Cemetery Angel

Cemetery angel

A moving tribute to death

The cemetery in the Testaccio neighborhood in Rome has many names; Campo Cestio, The Protestant Cemetery, The Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners, or the Cat Cemetery. It holds the grave of the poet John Keats, the famous pyramid of Rome, about 40 cats, and most importantly it holds the grave of Emelyn Story. What’s that, you don’t know who Emelyn Story is? Well, neither do I. However, I know that Emelyn Story is eternally associated with the most beautiful, moving sculpture I’ve ever seen.

I was following our Rome Food Tour guide through the cemetery and he was filling our heads with all kinds of information about the cemetery; specifically stories about John Keats. When we went up the small hill, I stopped immediately. I sucked in a short breath, my hands dropped to my sides in a limp fashion and I just stared.

The angel was all I could see.

I have seen all kinds of grave stones before, but none as beautiful and emotive as this one. The feeling coming out of this gravestone was pure despair and surrender. I felt as if this guardian angel had finally lost the battle it had fought for Emelyn Story.  Now it was guarding her in her death.

I stood back away from her at first and took in the scene letting it settle on my heart and mind. As I walked up closer and examined the grave marker I about expected to see a tear coming from the angel’s eye. I circled her, I photographed her, and I wondered who Emelyn Story was and how she received such a beautiful tribute in her death.

By far this was the most memorable piece of art that I’ve seen in Rome, Italy, or Europe. I’m not sure why it touched me, but it did.

I know I could probably research Emelyn and the angel, but I choose to let it remain a mystery.  That way I left it how I found it; sometimes we don’t need to know everything about a person.

The whole cemetery is beautiful, you could spend hours there away from the bustle of Rome. It was my favorite place we visited, thanks to Emelyn’s angel.

Emelyn Story angel

Who was Emelyn Story?


The non-catholic Cemetery has many surprises

rome pyramid

A pyramid tomb is the most prominent grave in the cemetery

john keats grave

The most famous grave in the cemetery – John Keats. It simply states, “Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water.”


The graves were all quite different

wild flowers

Wild daisies had started to bloom, giving an accurate meaning to the phrase, “pushing up daisies.”

sleeping cat

The cemetery is home to over 40 cats and donations are taken for them. When the cemetery closes for the day the caretakers put on classical music which let the cats know they can come out and roam.


Emelyn’s Angel


Where are your favorite cemeteries?

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Your Comments

14 Comments so far

  1. Dalene says:

    Wonderful evocative piece with amazing pictures to go with it. I especially love the classical music for the kitties… :)

  2. Nailah says:

    Perfect timing for me – I actually spent the day wandering through cemeteries in Japan today. These photos are great and I will make it a point to visit Emelyn’s grave site one day. I’d love to see that angel statue in person.

  3. Penny says:

    I’ve long wanted to go to this cemetery. Next trip coming soon! My favorite so far is Highgate in London.

  4. The Angle of Grief was sculpted by Emelyn’s husband, writer and sculptor William Wetmore Story of Salem,MA.They lived in Rome at Palazzo Barberini and were impt. members of the expat community.
    They both died in 1895 she was 75, he 78. In the same cemetery their son Joseph (died at 6 in 1853) is also buried. Lots of replicas of the Angel exist around the world since it is so touching.

  5. Marion says:

    Sherry, you would love the Cimitero Monumentale in Milan! One can spend hours there. It’s a photographer’s paradise … so to speak. Check it out online. The grave markers are amazing, from ornate statues of the departed, angels and bereaved family members to ‘streets’ of unique mausoleums.
    If you can’t make it on this trip, then put it on your list for a future trip to Italy – and don’t miss the Milan cathedral’s rooftop walk while you’re there!

  6. Lethers says:

    Cemeteries are such evocative places. You really captured the feel of the place in both words and pictures.

  7. Impressive photo set! Btw the pyramid is dating back to 18-12 BC. It is the tomb of Gaius Cestius and therefore known as Piramide Cestia (Pyramid of Cestius)

    • Sherry says:

      Thanks Andreas! I really loved this cemetery – was my favorite new find in Rome. The pyramid was a surprise – I never had heard of it before.

  8. Jess C. says:

    Glad to hear others love funerary art as much as I do. I took a whole class in it in university and it is some of the most moving, telling, and fascinating art in the world.

    The pyramid was actually quite a common funerary art fixture during the neoclassical period when Egyptomania struck. And grieving angels and the like were very popular during the Victorian period when large-scale public mourning was popular.

    Victorian funerary art is actually some of my favourite, it is expressive in a completely different way from modernist and postmodernist funerary art (think WWI & WWII graves, or today’s graves decorated with plastic flowers and memorabilia). I concur with you, Emelyn’s angel is lovely.

    Have you ever been to Pierre Lachaise (Paris) or Highgate (London) cemeteries?

  9. JoAnna says:

    I absolutely adore taking photos in cemeteries. These are great shots, Sherry. That angel is awesome!

    • Sherry says:

      Thanks JoAnna – I have visited some gorgeous and moving cemeteries on this trip to Europe – just got back from the Jewish cemetery in Berlin too. One of my fav travel stops in any city.

  10. I seek out cemeteries whereever I go. I always fall in love with at least one angel.

  11. Marc says:

    Great pictures . What a scalpture . I wish to see tnie place

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