This deathbed sculpture and the panorama below are taken from the Souvenir du Cimetiere de Genes, published in 1930.
The Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno
Piazzale Resasco, 16100 Genoa, Italy Opened: January 1, 1851 Size: 250 acres Number of interments: 117,600 gravesites
Thirty-five years after the Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno opened in Genoa, Italy, the Parisian newspaper Le Figaro decreed that Staglieno was the most beautiful cemetery in the world. It is still considered one of the largest open-air museums in Europe, full of one-of-a-kind works of art in marble. It’s made many lists of the world’s most beautiful graveyards.
The cemetery occupies a space in Genoa’s suburbs. Originally it was nothing special, but as the local merchants grew wealthy through the maritime trade in the 19th century, Staglieno became “an avatar of posthumous consumerism.” Many of its sculptures were commissioned pre-need, so that the living could enjoy them before being buried beneath them.
James Stevens Curl in his landmark book The Victorian Celebration of Deathhas this to say about it:“With its classical architecture, dramatic site, and essential urbaneness, [Staglieno] is unquestionably the grandest of all the cemeteries in Europe. Many connoisseurs consider it to be the most splendid cemetery in the world because of the excellence and quality of sculpture in its galleries.”
The cemetery’s central square is paved with marble grave markers, which are surrounded with thousands of sculptures. The Cemetery Book by Tom Weil says Staglieno is Italy’s largest cemetery.
The Monteverde angel from Staglieno: The Art of the Marble Carver
In Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain describes the cemetery: “On either side, as one walks down the middle of the passage, are monuments, tombs, and sculptural figures that are exquisitely wrought and are full of grace and beauty. They are new and snowy; every outline is perfect, every feature guiltless of mutilation, flaw, or blemish.” While industrial pollution has dimmed the snowy white statuary, it’s still remarkably lovely.
The most famous statue in Staglieno is Giulio Monteverde’s angel standing over the Oneto family tomb. The androgynous angel holds one hand to his bare chest, gazing down with a fierce fixed expression. At his side he holds a long trumpet, indicating that he is the angel of resurrection who will blow the trumpet at the end of the world to call the dead from their graves. Monteverde’s angel has been copied in cemeteries around the world.
David Robinson’s photo, which served as the cover of his book Saving Graces.
Ken Worpole’s Last Landscapes has this to add: “The cult of representing the agony of death and parting through the languid, eroticized figure of a female nude, or of a naked couple entwined in lovemaking, reached its apotheosis in a number of the sculptures in the Staglieno Cemetery.” Many of these erotic nudes appear in photographer David Robinson’s book Saving Graces.
Walter S. Arnold has examined Staglieno’s monuments from a sculptor’s point of view. My review of his The Art of the Marble Carver is here.
This is the first cemetery book I’ve read that was written by a sculptor. Arnold enthuses about the magnificent statuary of Staglieno Cemetery in Genoa. He goes through all the hands that a grave marker statue passes through from initial conception to the final polish, then spends the rest of the book drawing the reader’s attention to the exquisite details on display in Staglieno. I will never look at cemetery statues the same way.
However, if you are looking for a guide to Staglieno, full of biographies of the dead or names of particular artists, this is not the book for you. Beyond a cursory history of the cemetery, Arnold isn’t interested in names and dates. He’s an artist, here to look at art. I really appreciated having him as my guide.
The book is available on Amazon, but it’s really expensive for a paperback. Here’s the link: http://amzn.to/2lYQfFO
View inside Barcelona’s Poblenou Cemetery. All photos by Loren Rhoads.
Cementiri de Poblenou
Avenida Icaria, s/n
08005 Barcelona, Spain Telephone: 934 841 999 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website:http://www.cbsa.cat Founded: 1775 Number of Interments: uncertain, since the cemetery was destroyed and rebuilt on the same spot. Size: I can’t find the acreage anywhere, but it’s only an hour or two of exploration. Open: Daily 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Poblenou Cemetery dates to 1775, when it was the first modern cemetery in Europe to be built outside its city’s walls. The original cemetery was destroyed by Napoleon’s troops in 1813. After the invasion, the graveyard was expanded and rebuilt by architect Antonio Ginesi. The Bishop of Barcelona re-consecrated it in April 1819.
Poblenou Cemetery is walking distance from Barcelona’s Yellow Line (Line Four) metro. Get off at Llacuna station and walk east on Carrer Ciutat de Granada four blocks toward the Mediterranean. The street dead-ends at the cemetery wall. Turn right and follow the wall around to the grand entrance. Good to know: there is no water for sale in the cemetery, but there is a corner store right outside the metro station. Make sure you have a small bill to make your purchases. They can’t change larger denominations.
Also called Cementiri de l’Este, Poblenou Cemetery is comprised of three sections. The first is a labyrinth of seven-story-high burial niches. That’s followed by a section filled with Neo-Gothic mausoleums and Gothic-style chapels built for Barcelona’s wealthiest families. The third section mixes niches, monuments, and common graves where the poor are buried.
The monuments include works by some of the most important sculptors and architects working in Barcelona in the 19th and 20th centuries. Plaques identify most of the significant works, so it’s possible to tour the cemetery by yourself. Pick up the free multilingual map from the cemetery office. While it doesn’t offer a lot of information beyond the names of the artists or architects responsible for the tombs you’ll visit, it will point you toward 30 breathtaking points of interest.
