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.

Postcard from Malaga, Spain: High season for spotlighting cemeteries

In Memory of Julia and William, Twin Children of James and Ann Simpson, Born at Malaga, October 17, 1859. Died. Julia December 3, 1859. William September 6, 1860. No sin. No sorrow. No complaints our pleasure here destroy. We live with God and all his saints….

Body disposal for non-Catholics in Malaga in the 19th century was a problem. Interment of Protestants was not permitted in the existing graveyards. By law, non-Catholics could only be buried during the night on the beach in a non-restful upright position, hardly comforting to relatives left behind to envision them exposed by tidal fluctuations, easy prey for soothing the hunger pangs of dogs on the prowl.

In 1829, the British Consul succeeded in gaining permission for a cemetery for Protestants on land that was then on the outskirts of town – the first Protestant cemetery in all of Spain.

Among its early residents was Robert Boyd, an Irish-American. Boyd came under the influence of Jose Maria Torrijos y Uriarte (1791-1831), and it is no coincidence they died on the same date. Following his exile in England, Torrijos launched a group of 60 liberals from Gibraltar to deliver a manifesto supporting the constitution of 1812 in opposition to the absolute monarchist Ferdinand VII (1784-1833).

The idealists thought they would land to spread the words that would immediately inspire an uprising. Unfortunately, the king’s men were expecting them. Forty-nine men were executed on San Andres Beach of Malaga. Forty-eight of the men regarded as heroes after the unpopular King Ferdinand VII’s death were interred under a landmark obelisk in the middle of Plaza Merced. Boyd, the Protestant, instead was bound for Cementerio Ingles.

Eight crew members of the SMS Gneisenau found permanent harbor there in December 1900. The Bismarck-class corvette of the German Imperial Navy had full sails to supplement its steam engines and bore a battery of 14 15-centimeter guns, all of which were useless when a fierce storm drove the ship into a stone breakwater at Malaga.

The nonprofit operating the English Cemetery struggles to maintain it. Much of the small graveyard is crumbling. It is far from the elevated aristocratic monumental cemeteries Protestant dead luxuriate in elsewhere in Europe.

But I’ll leave you with the words inscribed on my favorite headstone, that of Joseph Bertram Griffin (1920-1968), who died in Torremolinos. We think his wife, three children and little Zizi (a dog?) missed him, but the inscribed double negative made their feelings unclear. Typos carved in stone:

May God have your soul (in French).

Also with the love of your 3 children and your little Zizi which cannot never forget the wonderfull Daddy and for me husband you was.

Rest in peace. You too, Zizi, whatever and wherever you might be.

Postcard from Turin, Italy: Letting the graveyard provide introductions

Carlo Tancredi Falletti (1782-1838), Marquis of Barolo, was mayor of Turin in 1827 when he determined the city needed an elegant new cemetery. At the time, Turin was the capital of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia.

The Monumental Cemetery of Turin (Cimitero Monumentale di Torino) occupies almost 150 acres of land. And, once again, this taphophile is introducing you to a city via a visit to its residents of yore.

A woman after my own heart, Manuela Vetrano has written a book on this particular cemetery – Torino Silenziosa.

It was 2011 and I was walking through the most ancient part of the Cemetery of Turin, surrounded by magnificent works of art by important names in Italian history. I started wondering why there was no one else but me. Superstition? Fear? I thought it would be nice to let others know about this rich and important place. I started looking for books and documents about the Cemetery and I spent many hours inside it to observe and study tombs and monuments. I collected so much material that it allowed me to open my blog, lead guided tours, and write a book, too. The stories that struck me the most refer to almost unknown personalities.

“The Monumental Cemetery of Turin: Interview with Manuela Vetrano,” Emanuela Borgatta Dunnett, Wall Street Journal, December 1, 2018