Death in Rome : The Protestant Cemetery and The Catacombs of San Callisto

One visit I had promised myself on this trip to Rome was pay to a call at the Cimitero Acattolico or, as usually known in English, The Protestant Cemetery at Rome.

pyramid

“The cemetery is an open space among ruins, covered in winter with violets and daisies. It might make one in love with death, to think one should be buried in so sweet a place”

Percy Bysshe Shelley: Adonais: an elegy on the death of John Keats (1821)

I checked the website carefully before leaving home and made extra sure that Saturday 14 March was not a holiday and so after taking the train from Tivoli to Rome I made my way to the cemetery. When you emerge from the Pyramide Metro Station you can’t miss the huge Pyramid to Gaius Cestius and the cemetery is right next door: but you risk life and limb when crossing the roads to get to it!

Thomas Hardy wrote a poem entitled

“Rome at the Pyramid of Cestius Near the Graves of Shelley and Keats (1887)”

Who, then, was Cestius,
And what is he to me? –
Amid thick thoughts and memories multitudinous
One thought alone brings he.

I can recall no word
Of anything he did;
For me he is a man who died and was interred
To leave a pyramid

Whose purpose was exprest
Not with its first design,
Nor till, far down in Time, beside it found their rest
Two countrymen of mine.

Cestius in life, maybe,
Slew, breathed out threatening;
I know not. This I know: in death all silently
He does a kindlier thing,

In beckoning pilgrim feet
With marble finger high
To where, by shadowy wall and history-haunted street,
Those matchless singers lie . . .

–Say, then, he lived and died
That stones which bear his name
Should mark, through Time, where two immortal Shades abide;
It is an ample fame.

cemetery

I was not disappointed. It’s truly an oasis of peace and tranquility. It’s divided into sections pre- and post- 1821; which is why Shelley’s ashes are not buried near Keats’s grave.

keats and severn

The Graves of Keats and Severn (and Severn’s son)

‘Here Lies One Whose Name Was Writ in Water’ [The only words Keats wished to be on his gravestone]

‘This Grave contains all that was mortal, of a YOUNG ENGLISH POET, who on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his heart, at the Malicious Power of his enemies, desired these words to be Engraven on his Tomb Stone’ [Words added by his friends Joseph Severn and Charles Brown]

To Shelley's

shelley's

‘Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange’

From Shakespeare’s The Tempest [Shelley was drowned and only his ashes are buried here]

There is an especially good chapter about the cemetery in Peter Stanford’s “How to read a graveyard“.

shop and info

There’s a small bookshop and information office (above) near the entrance and the English guide helped me to pinpoint the grave of a little-known Australian author whose books I enjoy : Martin Boyd.

MB grave

His best-known book is “Lucinda Brayford” but I’ve enjoyed reading his Langton tetralogy lately :

The Langton tetralogy which, though not published as a series during his lifetime, is now referred to as a collective:
The Cardboard Crown (London, England: Cresset Press, 1952.)
A Difficult Young Man (London, England : Cresset Press, 1955.)
Outbreak of Love (London, England: John Murray, 1957.)
When Blackbirds Sing (London, England: Abelard-Schuman, 1962.)

MB headstone

Martin Boyd’s Headstone

Even though the Protestant Cemetery was high on my list this visit I also hoped to walk some of the famous Appian Way, the Roman road that connects Rome with Brindisi in southeast Italy. I read in my guidebooks how to get there and which were the best parts to see then noticed in small inset box this note : Enjoy Rome offers a 3-hour bus and walking tour of the Appia Antica … Call for tour times.

At Catacomb

At the Catacombs

I discovered that the Enjoy Rome office is very near to Termini Station so I bought a ticket for the Tuesday 10am departure. The first stop of the excursion is at The Catacombs of San Callisto. We were able to descend into a maze of tunnels and see various types of burial chambers with and without mural decorations.

entrance

“Ancient Roman law forbade burials, regardless of religion, inside the city walls. San Callisto is one of the most famous of over 60 catacombs in the city area. There are multiple levels of 1900 year old hand-dug corridors, past a mind-boggling number of tomb niches. Christian-themed inscriptions and frescoes, often endearingly simplistic but carrying strong messages of faith, are everywhere in the catacombs.” [Adapted from Frommer’s Rome Day-By-Day] Several Popes were entombed here.

