Protestant Cemetery history
As indicated by its name, this is the final resting place for Protestants and other non-catholic people. Protestant Cemetery, officially known as the Non-Catholic Cemetery, has a rich history.
Records have shown that the history of this place dates back to at least year 1738. It was the year when the papal state dedicated this land to bury the remains of non-Catholics. Many of them were foreigner, mostly Protestants from northern Europe who could not be buried the consecrated land in Rome. According to Catholic Church law, Protestants can be buried neither in Catholic churches nor in consecrated ground.
The first person to have been interred at this cemetery was an Oxford graduate named George Langton, who came from an aristocratic British family. Between the years 1738 and 1822, around sixty people were buried in the cemetery.
The need for the non-catholic cemetery increased in the mid 19th century. Over the next hundred years, more than 4000 people were interred here. Almost one quarter was North Americans while the rest were mostly Europeans.
The cemetery was not walled of as it is today during the earlier stages of its history. The first wall surrounding the area was built in the early 19th century. The wall of today was built during the unification of Italy, in year 1870. The cemetery was also expanded in size and a small chapel was added. With this, the cemetery looked much like it does today.
Why visit Protestant Cemetery ?
It is hard to think of another urban site so wonderfully peaceful. The cemetery’s many tall cypress tress, together with abundant flowers, creates a green shelter where one can escape the city. The cemetery has always had this romantic style, inspired by the Romantic English gardens of the 18th and 19th century. It’s hardly surprising that many poets and artists fell in love with this place and that many are in fact buried here.
In love with death
“It might make one in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place,” wrote Percy Bysshe Shelley – the famous English poet. Shelley died during a sailing accident not long afterwards. He’s ashes are interred here at the Protestant Cemetery.
Another famous English poet buried here is John Keats, who died in Rome of tuberculosis. Keats lies buried in a quiet corner in an old part of the Cemetery. His simple oval tombstone is graced by a sad and bitter inscription, not mentioning him by name. The inscription reads;
“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: Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water. Feb 24th 1821”
The English Cemetery
Next to Keats grave lies the tomb of his friend, the English artist Jospeh Severn. Severn is actually the one responsible for the design of his friend’s grave. The cemetery is sometimes called “The English Cemetery” due to the many famous Englishmen interred here.
A diverse mix
However, the cemetery population is exceptionally diverse when it comes to nationality and religion. Here you can find Protestant and Orthodox as well as Islam and Buddhist graves. The inscriptions on the tombstones are in more than 15 languages ranging from Lithuanian and Bulgarian to Japanese and Russian.
The cemetery also possibly contains the highest density of famous and important graves anywhere in the world. In addition to the famous Englishmen, several other noted writers, painters, sculptors, historians, archaeologists, diplomats and scientists lies buried here.
An enchanting place
The cemetery is defined as of cultural importance to Rome and is thus under special protection. It is also regarded as an Italian monument of national interest. Today, the Protestant Cemetery ranks as one of the world’s most beautiful cemeteries.
Protestant Cemetery location
The Protestant Cemetery is located in Rome, Italy. The cemetery is situated in southern parts of the city, next to the Aurelian Wall and the Pyramid of Cestius. For the exact location of the Protestant Cemetery, check out the location map to the right.