Supermarkets teach us about how people live and graveyards or cemeteries show us how people die, or how we deal with death. So, visiting them when you travel can be very useful. Personally, I’m not compelled to walk around big cemeteries, like the famous Pére Lachaise, in Paris, for example, a tourist attraction by itself, but I like to sneak in small ancient graveyards behind village churches. They give me a feeling of time travel. The ordinary small places where anonymous souls rest in peace all over the world, their essential biographies, the date of birth and death engraved, an attempt to fight the urge everyone else has to move on and forget.
The image above is a tomb in the graveyard behind St. Mary’s Church, in Kilkenny, Ireland, where probably a couple was buried together to be side by side in eternity. There’s no date engraved on the stone and it might go back hundreds of years. Were they a happy couple? Or protagonists of a tragic and forbidden love story, destined to be united in the afterlife? Does anyone still remember them?
Years ago, I stayed at a friend’s house in Oxted, Surrey, just outside of London. I was impressed by the beautiful town’s church graveyard, shinning among golden wheat fields under a rare London summer sun. I also never forget the old Jewish Cemetery in Prague with its tombstones piled on the top of each other as the souls were screaming for help.
A view in eternity
In St. Sernin du Bois, a small village in Burgundy, France, I took a long time walking around a dear friend father’s tomb, in the local cemetery overlooking a peaceful lake, a bridge, and green hills dotted with Charolais cattle. My friend told me stories about people he knew in this community of 1,800 souls where he grew up, like the 13 year-old boy who committed suicide after a tragic quarrel with his father. Some neighbors’ tombstones were decorated with objects related to their lives, as the farmer who rests forever with a small tractor beside him, or children who died young and enjoy the company of their favorite toy. Most of the souls buried there never left the small town or the vicinity, famous for the artisanal charcuterie and, of course, the wine. When we saw his father’s resting place, I asked him if it was comforting to know that his remains were there, at the town he spent his whole life, where he raised his kids and knew everyone and every stone. “Well, at least he has a wonderful view,” he replied.
He’s right. Below is the view, much nicer than what some people have in front of them for all their lives.