Tag Archives: Christian saint

Cemetery of the Week #173: the Crypt of Our Lady of the Angels

 

The Cathedral Mausoleum at Our Lady of the Angels
Also known as the Crypt of the LA Cathedral or the Saint Vibiana Chapel Mausoleum
Address: 555 West Temple Street, Los Angeles, California 90012
Phone: 213-680-5200
Dedicated: September 2002
Number interred: 395, according to Findagrave

Note: the Cathedral Mausoleum remains closed at the moment, due to Covid-19 restrictions. Please check the Cathedral’s website or call before you visit to make sure it’s reopened.

In 1996, the Diocese of Los Angeles chose a downtown parking lot overlooking the Hollywood Freeway as the site of its new cathedral. Named for the city’s namesake, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels was dedicated on September 2, 2002. It serves as the mother church to approximately five million professed Catholics in the archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Sealed into the floor around the altar are 26 relics, including Saints Benedict, Catherine of Sienna, Charles Lwanga, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Francis of Assisi, Gregory the Great, John Neumann, Martin de Porres, Patrick of Ireland, Rose of Lima, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (the first Native American saint), and Junipero Serra, who founded the Spanish missions in California in the 18th century.

In the Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe hangs a reliquary with a fragment of the cloak worn by Saint Juan Diego that was miraculously stamped with Mary’s image when she visited him. The postage stamp-sized relic may be the only one of its kind in the United States. It was given by the archbishop of Mexico City to the archbishop of Los Angeles in 1941.

In the Chapel of Saint Vibiana, in the crypt below the church, rest the bones of a third-century Christian martyr whose grave was discovered in the Pretestato Catacombs near Rome’s Appian Way in December 1853. The original grave was sealed with a marble tablet which was marked with a laurel wreath, which indicated she was a martyr for her faith. Also in the alcove was a rose-colored vial, believed to contain dried blood. Despite a lack of history or miracles, Pope Pius IX canonized her as a Roman-era Virgin in 1854.

Vibiana’s bones were encased in a wax effigy. Bishop Thaddeus Amat, charged with overseeing all of California south of Monterey, took her relics on an eight-month tour before they arrived in Santa Barbara. Sometime in the 1860s, her reliquary was installed in Los Angeles. The Italian Baroque cathedral of Saint Vibiana was dedicated in her name in 1871.

In the 1950s, the Vatican dropped Vibiana’s feast day from the liturgical calendar for lack of historical information. In 1976, her relics were removed from public view and entombed in a marble sarcophagus. In 1994, the Northridge Earthquake caused damage to her cathedral and the diocese of LA took the opportunity to build Our Lady of the Angels. Vibiana’s, which had been named a City Landmark in 1963, was deconsecrated and is now available for rent as a wedding venue.

The construction of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels was overseen by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, LA’s first native Angeleno archbishop, who was made a cardinal in 1991. A burial place is reserved for him in the crypt.

The Crypt Mausoleum of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels lies one floor beneath the cathedral itself. It can be reached via the stairway or elevators at the rear of the Cathedral Church. The mausoleum is surprisingly large, containing some 1300 interment “crypts” and 5000 cremation niches, most of them empty at this time. Its walls are faced with polished Spanish limestone, lit by alabaster sconces.

It features 16 large baroque revival stained glass windows and 9 lunettes, brought from the original St. Vibiana Cathedral. The windows were created by the Franz Mayer Company in Munich in the early 1920s and restored by Judson Studios before being placed in the crypt. Since they are underground, they are lit from behind.

In the crypt stands a chapel dedicated to St. Vibiana. The altar was refashioned from the marble altar of her cathedral. The brightly painted stations of the cross came from St. Basil Church in LA. A marble sarcophagus contains Vibiana’s bones, still in their wax effigy. A replica of the plaque that marked her original grave hangs nearby, inscribed “To the soul of the innocent and pure Vibiana.” She remains the patron saint of Los Angeles.

