, Amicia of Stoke, heiress of the manor, married Robert Pogeys, and their land became known as Stoke Poges.

Inside the chancel, on the left, stands the tomb of Sir John de Molyns, Marshal of the King’s Falcons and Supervisor of the King’s Castles. He served both Edward II and Edward III, but was a robber baron who is believed to have murdered his wife’s uncle and cousin in order to inherit their land. He died in March 1360.

Souvenir booklet published in 1948: "copyright reserved by the Vicar." The aerial view of the church shows the manor up toward the right corner.

Souvenir booklet published in 1948: “copyright reserved by the Vicar.” The aerial view of the church shows the manor up toward the right corner.

Around 1558, Lord Hastings of Loughborough built a chapel for the “inmates of an almshouse” that stood nearby. The chapel was also intended to serve as a burial place for the Hastings family. On the chapel’s south wall is a mural with cherubs’ heads and skulls, which is believed to be a memorial, although it doesn’t have any names on it. Sir Thomas and Sir Walter Clarges were buried somewhere nearby with their families from 1677 to 1728, but the graves have been lost.

The “most ancient monument” found in the churchyard was a flat tombstone dug out of the churchyard. It was moved into the Hastings chapel and placed near the door. Around its edge, it says in Norman French, “All those who pass by here, Pray for the soul of this one. William of Wytermerse he had for a name. God to him grant true pardon.”

Thomas Gray's tomb

Thomas Gray’s tomb

Thomas Gray (1716-71) himself lies in a brick tomb next to his mother and her unmarried sister under the east window of the Hastings Chapel, just outside the east end of St. Giles’ Church. His name doesn’t appear on the tomb, but a tablet in the wall records his burial “in the same tomb upon which he has so unfeeling inscribed his grief at the loss of a beloved parent.”

Immediately opposite the southwest door of St. Giles’ Church stands the yew tree under which Gray composed his poem.

The churchyard was enlarged twice since Gray’s burial, but is now closed. A new cemetery opened in 1911, immediately adjacent.

Useful links:
History of Stoke Poges Church at the church’s website

Photos of the church and churchyard

A snarky British visit to the churchyard

Debate about which yew was really Gray’s inspiration

The text of Elegy written in a Country Churchyard

Cemetery of the Week #114: Shakespeare’s Grave

Vintage postcard of the grave slabs set in the floor of the chancel with Shakespeare's memorial on the wall above them.

Vintage postcard of the grave slabs set in the floor of the chancel with Shakespeare’s memorial on the wall above them.

William Shakespeare’s grave
Holy Trinity Church, Old Town
Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire, CV37 6BG
Telephone: 01789 266316
Burial: 1616
Number of Interments: 5
Open: Seven days a week, but access to Shakespeare’s grave will be limited during services. Check the church’s website for the schedule.
Admission: £2 (Concessions £1, Students 50p)

It’s claimed that Christians have been worshipping on the site of Holy Trinity Church, which stands on a rise above the Avon River, for over a thousand years. Records suggest that a Saxon monastery stood on the site, but nothing of it remains. The church building itself dates from 1210.

Frommer’s calls Holy Trinity one of the most beautiful parish churches in England. The church’s own website suggests it is “probably England’s most visited parish church.” It’s estimated that up to 200,000 people visit it each year.

Glove-maker John Shakespeare’s family lived in Stratford-upon-Avon in the 16th century. No birth records were kept in those days, but William Shakespeare was recorded as baptized in Holy Trinity Church on April 26, 1564. In July, the Plague struck and nearly 70% of the children born in that decade were buried in the churchyard. Shakespeare and his parents survived.

Shakespeare finished his schooling in 1580 and married Anne Hathaway two years later, through not at Holy Trinity. Six months after that, their daughter Susannah was baptized, followed by the twins Hamnet and Judith in 1585. Hamnet died at age 11 of unknown causes. Nothing survives as a record of his short life except the record of his burial on August 11, 1596.

Shakespeare’s plays began to be performed in 1587. He was 23. Many plays later, often as many as four or five a year, Shakespeare signed his Will in 1616 with a shaky hand. He was buried on the 25th of April. The cause of his death remains a mystery.

