My visit to Highgate Cemetery was unlike any other cemetery visit I’ve been to. My dad owns three cemeteries, so I am fairly used to seeing cemeteries. I’ve been to work with my dad, which allows me to connect to the characters in Falling Angels. I wouldn’t necessarily have been playing in the cemetery, but it wasn’t a place of grief for me, like they are for most other people. This is not to say that I haven’t had a traditional experience of a cemetery. I have visited grandparents that have passed on, as well as friends and family friends.
But upon visiting Highgate, I gained yet another perspective of a cemetery. The first difference I noticed was that these have above ground crypts. According to my dad, these are not common in America, as opposed to traditional burial sites. I understood how it is a way for the living to connect with the dead, as they occupy the same space. But it goes past that. This is a place that the living and the dead, and possibly whoever is watching over them as well (maybe angels). This is a place where all different religions, ethnicities, genders, classes, and time periods all come to rest in peace together. And of course there are also the people that visit them.
There was a lot of symbolism in this cemetery. For example, the broken columns symbolize a life lost too soon. There were snakes biting their tales, called ouroboros. Ouroboros represent an idea of a life cycle. A person goes through their life, then the afterlife, and is eventually reborn, according to the ideology behind ouroboros. Of course, angels are seen as protectors in Christian religions (guardian angels).
In addition to these, there were some unique ones. There was a man who had a very loyal dog, so they made a statue of his dog. Another had a lion. The most unique one I saw was one man had a horse. According to our tour guide, Helena, this man was actually a horse butcher. I’m not sure the reasoning behind putting that type of statue, and I don’t think I want to find out really. Then of course there was the sleeping angel. We’ve read about this angel so much in falling angels. It is so uniquely characterized, and is really gorgeous.
The other side of the cemetery was definitely more modern. It was much better kept, and more recent burials. It was pretty exciting to see Karl Marx’s grave. There were also famous writers there.
I definitely believe this experience of a cemetery has changed my view on a cemetery, and I will be carrying this new perspective with me in the future when I visit cemeteries. I never expected one cemetery visit to completely change how I see all cemeteries.