Buried in the Bishops’ Crypt are Thaddeus Amat y Brusi (the first Bishop of Los Angeles, who brought Vibiana’s relics to LA), John Cantwell (the first Archbishop of Los Angeles), Bishop Thomas James Conaty (who oversaw the restoration of the California missions in the early 20th century), Bishop Carl Anthony Fisher (the first Black bishop on the West Coast), James Francis McIntyre (the controversial second Archbishop of Los Angeles, who became a cardinal), Bishop Juan Alfredo Arzube (born in Ecuador), and John J. Ward (who served in the Vatican II discussions). Several of them had been buried at St. Vibiana’s Cathedral before being reinterred here.

Other bishops have cenotaphs to their memories, including Bishop Joseph Sadoc Alemany, who was sent to Northern California during the Gold Rush. He is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery Mausoleum in Colma, California, south of San Francisco.

The most famous person buried in the Crypt Mausoleum is actor Gregory Peck, best remembered for playing Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, for which he won an Academy Award. Peck was nominated five times for the Oscar and received the Academy’s humanitarian award in 1968. He served as president of the Motion Picture Academy and was active in the American Cancer Society, National Endowment for the Arts, and many other causes. He died in his sleep in 2003. He’s buried in the crypt beside his wife, philanthropist Veronique Peck, who followed him in 2012. Their epitaph crosses the front of both grave plaques. His says, “Together” and hers “Forever.”

Actress Joan Marlowe (born Gisela Goetten) was billed by Warner Bros. as “the most beautiful girl on the screen.” She appeared in the Rin Tin Tin movies, acted opposite John Barrymore in “Don Juan,” and played a recurring role in the “Our Gang” shorts as the teacher Miss Crabtree. She also appeared in the first Laurel and Hardy movie, “Pardon Us.” After she married in 1933, she stopped acting in films. Initially buried in San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Mission Hills, she was moved to the LA Cathedral crypt and interred behind the epitaph, “Help thy brother’s boat across and Lo! Thine own has reached the shore.”

Actress Helen Wagner was best known for playing Nancy Hughes in the soap opera “As the World Turns.” She spoke the first line on the show in 1956 and continued playing the part until a month before her death in 2010. She’s credited in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest-playing of a single role. Her husband, producer Robert Wiley, is also buried in the Cathedral Mausoleum.

Buried near the papal cross beneath the cathedral’s altar is Bernardine Murphy Donohue, who was rewarded for her Catholic philanthropy by being made a papal countess by Pope John XXIII. After her death, her family’s mansion was donated to the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary as a retreat house.

Useful Links:
Map to the cathedral: https://catholiccm.org/cathedral-of-our-lady-of-the-angels-mausoleum
The Cathedral Mausoleum: http://www.olacathedral.org/cathedral/mausoleum/about1.html
The Cathedral homepage: http://www.olacathedral.org/
LA Time article “The Crypts that Keep on Giving”: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2002-feb-08-mn-26916-story.html
Findagrave: https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/1543836/cathedral-of-our-lady-of-the-angels

My reviews of books related to this cemetery:

Laid to Rest in California: https://cemeterytravel.com/2011/05/05/cemeteries-paparazzi-style/

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels guidebook: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3908630237

Other graveyards of the Hollywood stars on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #5: Hollywood Forever

Cemetery of the Week #14: the Original Forest Lawn

Cemetery of the Week #40: Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #45: Hillside Memorial Park

Cemetery of the Week #51: Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #110: Holy Cross Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #151: The French Pantheon

IMG_6737

All photos taken by Loren Rhoads in 2016.

The Pantheon
Place du Pantheon
75005 Paris, France
Telephone: 01 44 32 18 00
Pantheonizations began: 1791
Number of interments:
Open: Every day, except January 1, May 1, and December 25
Homepage: http://www.monuments-nationaux.fr

In 451, Attila the Hun threatened the Roman settlement called Lutecia, where Paris now stands. A shepherdess named Genevieve rallied the people to pray for deliverance. When the Huns broke off the siege, Genevieve was proclaimed a savior.

After she died in 502, a small oratory was built over her grave. This was followed in 508 by a church, dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul, built by Clovis, King of the Franks.  Three years later he was buried in it. After his wife (who became Saint Clotilde) joined him there in 545, the church was renamed in honor of Saint Genevieve, who became the patron of Paris.

