Bagni di Lucca’s English Cemetery (more properly “protestant cemetery” as there are several non-Brits buried there) is only one of a number of graveyards devoted to Italy’s foreign community. Among them there is a fine one in Leghorn (where Tobias Smollett is buried), the one in Florence, well-known for inspiring that evocative painting, Arnold Bocklin’s “The Isle of the Dead”, the Rome one, of course, where “lies one whose name was writ in water” and a particularly charming burial place in the garden of the archaeological museum of Syracuse, Sicily in which the remains of the great neo-classical German poet August von Platen, who died of cholera there in 1835, rest in peace.
(Paying homage, with friend, to Von Platen at Siracusa’s Protestant cemetery in December 2011)
The Cimitero inglese at Bagni was for long neglected and at the mercy of disrespectful buildings around it – there is a warehouse at its back which does little to enhance its otherwise picturesque location on the right bank of the Lima River.
More recently, however, thanks to the intervention of the Fondazione Montaigne the cemetery has been tidied up, slender cypresses have been planted on the inside of its walls and its central avenue and several tombs have been cleaned up.
The ivy-clad, moss-covered broken tombs of romantic, moonlit churchyards may all be very well but nature will reclaim them in even faster time. The return of almost bleached tombstones among the blackened monuments of Bagni’s cemetery may stand out either as examples of good restoration or as an affront to picturesqueness.
My view is that, at least, one can now read the inscriptions on them with greater facility.
Among the worthy buried here are Colonel Henry Stisted and his wife, both of whom contributed so much to the social and cultural life of Bagni di Lucca during the first half of the 19th century – indeed it was the colonel, a Waterloo veteran, who encouraged the construction of the English church and cemetery.
Ouida spent much time in Bagni di Lucca, staying at the Pardini-designed hotel in Ponte a Serraglio which now, like several others in the area, has been converted into private apartments. The once best-seller’s reputation has suffered from the vagaries of literary fashion and her novels have been described as verbose, sentimental, and melodramatic by critics.
I think this is a little unfair. I greatly enjoyed reading the “Waters of Edera” and I would suggest that many other readers would be similarly captivated by Ouida’s unexpectedly fast-moving story lines which certainly influenced the silent cinema. Read “The Moths”, for example, if you are into opera scandals or “Under two flags” if you like thrillers and adventure stories.
Anyway, not only does Ouida AKA Louise de La Ramee lie at length in the graveyard but also a little dog lies at her feet. Ouida spent much of her misspent royalties on caring for abandoned animals and this homage to her (and also to Della Quercia’s Ilaria Del Carretto’s tomb in Lucca’s cathedral sacristy) is quite touching, although I feel that the recent (and still on-going) restoration has made the mutt look a little fierce.
Actually, my favourite dog in the cemetery is not Ouida’s but the one on Ernst Gryzanowski’s tomb. This is also a reference to love for animals since the doctor of medicine and philosophy was a member of the association against the vivisection of animals. Born in 1824 in Konigsberg (the ancient capital of Prussia before it was moved to Berlin and birthplace of that other great philosopher, Immanuel Kant,) Gryzanowski was regarded as an excellent writer on many subjects – including Wagner’s music – by no less than Henry James’ brother, William.
The cleaning of the memorial to Charles Isidore Hemans, the son of another figure subject to the whims of fashion, the poet Felicia Hemans (much admired by Shelley, of all people) has happily revealed a hitherto unreadable inscription on its back – an appropriate quote from one of Felicia’s poems. Who reads Charles’ elegant books on Italian church art and architecture nowadays, I wonder.
The most striking group of newly-cleaned tombs, however, is that belonging to the ladies: Rose Elizabeth Cleveland, sister of the US president Stephen Grover Cleveland, Evangeline Whipple author of “A Famous corner of Tuscany” – a largely historical account of Bagni di Lucca and Nelly Erichsen, poet, writer painter and illustrator of Dent’s “Story of…” travel books on Italy. All these ladies, bound together by bonds of an affection which durst not name itself openly at the time, would need whole separate posts so I’ll just let the tombs speak for themselves.
The last burial in this hallowed corner took place in 1953 and there are still a good half of burial places available for those ex-pats interested. There is a suggestion by the Bagni di Lucca administration that the cemetery be re-opened to fill in the empty places. If this suggestion becomes fact then I would recommend early booking since places may be limited!