Holy Rood Cemetery


The whole point of a cemetery is to help us remember.  We erect sturdy granite markers – monuments meant to outlive us – to ensure that we don’t forget.  More than many things in our disposable culture, a cemetery is built to endure.  But nothing lasts forever, not even memory.  At some point, stone crumbles and nature takes over.  There’s a sun setting on this hallowed ground.  And when the blankness of night falls, what will be left of Holy Rood Cemetery in Glover Park except another ruin?


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.


Glover Park

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Abandoned Washington DC by Thomas Kenning


3 thoughts on “Holy Rood Cemetery

  1. Someone should invite the Archbishop and the Apostolic Delegate to take a tour. It is now a monument to hypocrisy.

    Posted by Bill O'Keefe | January 28, 2014, 11:54 pm
  2. The owner is Georgetown University. If the university feels they are not in the ‘business’ of cemetery maintenance, they should work towards a solution that shows respect to those buried there. To bury one’s head in the sand is not a solution. Georgetown U. doesn’t even bother to patrol the cemetery even though they have their own police department supposedly dedicated to protect both campus and off-campus properties. There are stones dated as late as 2008, and still a sizable amount of plot owners out there, so it is still an active cemetery. The owners should either render the cemetery self-sustainable again by removing oldest monuments / interred bodies (after contacting families of course) to make room for new burials. Or move all the interred bodies to another location where they are cared after appropriately. Doing nothing is simply shameful.

    Posted by Phil Gillard | October 1, 2017, 7:09 pm
  3. In 2008, I offered to help the university form a non-profit organization to raise repair and maintenance funds for Holy Rood. GU gave me the back of its hand in a display of arrogance.

    Posted by Bill O'Keefe | November 25, 2017, 7:16 pm

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