In times of trouble, Genevieve’s relics were carried through the city streets. In 1754, Louis XV credited Genevieve with helping him recover from a grave illness and funded renovation of the church. Jacques-Germain Soufflot wanted the new church to rival St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London.

Foundation work began in 1757, but the hill below was like swiss cheese, so it needed a lot of shoring up. While the crypt was completed in 1763, the cornerstone wasn’t laid until September the following year.

The church was completed by 1790, when the Marquis de Villette proposed burying Voltaire there so that that nation could honor him. He proposed the idea of making it a secular temple to honor the great men of France by interring their ashes in the underground recesses. In April 1791, the Constituent Assembly placed an inscription on the pediment that translates to “A grateful nation honors its great men.”

With much fuss, Voltaire’s ashes were moved to the newly named Pantheon on July 21, 1791.  Rosseau was pantheonized opposite him in October 1794.

Several people were honored with pantheonization, which was then revoked. Mirabeau was the first chosen to be honored, but since his niche wasn’t ready yet, his remains were sent to another church nearby. After he was interred there, it was discovered that he had committed treason against the Republic and he was uninvited. Le Peletier was pantheonized for voting for the death of the king and then being assassinated by a Royalist, but his family claimed his body in 1794. Marat was pantheonized the day Mirabeau was kicked out, but was himself kicked out the following year. After that, it was decided that people needed to be dead at least 10 years before they could be buried in the Pantheon.

IMG_6693Architect Quatremere de Quincy took over the Pantheon in 1791. He decided it needed to look gloomier, more like a mausoleum, so he bricked up all the lower windows. He also destroyed all the religious statuary, replacing it with statues of Liberty and France. Saint Genevieve herself was evicted in August 1792, after the fall of the monarchy.

 

Early in 1806, the Pantheon once again became a church after an agreement between Napoleon and the Pope. The upstairs returned to Saint Genevieve, but the crypt remained secular. A second entrance was built and 41 people were pantheonized between 1806 and 1815. Fifteen of them were officers, including generals who took part in Napoleon’s victories in Europe. 27 of them were senators.

With the restitution of the monarchy, the king signed the Pantheon back over to the church in its totality in 1816. It was consecrated for the first time in January 1822. Genevieve’s relics were reconstituted somehow.

In 1829, the architect Soufflot was buried in the crypt: the only addition during the reign of Charles X.

The July Revolution of 1830 put Louis-Phillippe on the throne. He closed the Pantheon/St. Genevieve’s church to the public.

In 1851, Foucault installed a pendulum to demonstrate the rotation of the earth. (A reconstruction hangs there now, while the original pendulum hangs at the Museum of Arts and Sciences). After Catholic opposition, the experiment was ended in December 1851.

Also that year, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon III) staged a coup d’etat to reinstate the Empire. He gave the church back to the Catholics, called it a national basilica, reinstalled Genevieve’s reliquary, and added a chapter of canons.

After the Second Empire collapsed in September 1870, the crypt was used to store munitions while the Prussians besieged the city. The Pantheon’s dome was damaged in the fighting. The Paris Commune took over the church in March 1871 and also stored munitions in the crypt. They were driven out by army artillery.

IMG_6717When Victor Hugo died in 1885, he lay in state beneath the Arc de Triomphe before being inhumed in the Pantheon. No ten-year wait for him. He was joined by Emile Zola in 1908 and Alexandre Dumas (author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo) was added in 2002.

Other internees in the Pantheon range from statesmen to military heroes to the assassinated President of the Third Republic. The heart of socialist hero, founder of the Third Republic, Leon Gambetta was added in 1920. Scientists include Pierre-Eugene Marcellin Bertheot, a chemist who became Minister of Education and Foreign Affairs, and physicists Paul Langevin and Jean Perrin. Louis Braille, inventor of the most common alphabet for the blind, was added in 1952.

IMG_6701After World War II, an inscription was added upstairs in the church to remember Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the author of The Little Prince, who had served as an aviator and was lost when his plane went down near Corsica.

