Protestant Cemetery, Rome

Coordinates: 41°52′35″N 12°28′48″E / 41.8764°N 12.4799°E / 41.8764; 12.4799
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Non-Catholic Cemetery
Protestant Cemetery
Cimitero acattolico
Coordinates41°52′35″N 12°28′48″E / 41.8764°N 12.4799°E / 41.8764; 12.4799
Style18th–19th-century European
WebsiteOfficial website Edit this at Wikidata
Find a GraveNon-Catholic Cemetery
Protestant Cemetery

The Non-Catholic Cemetery (Italian: Cimitero Acattolico), also referred to as the Protestant Cemetery (Italian: Cimitero dei protestanti) or the English Cemetery (Italian: Cimitero degli Inglesi), is a private cemetery in the rione of Testaccio in Rome. It is near Porta San Paolo and adjacent to the Pyramid of Cestius, a small-scale Egyptian-style pyramid built between 18 and 12 BCE as a tomb and later incorporated into the section of the Aurelian Walls that borders the cemetery. It has Mediterranean cypress, pomegranate and other trees, and a grassy meadow. It is the final resting place of non-Catholics including but not exclusive to Protestants or British people. The earliest known burial is that of a Dr Arthur, a Protestant medical doctor hailing from Edinburgh, in 1716.[1] The English poets John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, as well as Russian painter Karl Briullov and Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci are buried there.


Since the norms of the Catholic Church forbade burying on consecrated ground non-Catholics – including Protestants, Jews and Orthodox – as well as suicides (these, after death, were "expelled" by the Christian community and buried outside the walls or at the extreme edge of the same). Burials occurred at night to avoid manifestations of religious fanaticism and to preserve the safety of those who participated in the funeral rites. An exception was made for Sir Walter Synod, who in 1821 managed to bury his daughter in broad daylight and, he was accompanied by a group of guards to be protected from incursions of fanatics.[2]

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the area of the non-Catholic cemetery was called "The meadows of the Roman people". It was an area of public property, where drovers used to graze the cattle, wine was kept in the cavities created in the so-called Monte dei Cocci, an artificial hill where the Romans went to have fun.[2] The area was dominated by the Pyramid of Caius Cestius which for centuries was one of the most visited monuments of the city. It was the non-Catholics themselves who chose those places for their burials, and they were allowed by a decision of the Holy Office, which in 1671 consented that the "non-Catholic Lords" who died in the city were spared the shame of finding a burial together with prostitutes and sinners in the cemetery of the Muro Torto. The first burial of a Protestant was that of a follower of the exiled King James VII and II, named William Arthur, who died in Rome where he had come to escape the repressions following the defeats of the Jacobites in Scotland. Other burials followed, which did not concern only courtiers of King James II, who in the meanwhile had settled in Rome. It is said that in 1732 the treasurer of the King of England, William Ellis, was buried at the foot of the Pyramid. By that time the area had acquired the status of a cemetery of the British, although the people buried there were not only from the United Kingdom.[3]

The cemetery developed without any official recognition and only at the end of 1700 the authorities started to take care of it. It was not until the 1920s that the government appointed a custodian to oversee the area and the cemetery functions. The public disinterest was mainly determined by the fact that in the current mentality, where the only burial conceived by the Catholics were the ones happening in a church, the availability of a cemetery that provided non-Catholic burials was not considered a privilege.[4]

At the beginning of the nineteenth century in the cemetery area there was only holly, and there was no other natural nor artificial protection for the tombs scattered in the countryside, where cattle were grazing. The cypresses that adorn the cemetery today were planted later on. In 1824 a moat was erected that surrounded the ancient part of the cemetery. In ancient times crosses or inscriptions were forbidden, as in all non-Catholic cemeteries, at least until 1870.[2]

For a long time there have been common graves divided by nations: Germany, Greece, Sweden and Romania.[2]

As of 2011, the custody and management of the cemetery was entrusted to foreign representatives in Italy.

The great, hundred-year-old cypresses, the green meadow that surrounds part of the tombs, the white pyramid that stands behind the enclosure of Roman walls, together with the cats that walk undisturbed among the tombstones written in all the languages of the world, give to this small cemetery a peculiar aura. As in use in Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, there are no photographs on the tombstones.