When Henry the VIII separated the churches of England from Rome, local parishioners became responsible for paying their priests and caring for their churches. In 1605, Shakespeare purchased a share in this church, vowing to tithe for the upkeep of the chancel, the part of a church near the altar, reserved for the clergy and choir. In effect, he was purchasing burial space. His donations to the church – and not his fame – gave him the right to burial in the chancel.

Shakespeare's epitaph

Shakespeare’s epitaph: “Curse be here that moves my bones.”

A charnel house for the storage of bones stood south of the chancel until the 1790s. Graves were generally purchased for a short period of time, before their contents were exhumed and stored in the charnel house. Shakespeare wanted to lie at rest and so dictated the curse on his grave slab. Such curses were common at the time.

Shakespeare’s family inherited the right of burial in the chancel. His wife Anne, daughter Suzanna, and sons-in-law Dr. John Hall and Thomas Nash (first husband of Shakespeare’s granddaughter Elizabeth) are buried alongside him in the chancel.

During Anne’s lifetime, a memorial to Shakespeare was erected and is, because of her approval, believed to be a good likeness. “The sun-tanned countenance is said to be quite genuine,” according to the church’s website.

By 1888, fairly significant restoration had been done in the church, at least according to a letter to the London Times. The doorway from the chancel to the charnel house had been blocked up, perhaps as early as 1801. It’s likely that the remaining bones were neither removed or reburied elsewhere, but were simply sealed up inside the charnel pit and left as they were.

Around the time that the charnel house was closed, the slab over Shakespeare’s grave was replaced by a more modern one that did not match Anne’s. The original stone had probably gotten worn, since for centuries people had walked over it to see the memorial sculpture. Now a railing prevents visitors from walking on Shakespeare’s grave.

Shakespeare’s church is visited by hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The contributions that they leave help to maintain the building and pay for heat, lighting, and staffing the Church during the week.

Each year, on the Saturday closest to St. George’s Day (April 23: Shakespeare’s presumed birthday), Holy Trinity hosts a flower-laying ceremony. Thousands file through the church while the bells ring and the organ plays. A Shakespeare Service is held the following Sunday to remember Shakespeare and his contributions to the parish and England.

Useful links:

Holy Trinity Church’s website – check it for closing times:

Galley of photos of Holy Trinity

A fascinating timeline of the religious persecutions in England during Shakespeare’s life

A history of the Holy Trinity Church

A map of Stratford and the Shakespearean sites

A discussion of the closing of the charnel house and the validity of Shakespeare’s monument

Vintage view of the Medici Chapels

The Church of San Lorenzo in Florence and the Medici ChapelsThe Church of San Lorenzo in Florence and the Medici Chapels by Aldo Fortuna

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Illustrated with luminous black & white photos, this vntage guidebook to the statuary and graves in the Church of San Lorenzo in Florence and its Medici Chapels is a good introduction to this beautiful place. Of course, black and white does not do justice to the amazing chapels created out of precious stones, but it does capture Michelangelo’s statuary and allow you to examine it more closely that you’re able to do in person.

The text is an academic translation from the Italian, so it gives less detail than a modern reader might prefer and is much less descriptive that necessary. Then again, I didn’t buy it for the text.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

Cemetery of the Week #101: the Medici Chapels

Exterior of the Chapel of the Princes, Church of San Lorenzo, Florence

Exterior of the Chapel of the Princes, Church of San Lorenzo, Florence. All photos come from The Church of San Lorenzo in Florence and Its Medici Chapels, which is reviewed on 8/1/13.

The Church of San Lorenzo
Piazza di Madonna degli Aldobrandini, 6, 50123 Florence, Italy
Founded: 1442
Number of interments: 40-some?
Open: Daily from 8:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. or from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., with the last entry at 5:30. These hours may be seasonal, but I’m having trouble getting a straight answer from the internet tonight. The church is closed the second and fourth Sundays of the month, as well as on the first, third, and fifth Mondays of the month. It’s also closed January 1st, May 1st, and Christmas Day.
Admission: There is an admission fee, but the Church’s website is down tonight and I can’t confirm it for you.

