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San Michele Cemetery

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San Michele Cemetery and vaporetto

ABOVE: Vaporetti run to the island almost constantly during All Saints' Week.

Segregation by sect

San Michele Cetemery mausoleumsMost of San Michele's acreage is reserved for Catholics--a fact that's hardly surprising in a country where Roman Catholics, practicing or otherwise, make up the vast majority of the population. In Venice: The Art of Living, Frédéric Viteaux describes the Catholic cemetery during All Saints' Week:

"A free vaporetto takes the inhabitants of the city from the Fondamenta Nuove to the island. The women carry flowers--their figures swallowed up by pots of huge chrsyanthemums, rumpled and white, yellow, and pink. They look like an army of flowers on the march disembarking in front of the church and the Emiliani chapel, filing into the right-angle lanes of the cemetery. The chrysanthemums advance like the forest in Macbeth. The living have done their duty. They return to the vaporetto, satisfied. Perhaps the dead are, too."

The island has two mini-graveyards for other Christian sects: the Greci or Greek Orthodox cemetery, where Igor Stravisky and Sergei Diaghilev are buried; and the Protestant graveyard, whose most famous resident is Ezra Pound. (Jews have their own cemetery on the Lido, Venice's resort island.)

Tombstone in San Michele CemeteryIn contrast to the formal and beautifully tended Catholic gardens of graves, the Greci and Protestant sections have an atmosphere of rustic decay. Some tombstones are covered in moss; a few lean at precipitous angles; several have keeled over in a parody of those whose deaths they commemorate.

The occasional English epitaph reminds visitors of a time when the British upper classes regarded Venice as a home away from home. The most famous inscription honors a Staffordshire man who was said to have "Left us in peace, Febry 2, 1910."

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