Last Landscapes: The Architecture of the Cemetery in the West

By Watkins, Keith | Anglican Theological Review, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Last Landscapes: The Architecture of the Cemetery in the West


Watkins, Keith, Anglican Theological Review


Last Landscapes: The Architecture of the Cemetery in the West. By Ken Worpole and Larraine Worpole (photographer). London: Reaktion Books, 2003. 223 pages. $35.00 (paper).

In addition to being a remarkably beautiful book, Last Landscapes is a persuasive exposition of the "claim [that] the cemetery remains a moral force-field in society, acting as a meeting-place of past and future aspirations, as well as a reminder of the transience of human wishes and actions" (p. 160). The Worpoles have visited many cemeteries throughout the United Kingdom, Europe, and the United States, and Ken Worpole has read exhaustively in literature dealing with cultural attitudes towards death and the final disposition of "the mortal part of man" (from an inscription over the gates to London's Abney Park Cemetery, established 1840, p. 134).

In Last Landscapes, as in four other books published since 1993, Worpole is interested in the relationship of public spaces and other aspects of urban policy. He organizes his descriptive reflections to show how historical developments and cultural variations intersect. An example is the chapter entitled "Cities of the Dead" (p. 79). Worpole begins by discussing D. H. Lawrence s book on Etruscan tombs, built in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C.E. Quoting Lawrence, he states that the arrangement of roads within the cemetery proves "that a normal town-planning scheme existed inside the necropolis" (p. 82). Worpole discusses the catacombs of Rome, especially as they became important to Christians across many centuries because of martyrs who were buried there. He describes rural churchyards which, despite "their version of universal citizenship . . . have not been entirely immune to geographies of status and power" (p. 84). He describes the modern necropolis as it developed in cemeteries like Père-Lachaise in Paris (opened in 1804) and San Cataldo in Moderna, Italy (opened in 1984). Because these cities of the dead mirror cultural patterns of the societies that established them, they become places where those cultures can be experienced and understood. …

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