In 1981, on the day of his investiture, Francois Mitterand laid a single red rose at the graves of Victor Schoelcher, Jean Jaures, and Moulin, who were defenders of Human Rights. Schoelcher had been pantheonized in 1949 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the abolition of slavery.

Pantheonizations continue to this day. In 1987, Rene Cassin, who’d received the Nobel Prize for Human Rights was added. He was followed in 1988 by Jean Mannet, the founder of the European Community.

IMG_6722The ashes of Pierre and Marie Curie were transferred to the Pantheon in 1995. She was the first woman to be buried there on her own merits.

Pantheonizations continue to this day. Currently, there is a push to add more diversity to those honored.

Other cemeteries in Paris on Cemetery Travel:

Pere Lachaise

Montparnasse

Napoleon’s Tomb

The Paris Ossuary

 

Cemetery of the Week #144: St. Philomena Churchyard

Philomena001St. Philomena Catholic Church
Kalaupapa National Historical Park
Kalawao, Molokai, Hawaii
In use: 1872 – 1932
Number of interments: Unknown
Open: The national park is open Monday through Saturday, but the number of visitors is capped at 100 per day. Visitors must be at least 16 years old. Unless you are invited by a resident of Kalaupapa, you must take a tour offered by Damien Tours of Kalaupapa.

Molokai, the most isolated Hawaiian island, has so little automobile traffic that it does not have a single traffic light. Molokai’s Kalaupapa Peninsula was used for more than a hundred years as a place to intern Hawaiians infected with leprosy. The area — where internees were sentenced to live until 1969 — became a National Park in 1980.

The first case of leprosy documented in Hawaii was found on the island of Kauai in 1835. It’s believed that that Chinese, imported to work in the sugar cane fields, brought the disease with them, but that’s impossible to say when whalers and missionaries brought so many other diseases to the vulnerable Hawaiians.

Since there was no cure for the disease, infected victims were rounded up and exiled to the Kalaupapa Peninsula. Surrounded by such rough seas that ships could land only rarely, sufferers were often thrown overboard and told to swim. A 2000-foot cliff on the southern side of the peninsula kept them penned in.

Although Hawaiians had lived on the peninsula previously, they were displaced by order of King Kamehameha V in order to isolate the leprosy victims. The first group of exiles consisted of nine men and three women dropped off on January 6, 1866.

New internees found an area with few buildings. The sick often lived in caves or such lean-tos as they could cobble together. Supplies were seldom delivered, so those who were strong enough grew taro, sweet potatoes, and fruits, and gathered seafood from the oceans and tidal pools.

In 1864, two years previous, Joseph de Veuster had arrived in Honolulu. Before long, the Belgian was ordained in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Honolulu and became known as Father Damien. Nine years later, he traveled to Kalaupapa to minister to the victims of leprosy.

Father Damien, two months before his death

Father Damien, two months before his death

With Father Damien’s help, the lepers built themselves homes, a church, and a hospital. Damien, who spoke Hawaiian, ministered, nursed, and encouraged them. In 1885, after 12 years of aiding the sick, Damien himself was diagnosed with leprosy. He eventually died of it on April 15, 1889. He was 49.

Damien was buried beside the walls of St. Philomena Catholic Church, which he had helped islanders expand several times over the years. He was buried in a site he’d selected personally, beneath the gnarled pandanus tree under which he’d slept when he first arrived on the island.

The Congregation of the Sacred Hearts, to which Damien had belonged as a young man, erected a black marble cross above his grave. It read, “Sacred to the Memory of the Reverend Father Damien de Veuster. Died a martyr to his Charity for the Afflicted Lepers.”

Damien's grave

Damien’s original grave and marker

A movement to have Damien beatified – the first step on the path to sainthood – began the year following his death. Bishop Koeckemann of the Sacred Hearts Mission, who had clashed with Damien in life, stymied the process. It gained momentum in the 1930s. Rome announced formal beatification proceedings in 1935.