“The Crypt of St. Cecilia: the popular patron saint of music. Of a noble Roman family, she was martyred in the 3rd c. and entombed where the statue now lies. She was venerated in this crypt for at least five centuries. In 821 her relics were transferred to Trastevere, in the basilica dedicated to her.

St Cecilia pc

The statue of St. Cecilia is a copy of the celebrated work sculptured by Stefano Maderno in 1599.
The crypt was all covered with mosaics and paintings (beginning of the IX Century). On the wall, near the statue, we see an ancient painting of St. Cecilia in an attitude of prayer; lower down, in a small niche, is a fresco representing Christ holding a Gospel. On the right side is the figure of St.Urban. On the wall of the shaft is the painting of three martyrs: Polycamus, Sebastian and Quirinus.” [Source]

No photography is allowed in the catacombs but I snapped a couple of postcards showing what it’s like down in the depths!

what it's like inside

Back at the Cemetery the cats are looked after by volunteers and even have their own website.

i gatti

empty cat basket

Empty Basket – Where can they be?

cat 1

cat 2

cat 3

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Lanhydrock House, Cornwall

Yesterday I took the train from Totnes, in Devon, to Bodmin, in Cornwall, from where, I had discovered recently, it is possible to walk along the carriage drive for a mile and three quarters to Lanhydrock House“The finest house in Cornwall”.  The weather stayed dry but the clocks were put back an hour on Saturday night so the days are now shorter.

When you alight from the train at Bodmin Station it is a bit like stepping back in time. There’s a hustle and bustle as people are met and packed into waiting cars and there’s a delightful station buffet … in the former signal box. Then the London train pulls out of the station on its way to Penzance, the cars roar away and all is still and quiet and you can hear the birds sing. But maybe it was just the whistle of a steam train whose line shares the station that took me back to earlier days.

At the end of the car park there’s a red gate. Go through it and you are already on the Lanhydrock House Carriage Drive.  At first you walk through woodland alongside the River Fowey. After about a mile there’s a lodge house and car park. Cross the road and head uphill to another lodge, go through another gate and at the brow of the hill you can see the seventeenth century Gatehouse and Lanhydrock looms into view.

A bit of investigation before setting out lead me to discover in my Blue Guide to Literary Britain by Ian Ousby that Thomas Hardy based his description of Endelstow House, the home of the Luxellians in A Pair of Blue Eyes, on Lanhydrock House, moving it to St Juliot near Boscastle for the story.

“For by this time they had reached the precincts of Endelstow House. Driving through an ancient gate-way of dun-coloured stone, spanned by the high-shouldered Tudor arch, they found themselves in a spacious court, closed by a facade on each of its three sides. …  The windows on all sides were long and many-mullioned; the roof lines broken up by dormer lights of the same pattern. The apex stones of these dormers, together with those of the gables, were surmounted by grotesque figures in rampant, passant, and couchant variety. Tall octagonal and twisted chimneys thrust themselves high up into the sky, surpassed in height, however, by some poplars and sycamores at the back, which showed their gently rocking summits over ridge and parapet. In the corners of the court polygonal bays, whose surfaces were entirely occupied by buttresses and windows, broke into the squareness of the enclosure; and a far-projecting oriel, springing from a fantastic series of mouldings, overhung the archway of the chief entrance to the house.” 

A Pair of Blue Eyes by Thomas Hardy (Ch.5)

The house today is not the original seventeenth century edifice but a late Victorian reconstruction following a disastrous fire which destroyed most of the earlier building in 1881. It was taken over by the National Trust in 1953. After refreshments and a browse in the second-hand bookshop I toured the fifty rooms in the house open to the public. These rooms included many below stairs: kitchen, scullery, bakehouse, dry larder, fish larder, meat larder, dairy – all very Downton Abbey. Most interesting to me amongst the family’s rooms were a Family Museum, Captain Tommy’s dressing and bed rooms, the drawing room and the Long Gallery.

The obligatory visit to the shop revealed that the popular author E. V. Thompson based many of his novels on Lanhydrock.

By 3.30pm the mist was beginning to thicken so I made my way back to the Carriage Drive and enjoyed the reverse walk back to the station for my 4.25pm train back to Totnes. The cafe was closed, the steam engine was being shunted away and we stood in the gloomy, misty, light rain waiting for our Paddington-bound train.