Angel of Grief

The Angel of Grief – my favorite tombstone of all time.

This gorgeous sculpture by William Wetmore Story, weeps atop his wife Emelyn’s grave in Rome, Italy.  William was the hottest American sculptor there from 1819 -1895. When Emelyn died, he poured his grief into this beautiful piece.  It’s been copied all over the world, but none of the flatterers are as elegantly poignant as the original.

The Protestant Cemetery…

…or non-catholic cemetery, as the Italian name translates literally, is one of my favorites. I mean, you have to go to Rome to see it, so duh. A lot of famous people rest there, but it’s the not so famous and totally unknown, the quirky, the tragic the pathetic, the stunningly narcissistic, (see 30-meter-tall Pyramid of Cestius), that blend to give it its distinctive ambiance. Part English church garden, part first-century Roman ruin, this cemetery’s on the top of my MUST GO BACK TO list.

I always love Let’s Go Guides for European travel info. Unlike Frommer’s and Michelin, Let’s Go caters to students and travelers with small budgets. It’ll point you to the best eateries and coffee bars around the cemetery, the ones the locals hang out in.

English poet, John Keats…

This placard was erected for Keats years after his death.

…died of tuberculosis in 1821. He was only 26 years old. Convinced that he and his poetry would be forgotten after his death, he forbid anyone to carve his name on his tombstone. Instead, it reads only “Here lies one who’s name was writ in water.”  I wonder if he knows how wrong he was.

Lord Percy Shelley…

…drowned in a sudden storm off the Riviera in 1822. His body was cremated on the beach were it washed up. Legend has it that his friend Edward Trelawny snatched the heart from the burning pier and gave it to Mary Shelley.  She kept it, or its ashes, in a desk drawer wrapped in a page of her husband’s manuscript. When she died, Shelley’s ashes were finally reunited in the Protestant Cemetery.

On the opposite end of the modesty spectrum…

…the cemetery also holds the Pyramid of Cestius, built around 16 AD. It stands 27 meters tall, less than ¼ the size of the Great Pyramids of Giza that it copied. Back then, most of the big, Roman generals just sailed over to Egypt and swiped themselves an obelisk. Obviously, Cestius couldn’t fit a pyramid in his trunk. He must have been counting on the fact that most of the Roman peasants would never see the originals.

Cestius wasn’t a trend-setter, thank goodness.

Stolen Obelisk


There must be thousands of feral cats in Rome.

They mostly hang out in the ruins and parks, but really, you see them absolutely everywhere. To this day the smells of cat urine, cypress trees and bus exhaust mingled on the air take me right back to Italy.

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About lsmoore

I'm a fiction writer, cemetery tourist and public library employee. View all posts by lsmoore

6 responses to “Angel of Grief

  • Don Riggsbee

    There’s a British cemetery on Ocracoke Island on the Outer Banks if you ever get this way.
    Here’s a couple links:

    I’m a local too. Samantha and Leah were born at the same hospital that my brother Bill and I were and where my mother, wife and I have worked. One Spring day I’ll take the Twins and the photo album down to Fidelity Ct. Cemetery in Carrboro and introduce them to their great-grandparents and uncle Ken.

    • lsmoore

      Thanks for the links. I’d love to see the place in person sometime. Have fun visiting the “relatives” with the twins. Deep roots are a great thing.

  • Anna

    That Angel In Grief stone is absolutely beautiful. I like how you’ve made “enjoying cemeteries” a hobby, I want to do that, too.

    I’ve only seen cemeteries in Denmark (where I live), and I particularly like the multi-cultural one, where there are both Protestant, Jewish and Islamic graves.

    • lsmoore

      I’d love to see the cemeteries in Denmark! I know what you mean about the multi-cultural ones. It’s so interesting to see other burial traditions.

      I got started with this hobby when I accepted my wierdness and just admitted that I love cemeteries. Now, I give-in to the urge to stop and walk through them whenever I have time and where ever I travel. Just go for it.

  • Graham Stephen

    What a wonderful sculpture that angel is!

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