If you speak Spanish, the cemetery offers a free tour that covers about 100+ years of the history of the cemetery and the city it serves. The tour visits 30 tombs and lasts an hour and a half. It takes place the first and third Sundays of the month at 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
The best-known grave monument in Poblenou marks the final resting place of textile manufacturer Josep Llaudet Soler. “El beso de la Muerte” (The Kiss of Death) was designed by Joan Fontbernat and carved by Jaume Barba in 1930. It is a larger-than-life marble of a young man slumped to his knees, being supported by a winged skeleton. Death bends over to touch her teeth to the youth’s brow. Make sure to walk all the way around the statue to appreciate all of its details.
Another lovely sculpture shows a winged angel raising the swooning soul of a maiden toward heaven. The sculpture, carved by Fabiesi, dates to 1880 and adorns the grave of Pere Bassegoda.
Also buried in Poblenou is “Santet” or Little Saint Francesc Canals I Ambros, who died in a fire at a neighbor’s home in 1899. The 22-year-old was selfless in life and is believed to have supernatural powers after death. People leave photos and flowers in the niches surrounding his grave.
Other famous Catalans are buried in Poblenou, including composer Josep Anselm Clave, politician Narcis Monturiol (who also invented a submarine), and film actress Mary Santpere.
Rock Creek Cemetery
201 Allison St NW, Washington, DC 20011 Telephone: (202) 726-2080 Founded: 1719 Size: 86 acres Numbers of interments: 13,000 interments or more Open: Open daily, including holidays, from 8 am to 6 pm. The office is open weekdays from 9 am to 5 pm. GPS coordinates for the Adams Memorial: 38° 56’ 55” N 77° 0’ 32” W
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Rock Creek Parish, began in 1712 as a mission church. It is the only surviving colonial church in what is now Washington, DC. According to the church’s website, “The cemetery’s beautiful, park-like setting is now a place of pilgrimage for people from all over the world, who come to see the remarkable variety of monuments and sculpture and often to visit the renowned Adams Memorial by Augustus Saint-Gaudens.”
In September 1719, vestryman Colonel John Bradford donated 100 acres for the support of the church, which determined the site of the chapel. The land was logged, then farmed, and the proceeds supported the church for many years. Almost from the start, though, the area directly surrounding the church was used as a burial ground for parishioners. Some of those old grave markers still survive.
View of the goldfish pond
In the 1830s, the church decided to expand the area it used for burials and convert its land from farming to a public graveyard. Inspired by the success of Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, they utilized the natural rolling landscape when they laid out the roads like a rural cemetery. An Act of Congress established Rock Creek Cemetery as a burial ground for the city of Washington.
In the early 20th century, the church sold 14 acres of their graveyard for the construction of New Hampshire Avenue.
The Adams Memorial, by Augustus Saint-Gaudens
The memorial that everyone comes to see belongs to Henry Brooks Adams, a grandson of John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the US, and great-grandson of John Adams, the second president. Henry Brooks Adams himself was a Professor of Medieval History at Harvard. His autobiography won a Pulitzer Prize, but he considered The History of the United States of America 1801 to 1817 to be his masterwork. After his wife Marian (called Clover) committed suicide by poisoning herself with photographic chemicals in DC, he commissioned Augustus Saint-Gaudens to sculpt a monument to her. The statue is commonly referred to as Grief, but Saint-Gaudens called it The Mystery of the Hereafter and the Peace of God that Passeth Understanding.
I assumed that a world-famous memorial might be easy to locate, but since we visited on a Sunday, the office was closed. Church had let out for the day, save for choir practice, which I didn’t want to interrupt. After wandering for an hour – and admiring lots of lovely sculpture – we turned to the internet. The photo I found on Findagrave showed the memorial on a hill, facing away from the slope. We couldn’t find that view anywhere. The first GPS coordinates my husband Mason found led us back to the cemetery gate. Eventually we were able to find a map of the cemetery online that included section designations. The Adams Memorial is in section E.
The Adams Memorial’s cypress are in the distance here.
After you enter the cemetery, head toward the church. Before you reach it, turn right. Down slope from you, you will see a family plot encircled by a hedge of cypress trees. You have to walk through the hedge to find the statue.
The cemetery has a wealth of lovely sculpture. These include Rabboni by Gutzon Borglum (sculptor of Mount Rushmore) on the grave of Charles M. Ffoulkes, a Washington banker who collected tapestries; The Seven Ages of Memory by William Ordway Partridge, on the grave of Samuel H. Kauffman, who owned the Washington Star; and Brenda Putnam’s statue of a child on Anna Simon’s grave. There are many, many more worth seeing.
Detail of the Seven Ages of Memory
Other famous burials include Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle, Charles Francis Jenkins, the inventor of television; Abraham Baldwin, a signer of the Constitution; Charles Corby, the creator of Wonder Bread; Gilbert H. Grosvenor, chairman of the National Geographic Society; two mayors of Washington, three Union Army generals, and four Supreme Court Justices. There are also a number of family members of famous people: the father of Alexander Graham Bell, the grandfather of Douglas MacArthur, the sister of Edgar Allan Poe, and Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of Theodore Roosevelt.
My family took the metro to Fort Totten and then walked through the little park past the police station to North Capitol Street. That takes you to the back of the cemetery. One of the gates on North Capitol Street is open on Sunday mornings, when church is in session. Otherwise, you have to walk around to where Rock Creek Church Road meets Webster to find an open gate. It’s a hike and there are no facilities when the office is closed. You might be better off to rent a car.
The Fort Totten/Michigan Park neighborhood seems to be reasonably safe. People on Street Advisor warn against petty crime and robbery, but we walked all over without any trouble.
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