It was getting late. The keeper of the cemetery came and kindly asked her to head for the exit. Angela nodded. She took a sheet of paper from her bag and handed it to the keeper. It contained the epitaph she had written:
Death is a melter.
He gathers souls here and there.
Souls of the rich, souls of the poor,
Souls of the noble, souls of the plebeian.
Then he put them into its crucible where
All souls become ONE.
“Tomorrow, would you mind giving this sheet of paper to the stonecutter, please? He has already been informed. He will carve this epitaph on the marble wall above the altar,” Angela said.
The keeper of the cemetery bowed his head and said, “It will be done, my fair lady.”
This is an excerpt from November 2: The Day of the Dead in Sicily
Before the Napoleonic edict, the dead were buried in the churches. Later, this custom fell into disuse.
In the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, the friars used to embalm the dead. Still now it is possible to visit the underground cemetery of the monastery where the embalmed corpses are displayed. Through this practice, the Franciscan friars wanted to draw attention to the frailty of human life.
The Franciscan friars of Rome did something similar in the Capuchin Church on Via Veneto. In the crypt are displayed the bones of about four thousand Capuchin friars. With the bones, the friars made chandeliers, chairs, tables, decorations on the walls and other objects in the Baroque style. Also in this case, the Capuchin friars aimed at making people meditate on the impermanence of life.
In Korea there were no family vaults. They set the dead into the ground and then made a womb-shaped mound. They called it the womb of Mother Earth, the final abode of the body. But, cremation was also practiced in Korea.
In some tribes I have visited in Tanzania, the dead were buried in front of the house where they had lived. But, before being set in the underground niche, the dead person was placed on a chair in front of his house for some time. This way the relatives and friends could offer condolences to the family,
In America I couldn’t spot any chapel in the cemetery of Arlington in Washington DC. I just saw a vast expanse of graves. Even the president of the United States had been buried in a grave. What impressed me for its simplicity was the grave of Robert Francis Kennedy. It was located at the foot of a grassy hill. On it was just a cross on one side and a small tombstone with the name Robert Francis Kennedy and the dates of his birth and death on the other side. At that time, I meditated for some minutes in front of the graves of John and Robert Kennedy. They were my idols when I was a boy. When I was about to leave the cemetery, a guard approached me, saluted me, and then shook my hand. I was shocked! Did the Kennedy brothers order the guard to treat me as a special guest?