Of course, Father Damien wouldn’t be allowed to rest. The National Park Service site says, “Because Kalaupapa remained an isolation settlement and the world could not come to his church and grave, Damien’s remains were exhumed in 1936 and reburied at Louvain, Belgium.” Hawaiians objected loudly, but an arrangement had been reached between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and King Ferdinand III of Belgium. Internees of Kalaupapa were left only with the cross marking his grave.

In 1977, Pope Paul VI declared Father Damien venerable, the next step up the ladder to sainthood. A relic – Damien’s right hand — was returned to his original grave at Kalawao in 1995. He was canonized as a saint on October 11, 2009. Kalaupapa National Historical Park became the only National Park site connected with a saint. (Mother Marianne Cope, who cared for Damien in his final years, then stayed to tend the other victims of leprosy for 30 years, was canonized in 2012. Although she died in Kalaupapa, she is buried in Syracuse, New York.)

Kalaupapa from the ocean

Damien in not the only person buried in the National Park. Since 1866, more than 8000 people, mostly Hawaiians, died at Kalaupapa. Damien himself buried around 200 a year. The National Park Service estimates there are 1200 grave markers and several thousand unmarked graves spread over 15 cemeteries inside the park. In Moku Puakala, the area around St. Philomena Church at Kalawao, lies Brother Joseph Dutton, who served with Father Damien, and other religious workers affiliated with the Baldwin Home for Boys.

With the discovery of sulfone drugs, leprosy could be put into remission and was no longer contagious. The isolation order was finally lifted in 1969, when the state of Hawaii officially decided to change the terminology to Hansen’s Disease, rather than leprosy, as a way to lessen the stigma of its sufferers. Internees at Kalaupapa were free to leave, but many of them chose to stay in the place they considered home.

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter established Kalaupapa National Historical Park. The Park Service describes the mission of the park thus: “Kalaupapa serves as a reminder of a nation in crisis when Hawaiian people were exposed to diseases for which they had no immunities. It is a place where we can reconsider our responses to people with disfiguring disabilities or illnesses. Kalaupapa, once a community in isolation, now serves as a place for education and contemplation. It is a place where past suffering has given way to personal pride about accomplishments made in the face of great adversity.”

In 2009, President Barack Obama authorized a memorial for the estimated 8,000 former patients buried on Kalaupapa. Only about 1,300 lie in marked graves. The monument appears not to have been completed yet.

It can be challenging to visit Molokai. From Maui or Honolulu, you can catch an inter-island flight into Molokai or take the Maui-Molokai ferry from Lahaina. Life moves at a relaxed pace on Molokai, so plan to spend the night.

If you visit, National Park Service warns, “The 3.5-mile trail to the park is extremely steep and difficult. Hiking is physically demanding. There are no medical or dining facilities at Kalaupapa. Visitors flying or hiking in must bring their own lunches. Guests of residents also need to bring their own food supplies. All food and sundries must be brought in and all trash taken out. The mule ride ride concession provides lunch to its customers.”

There is also no place to stay over, unless you stay with one of the residents.

Most importantly, photographs of the few remaining patient/residents is forbidden without their written permission.

Useful links:

Information on the cemeteries of Kalaupapa

Information on visiting Molokai

Father Damien Tours

Guided Mule Ride Tours

National Park Service brochures

Outdated page on the monument to named the unnamed victims of Kalaupapa

Other Hawaiian cemeteries on Cemetery Travel:

Seamen’s Cemetery in Lahaina, Maui

USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Oahu

Kawaiaha’o Churchyard, Honolulu, Oahu

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii

Keawala’i Churchyard, Makena, Maui

 

Cemetery of the Week #67: the Catacomb of St. Sebastian

Entry ticket for St. Sebastian’s catacombs

Catacombe di S. Sebastiano
Via Appia Antica, 136
00179 Rome, Italy
Telephone: 06 7850350
Founded: 1st century AD
Size: Nearly 7 miles of tunnels
Number of interments: none
Open: Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Last entrance is at 4:30. Closed Sundays, Christmas, New Year’s Day, and from the third week or November until the third week of December.
Admission: Adults €8,00
Reduced ticket for children 6-12 and military personnel €5,00 Children under 6 and caretakers of the disabled are free.