Saint Laurence was a 28-year-old deacon martyred by the Emperor Valerian on August 10, 258 CE. A church was dedicated to his memory in Florence in the fourth century. Of the original Church of San Lorenzo, nothing remains.

The tomb of Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, by Michelangelo

The tomb of Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, by Michelangelo

The wealthy families of Florence decided in December 1418 to enlarge the old Romanesque church. The Medici family took responsibility for remodeling one of the chapels and the sacristy, where the priest’s vestments and other objects used in the service are kept. Cosimo de Medici started paying for the chapel in 1442. In 22 years, he spent sums that can’t even be estimated now. In that time, San Lorenzo had become the parish church of the Medici family. Cosimo himself is buried in the crypt, below the altar, to be nearest the holy relics.

The first Medici had been buried in a poor and obscure church in the Old Market, according to The Church of San Lorenzo in Florence and the Medici Chapels. Now that the Medicis were spending their fortune on the church, they wanted to be buried there as well. Cardinal Guilio de Medici and his cousin Pope Leo X decided in 1520 to move Lorenzo the Magnificent (died 1492) and his brother Guiliano, who had been assassinated in the cathedral in 1478, as well as the Dukes of Nemours (died 1515) and Urbino (died 1517) into what would become the New Sacristy.

Detail of the tomb of Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino

Detail of the tomb of Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino

Michelangelo Buonarroti was hired to build suitable tombs for them and turned in his initial plan in November 1520. He hoped the space would become the final resting place of Dante, who still has not been returned to Florence to this day. (See Rest in Pieces for the full story.)

Construction of the New Sacristy began in March 1521 and proceeded rapidly. Michelangelo completed several sculptures for it, including a Madonna, the two “captains” who would represent Lorenzo and Guiliano, and began the allegorical figures that would adorn the tombs. Pope Leo commanded that Michelangelo accept no other commissions on pain of excommunication until the Sacristy was finished, but Leo’s death in 1532 rescinded that order. Michelangelo was called to Rome to paint The Final Judgment in the Sistine Chapel. He did not return to Florence until after his death.

Night, detail on the tomb of Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino. She is the only allegorical figure Michelangelo completed.

Night, detail on the tomb of Guiliano, Duke of Nemours. She is the only allegorical figure Michelangelo completed.

As Michelangelo knew he was dying, he burned all his notes and sketches for the Medici chapels, so that later artists could not discredit him by completing his work in a substandard way. For that reason, the sculptures are pretty much the way the master left them. Only one of the sculptures is entirely finished. The other three figures are in various stages of incompletion, from lacking background details to lacking a face.

When he died in July 1564, Michelangelo’s funeral was held at San Lorenzo. 80 sculptors and painters were present. Afterward, he was buried in Santa Croce.

The Chapel of the Princes, Church of San Lorenzo, Florence

The Chapel of the Princes, Church of San Lorenzo, Florence

After Michelangelo had left the building, the Chapel of the Princes was conceived as a third sacristy and the tomb of the “ennobled” Medici in 1568. Its foundation was finally laid in January 1605, but the chapel was far from finished in 1649 when its architect died. Anna Maria Ludovica, the last of the Medicis, left money for its completion in her will, but her wishes were set aside. The House of Lorena, who succeeded the Medici, continued the work and also received the right to burial there. In 1929, the pavement was completed at last and the altar itself erected.

The Chapel of the Princes may be the most beautiful room I’ve ever seen. It’s decorated in pietre dure, precious stones, including the rarest and costliest stones of Italy, Corsica, Bohemia, Spain, France, Flanders, and the Aegean in shades of blue, green, and amber.

Some useful links:

Full history of the chapels and the church

Color pictures online

To buy tickets “without lining up” from the Uffizi site.

The official Uffizi homepage.

Other Italian church burials on Cemetery Travel:

St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Sebastian’s Catacombs

The Pantheon

The Capuchin Catacombs 

Cemetery of the Week #99: Santa Croce of Florence

The exterior of the Basilica and its plaza.

The exterior of the Basilica and its plaza.

