Cemetery Travel: More Than Just Looking at Gravestones

Recently I mentioned the term “necro-tourism” to someone and he recoiled just a bit when I said it. He gave me a quizzical look and said it sounded like something to do with dead people. I chuckled when he said that and then I said YES! That is exactly what it is about but there is more to it than that. You might have also heard it referred to as cemetery travel or tombstone travel.

 

Necro-tourism is a type of tourism that oriented towards cemeteries. It is about the lives and stories behind the deceased, artwork and sculptures found in cemeteries, and an appreciation of the beauty that lies within its stillness. I have long been a fan of necro-tourism, even before it was a thing, and I try to visit cemeteries in all of the states and countries I visit.

 

Before I go on a trip, I try to do a little research. I like learning about my intended destination, and the prominent people that shaped the history and development of the area. I like to read about the good, bad, and the ugly. Yes….I do enjoy hearing about the scandals! If they are buried nearby I go see their graves, those of their family members, as well as other notables in the cemetery.

 

I seek out travel guides that can give me a rundown of the nice hotels, museums, and cultural attractions. I would look for tips and suggestions that will help me make the most of my trip. I don’t want to miss out on anything that would be of interest to me and I especially like to save money at the same time. I have a fondness for old churches and cathedrals so I always look for those, and I usually try to find a guided cemetery tour offered by a historical or preservation society as well.

 

I don’t recall exactly when cemeteries came into focus for my travel plans but somewhere along the line they did. When I tell my Dad about it, he just shakes his head. I know for certain that my affinity for cemeteries did NOT come from him.

 

Most Tragic Cemetery

One of the most tragic cemeteries I have visited is here in Texas. The event that precipitated this cemetery happened in 1993 and is known to the public as The Waco Siege. In case of the rare chance that you don’t know what that was, it was an event that occurred in April 1993 in which the FBI and ATF raided the Branch Davidian compound (also known as Mount Carmel). The raid occurred because the religious cult, led by David Koresh, were suspected of stockpiling illegal weapons.

 

The Siege lasted 51 days and included a gun battle, tanks, tear gas, and a fire that and resulted in the deaths of 4 FBI agents and almost 80 Branch Davidians including 28 children. There is great debate over who shot first and who is at fault but it really doesn’t matter all these years later. I am fairly certain when I say we will never know the entire truth.

Grave of one of the many young member of the Branch Davidians.

Grave of one of the many young member of the Branch Davidians.

Many if not most of the Branch Davidians are now buried in Austin in what appears to be a pauper’s field. There is nothing that alerts you to the events that got them there, and there was nothing at the time of my visit that tells you to who they were and how they played a part in Texas history.

 

For some, there is no name. Only “Unknown” and the date 1993. For others, you become painfully aware of their youth and the life that was stolen from them. I felt great sadness for those who had no active part in how things played out (the kids) when I visited the cemetery and I can only hope that the innocent did not suffer.

 

Most Scenic Cemetery

This one is tough because some of the truly old cemeteries in Ireland, especially the ones in priories and abbeys, are absolutely stunning. I think it has to do with the contrast between the emerald beauty of the island and the crumbling headstones that strikes me the most.

 

A few years ago I was in Ireland on a paranormal trip with friends and we were able to see Bridgetown Abbey. Located just a mile or two from Blackwater Castle (where my friends and I stayed), it was built in the early 1200’s as a Augustinian priory including cloister, refectory, and kitchen.

The abbey also served as the burial place of the Roche family, an important family in the history of Castletownroche. The abbey ceased to function when it was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1540. The nave has a dozen or two grave stones showing the expected wear and tear from hundreds of years of the elements, and there were a few graves that were somewhat broken and caved in.

Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery in San Juan, Puerto Rico

My other favorite scenic cemetery is very different because of the tropical location in which you will find it. A few years ago we went to Puerto Rico for the first time. Peanut was at camp that week so we took the opportunity for a little getaway and adult time.

Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery in San Juan took my breath away. We were actually visiting the Castillo San Felipe Del Morro when it came into view: there it was atop a cliff overlooking the ocean. Many notables are buried there including politicians, businessmen, actors, journalists, and musicians among others.

 

For me, the ocean backdrop to this stunning historic cemetery plus the rich culture of Puerto Rico and the delicious food made for a great week. There was a small cemetery right next door to the condo we had rented that kept me busy for a few hours. Cemeteries are quite plentiful and easy to find in Puerto Rico.

 

Catacombs

If you don’t know what catacombs are, they are human-made subterranean passageways used for burial. Five years ago Peanut and I were in Paris and we climbed approximately 20 meters down to this maze of bones and human remains. The ossuary was built in the 18th as a result of cemeteries that were operating above capacity and the public health and safety concerns resulting from that. Once the catacombs were ready, the contents of the cemeteries’ were moved underground.

 

The portion of the Paris Catacombs accessible for tours is just a small part of the entire subterranean structure. Openings have been found in other locations around the city but it is not advisable to enter anywhere other than where the official tour begins and ends due to safety concerns.

Me and Peanut in the Paris Catacombs

Me and Peanut in the Paris Catacombs

Rome has its own catacombs but there are no longer human remains there. Catacombe di San Callisto was utilized from the 3rd to 5th centuries. Part of the larger Complesso Callistiano, the entire catacomb system is said to occupy nearly thirty-hectare area (approximately 75 acres by my calculations) bordered by the Via Appia Antica, Via Ardeatina and Vicolo delle Sette Chiese.

 

Since there are no human remains, it appears as tunnels with empty cells in the walls. While not as intriguing as the Paris Catacombs, it was still fascinating and worth the tour ticket. It seemed easier to access for some reason than the Paris Catacombs but, in retrospect, it was probably the same.

 

Necro-tourism isn’t at all as ominous as it sounds but it is definitely fascinating. Next time you are sipping margaritas on the beach, search for local cemeteries and research their history. Chances are you will get a broader, more complete, and probably more colorful history of the area. If you need help in this regard, shoot me an email and I will be happy to help you find something. Better yet, if you have visited an interesting cemetery, feel free to share it on Facebook and tag me @NoOrdinaryTravels. I would love to read about it!

Merry Christmas my friends! NYE is coming up and it is time to give some purposeful thought to what you want your 2020 to be!

Annette


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