Beyond the third mile marker on the old Appian Way stands a yellow church, the Basilica of St. Sebastian Outside the Walls. From the plaza, a door on your right leads to the Catacombe di San Sebastiano.

Buy your ticket at a window barred like an old train station. The lobby occupies a long low room full of fragments of marble and terracotta, many clamped tightly to the brown walls. Each item has a bird, a fish, or a lamb: symbols of Christianity to people who couldn’t read.

Guides of many languages lead tours of the catacombs, which you are not allowed to explore on your own. You’ll have to wait until there’s a large enough group that speaks your language before you begin.

The tour passes through only a fraction of the second of the four levels of the catacombs. The other levels are unlocked only to archaeologists blessed by the Pontificia Commissione di Archaeologia Sacra, a bureau of the Vatican.

You should know going in that there are no longer any bodies in the tunnels. Most were removed in the 4th and 5th centuries, when the catacombs suffered at the mercy of barbarian hordes that couldn’t breach the walls of Rome.

Yellow globes, hung at intervals near the tunnel’s ceiling, do little to brighten the gloom. You might want to bring a flashlight. With its help, you’ll be able to see scars left on the ceiling by pickaxes. Early Christians called Fossores, special miners in service to the early church, excavated the catacomb by hand. The ground here is tufa, a lava rock that is easy to dig. They carried the earth away in baskets.

The walls of the tunnel look as if bunks have been carved into the stone. The shallow niches are just large enough to tuck a body inside. The dead would be wound in a sheet and placed here without a coffin, then a slab of marble — if they were wealthy — or terracotta would seal them inside. The early Christians filled the graves on top first, then dug the floor down below them. In the tunnel where our tour group stood, the floor had been lowered five times.

Try to conjure a sense of what the place must have been like when bodies filled it. There was, of course, no embalming in the Roman world of the second and third centuries. When people died, their survivors had to cart them out of Rome, since the Law of the Twelve Tables forbade burial inside the city walls. Most Romans would not have owned a horse or an ox, especially not Christians, who tended to come from the lower and slave classes. I suspect that transportation of a cadaver presented a pressing concern in the Roman summer.

The pagan majority of Romans disposed of their dead by cremation. They burned corpses on a pyre, then collected the ashes into an urn. These urns of ashes were placed in tombs that lined the Appian Way, the road to Ostia through the Porta San Paolo, and all the other old roads leading out of Rome.

Jews practiced inhumation — burial in earth — in observation of Genesis 3:19: “Earth you are and to Earth you shall return.” We hear it most commonly as “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” from the funeral service in the Book of Common Prayer. Early Christians pursued this custom, burying their dead because Christ had been placed whole in his tomb. Early Christians anticipated bodily resurrection, the way Christ had come back.

Romans called a collection of graves a necropolis: a city of the dead. Christians, many of whom spoke Greek rather than Latin, referred to their burial places as coemeteria, equivalent to dormitories. The root of dormitory, of course, means to sleep. Christians believed that their dead were merely resting (ideally in peace) until Christ came again and ushered them into heaven. This is why we refer to a graveyard as a cemetery.

Our guide led us into a room unlike any of the shadowy hallways we’d visited. Marble sheathed its floor. Its walls were whitewashed. In contrast to the rest of the catacomb, this room was brightly lit. On my left stood a simple stone table, draped with a spotless white cloth edged in lace. Across from that, on a pedestal, balanced a polished marble bust of a man in pain or ecstasy. Bernini, the architect who decorated St. Peter’s Basilica, carved the bust.

Prayer card for St. Sebastian

Sebastian was a Roman soldier who decided he could no longer persecute Christians. The other soldiers tied him to a tree and shot him with their arrows. They left him to die, but he recovered from his wounds and started to preach. They captured him a second time and killed him. Christians buried his body beneath this altar. When Constantine converted to Christianity in 312, he had a church built above the catacombs and Saint Sebastian’s bones moved into the basilica, directly overhead. One of the relics stored in the basilica is an arrow embedded in part of the pillar against which Sebastian was bound.

