An old English Cemetery in Italy



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With the Livornine laws, promulgated by Grand Duke Ferdinando I °, starting from 1590, to favor the economy and the repopulation of an unhealthy and malarial zone, the Jewish communities were allowed first, and then all the others, to settle in Livorno. The main purpose was to attract the rich Sephardic communities.

The Holy Inquisition of Pisa, however, was not far away, and those who professed another faith, even if protected by special laws, had to do so with caution and without ostentation. Non-Catholic places of worship and even cemeteries were prohibited. Before the construction of the English cemetery, those who died strangers in Italy ended up buried outside the walls, together with the animals.

The studies carried out by the Livorno delle Nazioni Association have led to new discoveries and to overturn many theories about the English cemetery in via Verdi. The date written on the sign is at least a hundred years wrong. The will of an English merchant drawn up in 1643 was discovered in London. He leaves £ 150 for the purchase of burial ground for the English nation in Livorno. The first and oldest burial in the upper left corner of the cemetery dates back to three years later, 1646, belonging, coincidentally, to Daniel Oxenbridge, a friend of those who drafted the will.

That in Via Verdi in Livorno is the oldest English cemetery in Italy, the oldest cemetery in Livorno and, even, the oldest English cemetery in the Mediterranean. It housed 450 tombs from 1646 to 1840 on half a hectare of land. Its historical importance is very remarkable. In 1735, on a map, it is already defined as an old cemetery. Official authorization for burials only came in 1737, since then, all those of non-Catholic religion who found themselves dying nearby were buried here, even if they did not live in Livorno. It was the only place in Italy where Protestants from all over Europe, Huguenots, Waldensians, Swedes, Swiss etc. could be buried.

The main entrance is U-shaped, before the war there was a low wall and a railing now destroyed. During its construction the cemetery was close to military posts and for this reason it could not have walls or too high monuments.

Making a grave in the English cemetery was as expensive as the repatriation of the body, and only the wealthiest could afford it. Mostly they are wealthy merchants with their families. A grouping of guild burials has been noted.

The most famous and most visited tomb is that of the Scottish writer Tobias Smollett, (1721-1771) author, among other things, of the famous The Expedition of Humphry Clinker. Smollett lived in Montenero, died in 71, even if it 73 is written incorrectly on the tombstone. His tomb does not differ from many other similar ones, recalls an obelisk, according to the fashion of Egyptology that raged after the Napoleonic expeditions to Africa. Now it is extremely bare, the metal parts, the marble sphere on the top and the other four lateral spheres have been stolen. Tourists, even those of the eighteenth century, stripped the tomb to take home a piece of marble as a souvenir.

The explorer William Broughton is also buried here, his grave was found on top of another. During the Second World War, in fact, the cemetery was devastated by bombing. Two photographs found in London prove this. At the end of the war, the bombed tombs were badly and hastily reassembled with pieces of one aggregated to the other and it is now difficult to establish what belongs to whom. Of the 130 missing tombs, the Association has managed to track down 30 to date.

Many members of the Lefroy family are buried in this cemetery, starting with grandfather Antonio. The Lefroys are known for talking about Jane Austen who had an unfortunate love affair with one of the descendants.

We also find:

Baron Von Stosch, a controversial figure, spy of the English government, friend of the archaeologist Winckelmann, who gave rise to the first Masonic sect of the eighteenth century;

Francis Horner, English parliamentarian friend of Ugo Foscolo;

Vieusseux's father and another relative, Pietro Senn, founder of the Chamber of Commerce and the Leopolda railway;

John Wood, captain of Peregrine, vessel protagonist of the battle of Livorno in 1653, between the English and the Dutch;

thirteen-year-old William Thompson, a sailor for whom someone wanted a different fate than burial at sea;

Louisa Pitt, lover of William Thompson Backford (1760 - 1844) author of the Gothic novel Vathec;

Mrs Mason, or Margaret King, writer and doctor, pupil of Mary Wollstonecraft, friend of her daughter Mary Shelley and of the husband of the latter, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who opened a lounge in Pisa frequented by the best minds of the time.

A separate discussion concerns the tomb of William Magee Seton, husband of Elisabeth Seton, an American saint. The parish priest of the homonymous parish intervened in 2004 with an excavator in a terrain that does not allow the entry of these vehicles - to the point that the association's volunteers are forced to cut the dangerous branches by hand. The exhumation of the remains of Elisabeth's husband seriously damaged the tomb. Note that William Seton was Protestant and non-Catholic.

The cemetery was not planned for people to spend time there, as in the large Pere Lachaise cemeteries in Paris or Highgate in London.

There are triangular prism tombs, very similar in shape to those found in Jewish cemeteries in Holland and in the Sephardic communities, confirming a privileged relationship between the Jewish and Protestant religions, both based on the direct exegesis of the Old Testament. The tombs of the English cemeteries of Tunisia and Greece are different. In addition to the triangular prism shape, there are also mixed tombstones and monuments in column, obelisk and others.

The symbols inscribed on the tombs become more complex and more beautiful as the years go by, as from the seventeenth century Baroque one proceeds towards the neoclassical style of the late eighteenth century. There are references to dance macabre, according to a fashion that became popular after the plague of the fourteenth century, to the phoenix, to the pomegranate - connected to the myth of Persephone - to ouroborus, the snake that eats its tail, torches, and entwined hands.

The Association carried out the census and mapping of the tombs, both on site and those found only on documents, developing an integrated database with studies from all over Europe and centered on the plan of the architect Soggi. Volunteers are dedicated to cleaning, cutting the grass and collecting waste. They also tried to protect the cemetery during the invasive works for the construction of the parking lot in the area of ​​the former Odeon cinema.

A collaboration with the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Pisa, represented by Professor Giacomo Lorenzini, has produced new knowledge on the vegetation present, dispelling the legend of the presence of the famous Virginia elm which is, in reality, a hackberry.

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