It is a humble human desire to want the peace of knowing that after we die our mortal remains will be handled in a dignified manner. When our Catholic cemeteries were established as early as the 1840’s, people began to purchase the best lots they could afford. Just like any other land purchase, the view weighed heavily on location choice within the cemeteries. Many of our cemeteries feature panoramic views of distant mountains to the east and west with the Hudson River Valley nestled in between. A well-chosen cemetery lot brought people the comfort of knowing that when they die, they will spend eternal rest in a place where the living enjoyed visiting. Cemetery lots were extremely important to the people of the Victorian Era. Lot owners of all socio-economic means took great pride in maintaining their sacred spaces. Quaint little marble headstones and ornately carved granite monuments provide the visitor with a lesson in art and in history. The wealthiest citizens gave us even more to admire. They competed amongst themselves to mark their lots with the grandest monuments money could buy. They certainly memorialized themselves in style! As a result, Albany Diocesan Cemeteries feature beautiful collections of sculptures, stained glass and neo-classical architecture all located on vast and open spaces.
I’ve seen a big increase in the number of people walking cemetery grounds since the Stay at Home and Social Distancing order began. People have always power-walked and jogged in our cemeteries, but what I see now is different. Families, couples and the solitary walker are walking leisurely and really exploring our cemetery grounds. Our wide-open sacred grounds make social distancing easy. I like to see people stopping to read inscriptions on old gravestones. Now is a good time to explore cemeteries and learn something about the past. Why not take pictures of gravestone carvings and look up what the symbols mean? You’ll find a variety of religious symbols and carvings of flowers, ivy, clasped hands, anchors, oak leaves and acorns and much more. What does the actual style of the monument tell us about the person/people it memorializes? There is a lot of information about gravestone symbolism on-line. For an overview of gravestone styles as they relate to attitudes towards death and mourning from the 1600’s to present, check out “A Walk Through Time” You will look at cemeteries in a new light! – Kelly Grimaldi