The Non-Catholic Cemetery of Rome is intended for the rest of all non-Catholics, without any distinction of nationality. However, there are only relatively few illustrious Italians buried there (including, now, the former President of Italy Giorgio Napolitano). They are allowed a spot in this cemetery for the alternative culture and ideas expressed in life ("foreign" compared to the dominant one), for the quality of their work, or for certain circumstances of their life for which they were somehow "foreign" in their own country. Among them, the politicians Antonio Gramsci and Emilio Lussu alongside Giorgio Napolitano, the writer and poet Dario Bellezza, the writers Carlo Emilio Gadda and Luce d'Eramo and a few others. It is rare that new burials are added. On 18 July 2019, the writer Andrea Camilleri was buried here.


Nicholas Stanley-Price has published an Inventory of early burials at the Non-Catholic Cemetery.[5]

John Keats[edit]

Tombstone of John Keats

Keats died in Rome of tuberculosis at the age of 25, and is buried in the cemetery. His epitaph, which does not mention him by name, is by his friends Joseph Severn and Charles Armitage Brown, and reads:

This grave contains all that was mortal, of a young English poet, who on his death bed, in the bitterness of his heart, at the malicious power of his enemies, desired these words to be engraven on his tombstone: Here lies one whose name was writ in water.

Percy Bysshe Shelley[edit]

Tombstone of Percy Bysshe Shelley

Shelley drowned in 1822 in a sailing accident off the Italian Riviera. When his body washed up upon the shore, a copy of Keats's poetry borrowed from Leigh Hunt was discovered in his pocket, doubled back, as though it had been put away in a hurry. He was cremated on the beach near Viareggio by his friends, the poet Lord Byron and the English adventurer Edward John Trelawny. His ashes were sent to the British consulate in Rome, who had them interred in the Protestant Cemetery some months later.

Shelley's heart supposedly survived cremation and was snatched out of the flames by Trelawny, who subsequently gave it to Shelley's widow, Mary. When Mary Shelley died, the heart was found in her desk wrapped in the manuscript of "Adonais", the elegy Shelley had written the year before upon the death of Keats, in which the poet urges the traveller, "Go thou to Rome ...".

Shelley and Mary's three-year-old son William was also buried in the Protestant Cemetery.

Shelley's heart[6] was finally buried, encased in silver, in 1889, with the son who survived him, Sir Percy Florence Shelley,[7] but his gravestone in the Protestant Cemetery is inscribed: Cor cordium ("heart of hearts"), followed by a quotation from Shakespeare's The Tempest:

Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea change,
Into something rich and strange.

Other burials[edit]

Grave of Gregory Corso
Grave of Antonio Gramsci
Devereux Plantagenet Cockburn, † 1850, monument by Benjamin Edward Spence
Grave of Hans von Marées
Story's Angel of Grief

See also[edit]


  1. ^[bare URL PDF]
  2. ^ a b c d Il cimitero acattolico di Roma – Guida per i visitatori. Rome. 1956.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  3. ^ "Amici del Cimitero Acattolico di Roma" (PDF).
  4. ^ Menniti Ippolito, Antonio (2014). Il Cimitero acattolico di Roma. La presenza protestante nella città del papa. Rome: Viella.
  5. ^ "The Old Cemetery for Foreigners in Rome". Editorial Committee of the Swedish Institutes at Athens and Rome. 2 November 2020. doi:10.30549/opathrom-13-08. S2CID 228811518. Retrieved 30 March 2022.
  6. ^ Or, some have suggested, his liver. See "Possibly Not Shelley's Heart?", The New York Times, 28 June 1885.
  7. ^ Lexa Selph, "Shelley's Heart", Letter to the Editor, The New York Times, 8 June 1985.
  8. ^ Bandettini, Anna (14 December 2016). "Morta Maria Pia Fusco, una vita di passione per il cinema". (in Italian). Retrieved 28 February 2019.

Further reading[edit]

  • Stanley-Price, Nicholas (2014). The Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome: its history, its people and its survival for 300 years. Rome: Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome. ISBN 978-8890916809.
  • Antonio Menniti Ippolito, Il Cimitero acattolico di Roma. la presenza protestante nella città del papa, Roma, Viella, 2014, ISBN 978-8867281145

External links[edit]