Holy Rood Cemetery was established by Holy Trinity Catholic Church in 1832, and it shows its age. Many monuments are worn to the point of illegibility, and many others still are cracked and tumbling. Here, the Virgin Mother is fallen, cut down at the knees, and a feeble attempt to restore her to grace belays the general indifference of her caretakers. There, a crucifix is split into pieces, a literal bifurcation reflecting the fractured nature of Christianity itself.
How long is a cemetery meant to last anyway? At what degree of remove from the present does a cemetery become an archaeological site? A tarnished and faded historical marker in some grassy park, the sacred memories of the individuals once mourned here reduced by time into mere abstractions of human beings? Racial symbolism aside, maybe that father and his kids have the right idea – the gradual reclamation of this space through amnesia. Some of the burials at Holy Rood are comparatively recent – I spotted one or two that took place in the 1970s – but the vast majority date from a century or so before that. Very few among the living have any immediate personal connection to those buried here.
Certainly, no one needs to actively destroy a cemetery, but maybe letting wind and weather have their slow way on the graves of the past is as fitting a tribute as any. There’s a poetry in that which will stir you to reflect upon the world and your place in it. I defy you to be similarly moved in the well-manicured Oak Hill Cemetery down the street – but to take that dare, you’ll need to bring your wallet to cover the cost of admission. The silent folks at Holy Rood won’t charge you anything for their enlightened company.
Abandoned Washington DC by Thomas Kenning