Rome's romantic Cimitero acattolico di Roma, or the Protestant
Cemetery, as it is almost always called, is Rome's equivalent of Paris's
Père Lachaise. Nestled between Monte Testaccio and the late antique
Walls of Aurelian, the best-known landmark of the cemetery is the ancient Roman pyramidal
tomb of Gaius Cestius, which sits upon its grounds. From at least the year
1738 it has served as the burial ground for non-Catholics who had died at Rome
(hence the Italian name "acattolico").
When the Popes still ruled Rome (until 1870), they barred non-Catholics from
burial in hallowed ground, on the doctrinal assumption that there is no salvation
outside the church (nulla salus extra ecclesiam). The fate of non-Catholic
bodies before the opening of this area for burial is a matter for speculation,
but in 1738, a young Englishman named Langton, away from Oxford on his grand
tour, had the bad luck to die at Rome. He is the first person we know for sure to have
been buried here, as his inscribed sarcophagus, otherwise lost to memory, was found
when archeologists began work on the Pyramid of Cestius. It is just possible
that a German named Werpup, from Hannover, had been buried in the area earlier.
The Nolli Plan of 1748 already records a Cimitero dei protestanti.
By pontifical law, not only were non-Catholics barred from a church funeral and
burial in hallowed ground, but their inhumation had to take place at night,
by torchlight (ostensibly to avoid religiously-motivated hostile acts by the
poorly educated). The first daytime burial (with mounted troops to assure everyone's
safety) was of the daughter of Sir Walter Synod (or 'Synnot'), in 1821. Official obstructions to
non-Catholic burials gradually evaporated in the course of the 19th century.
Older sections of the cemetery were protected from use as pasture land
(starting with Leo XII in 1824), walled off to prevent casual desecration, and
in 1894 the German Ambassador acquired
a vast new area adjoining the older ones closest to the Pyramid. Whereas the older
sections look like meadows, the areas opened up after 1894 have densely packed graves.
No reference to salvation was permitted on the graves or tomb markers in the
cemetery before 1870, even harmless inscriptions such as "God is love." Crosses
were also forbidden. But with the fall of papal government in 1870, all restrictions
were effectively repealed in short order. The entrance gate now sportingly features
the inscription RESURRECTURIS ("For those who will rise again").
The oldest area within the cemetery, the so-called Parte Antica, is like a
meadow with tomb monuments, memorial columns, and other tomb markers spread
out at intervals. It lies in the shadow of the Pyramid, and it was here that
Langton's grave was found. Here is the grave of Keats (d. 1821),
with its famous inscription:
Here lies one whose name was writ in water
Here, too, is the grave of Keats' devoted friend Joseph Severn (d. 1879),
inscribed "Devoted friend and death-bed companion of John Keats, whom he
lived to see numbered among The Immortal Poets of England."
Not far away is the tomb of Percy Bysshe Shelley (d. 1822), inscribed Cor
Cordium ("Heart of hearts"), and lines from Shakespeare's
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Many other famous people are buried here, including the directors of several
of the various national academies in Rome, such as William Rutherford Mead
(d. 1928), director of the American Academy in Rome and principal in the architectural firm
of McKim, Mead, and White.
In the newer sections of the cemetery, opened up since 1894, are the graves
of such prominent persons as Antonio Gramsci (d. 1937), the prominent Italian
communist, Ernest Nash, the great photographer of Rome (d. 1974), Karl Julius
Beloch the great ancient historian (d. 1929), and Richard Krautheimer, probably
the premier student of the city of Rome, who was made a citizen of the city
in 1994, the year of his death. Few are buried here any longer, because the
existing land is almost filled to capacity; the property is run by a consortium
of ambassadors from Britain, Germany, Sweden, and the USA, who annually appoint
The cemetery has escaped the worst of the many fights for the possession of
Rome since it was instituted--largely unharmed in 1849, 1857, and 1870, it was
slightly damaged by Allied bombardment in 1944 (the allies broke
into the city near the Pyramid). Today, it is one of the most peaceful and beautiful
places within the walls of Rome. It is cool in the shade of its many pines and
cypresses even in the middle of the brutal Roman summer, sits amid suggestive Roman
ruins, and is decorated with many beautiful classicizing monuments. Ring at the gate--Via
Caio Cestio 6--and be prepared to pay a few Euros to enter.
Beck-Friis, Johan. 1992. Il Cimitero Acattolico di Roma. (The standard guide, to which I am deeply indebted.)
My notes on site.
http://www.dayglow.ndirect.co.uk/work/photos/images/rome_cm/ (Pictures from the newer sections).
http://www.protestantcemetery.it/main.htm (The cemetery's web site. Fire up your translator programs!).
See Lometa's home node picture for an image of Keats' tombstone.