Postcard from Lecce, Italy: The road time flies upon offers no turning back

“Via Irremeabile d’ell Eternita” labels a columned entrance to the Cimitero di Lecce. Loosely translated by the blogger who knows no Italian beyond words frequently encountered on menus, it means the road to eternity has no return.

Although we walked down that road, we fortunately were able to turn around. Noted for my taphophilia, my love of cemeteries is restricted to wandering in and out of them, not an eagerness to take up any permanent residence.

While the Cimitero di Lecce is not as impressive as the monumental ones of Bologna, Turin and Genoa, symbols most often associated with freemasonry make exploring it interesting.

Freemasonry mystifies me. As do its symbols, many drawn from ancient Egyptian art.

Interpreting with the same level of expertise as applied to the Italian above, the skulls and crossbones are not meant to intimidate but are a symbol of the new life to come. The eternal flame symbolizes enlightenment. There is the unblinking, all-seeing eye. A winged disk might represent a soul that has left its body on its way up to heaven; an acacia branch immortality. The owl, perhaps originating from the one always perched on the shoulder of the Goddess of Wisdom Minerva, represents knowledge and ability to see in the darkest night.

For all of these, there are antithetical dark meanings assigned to the symbols by those who regard freemasonry as akin to worship of the devil.

Historically, masonic membership was prevalent. Among famous masons were George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Sam Houston, David Crockett, Theodore Roosevelt, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Henry Ford, Winston Churchill and Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Its symbols are engraved in the design of our own dollar bill. Even the Mister’s Boerne-raised grandfather was a mason with a mantlepiece full of the wise owls he favored.

When the lights are permanently turned out for me and I am left standing in the middle of the road with no turning back, I would gladly welcome the appearance of a little owl to guide me along the dark path that lies ahead.

Recycling a few haunted posts to say “Boo” to you

So many “postcards” are backlogged on my desk that I am dusting off some old seasonal favorites for Halloween and Day of the Dead offerings.

First, a few ghost stories from Brackenridge Park to set the tone for Halloween. Her murderers never caught, surely you have glimpsed Helen Madarasz roaming the park at night seeking justice: “The Madarasz Murder Mystery.” The post even throws in a few bonus ghosts who joined her later, all four who died in the park within a one-year period. Or perhaps you have heard the midnight screams of the glamorous Martha Mansfield, whose billowing crinolines set her ablaze in the park during the filming of a Civil War romance in 1923: “The Curse of Mararasz Park: Another Ghost Wandering in Brackenridge Park?”

When our daughter Kate said I could us this circa 1997 photo of her being kidnapped by the Pumpkin Monster, I do not think she realized it would continue to float up to the surface years later: “The Best Halloween.”

Dia de los Muertos, Romerillo, Chiapas

And then move on to some Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico for All Souls Day and All Saints Day:

Finally, a few stops by graveyards in Europe: https://postcardsfromsanantonio.com/category/haunting-graveyards/

Happy Halloween!

Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno, Genoa, Italy

 

Postcard from Rome, Italy: “Graves are all too young as yet to have outgrown the sorrow”

Stop and consider! life is but a day;
A fragile dew-drop on its perilous way
From a tree’s summit.

“Sleep and Poetry,” John Keats, 1816

For someone raised Catholic, visiting the Non-Catholic Cemetery in a city with such an incredible wealth of churches meriting attention seems almost heretical. But I am drawn to cemeteries.

This one has a reputation as a particularly soothing one, one where cats choose to live out all nine of their lives. And, as an act of advance penance, I posted a “genuflection” to Santa Maria Maggiore first.

The Non-Catholic Cemetery is a pilgrimage must for many because here lie the remains of John Keats (1795-1821). Plagued by tuberculosis, the medically trained poet traveled from England to Italy in hope the climate would result in a cure. Some believe he was self-prescribing unsafe dosages of mercury at the time, perhaps to treat venereal disease. The combination proved lethal, and Keats died in Rome at age 25.

Shortly after Keats’ death, his friend Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) penned “Adonais” as an elegy:

… Go thou to Rome, – at once the Paradise,
The grave, the city, and the wilderness;
And where its wrecks like shattered mountains rise,
And flowering weeds, and fragrant copses dress
The bones of Desolation’s nakedness
Pass, till the spirit of the spot shall lead
Thy footsteps to a slope of green access
Where, like an infant’s smile, over the dead
A light of laughing flowers along the grass is spread;

And grey walls moulder round, on which dull Time
Feeds, like slow fire upon a hoary brand;
And one keen pyramid* with wedge sublime,
Pavilioning the dust of him who planned
This refuge for his memory, doth stand
Like flame transformed to marble; and beneath,
A field is spread, on which a newer band
Have pitched in Heaven’s smile their camp of death,
Welcoming him we lose with scarce extinguished breath.

Here pause: these graves are all too young as yet
To have outgrown the sorrow which consigned
Its charge to each….

“Adonais,” Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1821

The ashes remaining from the scandal-ridden life of this productive young poet joined his friend Keats amongst the young graves scarcely more than a year later.

In the summer of 1822, the Courier, a leading Tory newspaper in London, carried a brief obituary that began: “Shelley, the writer of some infidel poetry, has been drowned: now he knows whether there is a God or no.” From this moment on, the dramatic death of Percy Bysshe Shelley in the Gulf of Spezia was set to become one of the most powerful of all Romantic legends. And also perhaps the most misleading.

“Death and Destiny,” Richard Holmes, The Guardian, January 24, 2004

Shelley had been sailing during stormy weather with two others aboard his small racing schooner, The Don Juan, on a return trip to Lerici from Livorno after visiting Lord Byron (1788-1824), who, too, would perish at an early age. But we have killed off enough romantic poets for one day, and Byron’s bones do not reside within the shelter of these walls.

Shelley’s death left a young widow, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851), behind. Although their marriage was a rocky one, some claim Mary sentimentally and literally retained Shelley’s heart, which sounds nightmarishly apocryphal save she is the literary birth-mother of Frankenstein.

Why did I not die? More miserable than man ever was before, why did I not sink into forgetfulness and rest?

Death snatches away many blooming children, the only hopes of their doting parents: how many brides and youthful lovers have been one day in the bloom of health and hope, and the next a prey for worms and the decay of the tomb!

Of what materials was I made, that I could thus resist so many shocks, which, like the turning of the wheel, continually renewed the torture?

But I was doomed to live….

Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, 1818

*And the incongruous presence of a pyramid by the graveyard? Things Egyptian became fashionable in Rome after the conquest of Egypt in 30 B.C. (No, I am not getting waylaid by the story of Anthony and Cleopatra.) At 118 feet-tall, this pyramid of marble-clad brick and cement is the tomb of Gaius Cestius Epulo, a wealthy Roman who died about 15 B.C. The unlikely landmark survived all the subsequent years of development in Rome possibly because of its incorporation into the city’s fortification walls.