The Basilica of Santa Croce
Piazza Santa Croce 16
50122 Florence, Italy
Telephone: +39 (0) 55 2466105
Consecrated: 1433
Open: Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays and holidays from 2 p.m. to 5. Closed New Year’s Day, Easter, St. Anthony of Padua (June 13), St. Francis (October 4), Christmas (December 25), St. Stephen’s Day (December 26).
Admission: Full price: 6 euros. Reduced for children 11-17: 4 euros. Children under 11 are free.

Tall, skinny Santa Croce was begun by the Franciscans in 1294, but plagues and floods delayed its consecration until 1433. In 1565, Cosimo de Medici assigned Giorgio Vasari to redesign the interior. Vasari whitewashed the church’s murals, some of which have since been restored. The 1380 frescoes by Gaddi, in the Cappella Maggiore, look like decals stuck on the plain walls. They tell the story of the holy cross (“santa croce” in Italian).

Other art in Santa Croce includes frescoes by Giotto in the Bardi and Peruzzi Chapels, which illustrate the lives of St. Francis, whose order served the church, and St. John the Evangelist. Donatello’s Annunciation in gilded limestone adorns the wall of the south nave. One of the chapels was designed by Brunelleschi.

Santa Croce, according to TripAdvisor, is the richest medieval church in Florence, which features one of the finest of all early Renaissance tombs: that of Leonardo Bruni, Chancellor of the Republic. The statue of a man lies on his deathbed, face turned toward potential mourners. His bed balances atop a simple rectangular sarcophagus, which in turn balances atop lions with outsized feet. From the unveiling of the tomb in 1450, Santa Croce became the place to be buried in Florence.

Michelangelo's tomb photographed without tour groups in the way.

Michelangelo’s tomb photographed without tour groups in the way.

The church’s floor is looped and scalloped with swoops of green or red marble across the cream base. It is lined with grave slabs. Among those buried in the floor is Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, who isn’t buried in his Vasari-designed tomb. Permanent Italians describes the monument as “Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture loung[ing] listlessly around on a sweltering August afternoon.”

Vintage postcard of Machiavelli's tomb.

Vintage postcard of Machiavelli’s tomb.

Another tomb holds the remains of Niccolo Machiavelli, author of The Prince. A solemn muse, identified by Permanent Italians as Democracy, sits on the claw-foot sarcophagus and holds a cameo of the author. His epitaph translates to “For such a great man, no eulogy is sufficient.”

Gioacchino Rossini died in Paris and was buried in Pere Lachaise for a little more than 20 years before his French wife gave her approval and let his remains come home. His tomb also has an adoring mourner and at claw-foot sarcophagus, but it’s much fancier than Machiavelli’s.

Although there are many other people buried in Santa Croce whose tombs are worth a visit, you shouldn’t miss Galileo Galilei near the back doors. His odd bust depicts a skinny old man from the waist up, clutching a telescope and flanked by statues of Geometry and Astronomy. After being tried by the Inquisition for espousing the Copernican theory of the universe, Galileo was sentenced to house arrest and his books were banned. He was forbidden a Christian burial until 95 years after his death. Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses reports that he spent that time in a “closet-sized room beneath the bell tower.” When a Florentine Pope finally gave permission for Galileo to be reburied inside the church, his tomb held not only his remains but also those of a young woman. It was believed (though apparently not proven) that the second corpse belonged to Maria Celeste, Galileo’s favorite daughter. She was reinterred with him inside his tomb.

Vintage postcard of Rossini's tomb.

Vintage postcard of Rossini’s tomb.

Not actually buried here is native son Dante Alighieri, author of The Divine Comedy, who was exiled – under pain of being burned alive, should he ever return to Florence – and died in Ravenna. Though they wouldn’t give him back, the Florentines commissioned a cenotaph to his memory.

Santa Croce is a living church, so conservative clothing is required. Silence is encouraged while visiting. Photography is allowed, without use of a flash or a tripod.

Useful links:
The Basilica’s homepage in English

A walking tour of the art in Santa Croce

Thumbnails of the art encompassed by the Basilica

What to see in Florence

My review of Permanent Italians

My review of Rest in Pieces will go up tomorrow.

Other Italian church burials on Cemetery Travel:

St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Sebastian’s Catacombs

The Pantheon

The Capuchin Catacombs