Rome, Italy – I love the Eternal City. But after a few days, the stress of the big, ancient city oppresses my spirit. I need a break. So I seek solace in a shady, quiet place that smells of earth.
Yes, it’s a cemetery. A cemetery for the Protestants in a Catholic city.
“The atmosphere of this place strikes people,” Ms. Thursfield, the director of the cemetery, once told me. “I see people walking, just thinking, perhaps with the idea they are strangely alone in the center of the city.”
There I wander through the final resting places of hundreds of expats, wondering how they ended up in a country so far away from their homes.
I always take a footpath that leads me to my favorite spot. There, surrounded by bird songs, air bursting with the fragrance of blossoms, breeze rustling the leaves of the tall trees, I pay my homage to a great love story. William Story’s “Angel of Grief.”
You may have seen its replica. A grieving stone angel at the Stanford University in California. It was dedicated to the victims of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. But have you heard the story behind the making of this sad angel?
Here’s how the story was told to me.
In the late 19th century, Mr. and Mrs. Story were American expatriates living in Rome. William Story was a sculptor-poet, quite famous at his time. Their marriage was one of envy, a wonderful bonding of over 50 years. But on 7 January 1895, Mrs. Emelyn Story, age 74, passed away. William Story was so stricken by grief, so deep, so powerful, that he immediately began laboring on a monument for her. He chiseled the marble night and day. He worked with all his energies. And in nine months he finished his work. He called it “The Angel of Grief Weeping Over the Dismantled Altar of Life.” Then on 7 October 1895, as if in a rush to join her, William Story passed away.
Now they rest together under the “Angel of Grief.”
I always stand in wonderment, looking at the stone angel collapsed forward over a tomb, its head resting on the right forearm, its left arm drooped over the sepulcher, and its wings spread, sagging around the dismantled altar of life. And I always touch cool stone and let Story’s angel move my heart.
If you’re ever in Rome, stomping from one must-see sites to another, take a break and visit Story’s Love Chiseled in Stone. And when you do, let me how you felt.