Our tour made one final stop. At some point during the excavation of the catacomb in the late 1800s, church archaeologists had discovered three Roman-era tombs. These little villas had been perfectly preserved when the low area where they stood had collapsed during an earthquake, then been been filled with rubble to support the church above. You can peer into these wonderfully preserved Roman tombs. Delicate mosaics brighten the surprisingly roomy interiors. One tomb had a staircase that stretched down to the tunnels below it.

“Here is the origin of the word catacomb,” our guide Maria said before we left the area. “This place was called cata cumbas, meaning the low place near the quarries. Here stood a crevice between the tufa hills where the Romans cremated their dead. Since it was already a necropolis, it made sense for the Christians to bury their dead here.”

From this place, the word catacomb spread to refer to any hall of Christian tombs, from the ossuary in the quarry under Paris to the aboveground mausoleum complex at Cypress Lawn Cemetery in Colma, California.

Useful links:

Italian homepage about the catacombs in translation

Rick Steves’ history of the catacombs

Overview of all the catacombs in Rome

Information on the bus routes to the catacombs

The Archeobus site (a tour bus that makes the rounds of Rome’s archeological sites)

My review of The Christian Catacombs of Rome: History, Decoration, Inscriptions

Other cemeteries in Rome worth visiting:

Cemetery of the Week #8: the Protestant Cemetery of Rome

Cemetery of the Week #29: the Pantheon

Cemetery of the Week #32: the Mausoleum of Augustus

Cemetery of the Week #15: the Capuchin Catacomb

 

Cemetery of the Week #27: the Old Market Square in Rouen

The garden where Jehanne’s pyre stood

Place du Vieux Marché
Rouen, France 76000
Telephone: 00 33 (0)2 32 08 32 40
Date of Joan’s martyrdom: May 30, 1431
Number of interments: 0
Open: The market square is free to visitors. The church is open April through October on Monday to Thursday and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon and 2 to 6 p.m. On Fridays and Sundays, the church is only open from 2 to 6 p.m. In November to March, it closes at 5:30 p.m.

Whether Jehanne d’Arc actually commanded the armies of France against the British in the 15th century or merely served as a figurehead who rallied the French to victory, it’s undisputed that she was betrayed when the walled city of Compiegne shut their portcullis, leaving her to face the army of John of Luxembourg.  Six months later, she was ransomed to Pierre Cauchon, the Bishop of Beauvais, who took her to Rouen where he presided over her trial for heresy.

Jehanne was 19 when she was tried by French clergymen in the pay of the English.  She had been wounded at least three times in battle and once while attempting escape from prison.  She could not read and could barely write her name, but she outwitted the judges ranges against her.

After her captors threatened her with torture, she repudiated the voices which had predicted her victories and ultimate downfall.  It seemed they might not find a transgression worthy of death, so her guards stole her dresses, forcing her to wear men’s clothing once more.  The court quickly found her guilty of heresy (for cross-dressing) and sentenced her to death.

Jehanne was burned at a stake in Rouen’s Market Square.  When the fire seemed to be dying, the executioner added more wood and poured oil over it, burning her bones until nothing but ashes remained.  Those were gathered up and flung into the Seine so there would be no relic, no grave that could serve to rally the French against the English.

In the end, no relic was needed.  In 1453, the English were finally driven out of France.  Charles VII took possession of the records of Jehanne’s trial and opened the way for her pardon.

Not much remains in Rouen from May 1431.  Much did not survive the centuries; more was destroyed by fire during World War II.  A cross stands in the old market square near a little garden, which marks the place where Jehanne was martyred.  A church in her name was completed nearby in 1979.

It doesn’t matter that Joan of Arc has no grave.  A steady stream of pilgrims and tourists visits the place where the girl was burned to death.  They are as reverent as if they visited a cemetery.

Links of note:

Catholic Encyclopedia listing on Joan of Arc

Tour of the Old Market Square

The Church of St. Joan of Arc

The opening of The Passion of St. Joan of Arc, which has a script from the transcript of Joan’s trial, with a soundtrack by Anonymous 4:

Other Rouen gravesites on Cemetery Travel:

Richard the Lion-Hearted

Cemetery of the Week #23: Aître Saint Maclou