Sunday, August 21, 2011

Madrid – Same Year, Completely Different

As we know, Tolomato Cemetery was closed in 1884 because of fear of yellow fever.  Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, a cemetery was opening because of another disease, cholera. The cemetery was the Cementerio de la Virgen de la Almudena, known popularly as La Almudena, in Madrid, Spain.

Plans were already underway to build a modern, 19th century cemetery that would be as big and grand as Pere Lachaise in Paris, the model for cemeteries at that time, or the famous cemeteries of Geneva and Viena. The city had decided to move all cemeteries outside of the walls, and the sudden need for burial space during the cholera epidemic of 1884 speeded things up significantly.   While there are other cemeteries in Madrid, this one has grown over the years and is the biggest, with several million people buried in it. It also includes a Jewish cemetery.


Above we see the remarkable mortuary chapel, which is near the front gates of the cemetery (below).


The style is modernist and neomudéjar, which we would refer to as ¨Moorish revival.¨ The architects were Fernando Arbós y Tremanti and José Urioste y Velada, selected by means of a competition.

The design of the cemetery is very complicated and consists of concentric rings surrounding the naturally existing hilly areas. The vaults are built into the walls of the rings, although there are also large free-standing family vaults built on top of the rings.


Like every 19th century cemetery, it is full of massive marble monuments, some adorned with statuary. The cemetery is still open and the custom of elaborate monuments still persists, as we see with this bullfighter.


There were many unusual markers, some quite elaborate. There were also some less formal but very touching tributes, such as this tiny ¨portal de Belén¨ (manger scene) placed at the foot of the vault of a man buried in 2010.  Was he someone who liked to design and build these little works, or did his family simply miss him particularly at Christmas?


During the Spanish Civil War, Madrid´s cemeteries were used by the Republicans during their occupation of the city as a place to execute their civilian enemies, which included conservative journalists, priests and members of religious orders, both male and female. This was to ¨pasear¨ someone, that is, ¨take him for a walk.¨

After the war, the national government repaid the favor, trying and executing the people it perceived as enemies, also in the cemeteries.


But now it´s just another tranquil place, filled with these solid, bleached looking granite markers and dark, still cedar and madrone trees under the white-hot Madrid summer sun, and it´s hard to imagine that it was ever anything but.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Storage Project–Completed!

In the last few months, the TCPA has been acquiring growing amounts of “stuff” for its activities, ranging from preservation materials to tables and chairs used for our open days.  We’ve been stashing these things wherever we could, but now we finally have a space for our “stuff” and can prepare for future activities. 

The hardy band turned up once again to install the storage shed, a large vinyl Rubbermaid shed, behind one of the vaults. Here we see the tireless Bob Kennedy, with an appropriate-looking wheelbarrow. The wheelbarrow was made by Bob’s father back in the 1930s – and 70 years later, it’s still going strong. We used it to carry off the scattered metal and stone debris we found so that we could pile it neatly at the back of the lot.

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Janet Jordan, who is recovering from a broken ankle, was our official reader of instructions.  She read the directions aloud while we lined up the pieces; this was an enormous help!

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Here Louise Kennedy puts up a side panel.

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Priscilla de la Cruz shows off the completed shed.

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And we’re already starting to fill it up…we will add shelves next week so that we can store our preservation materials.  The shed is not visible from other parts of the cemetery, and will help to preserve the spacious, tranquil feel of the site.

photo 5

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Another Mystery Photo

John Garofalo, the Cathedral Parish administrator and TCPA board member, found this really interesting photo in an unlikely place, an office at the parish school. The photo’s owner had found it someplace up north and didn’t know anything more about it, and of course there was no other information on it.  So….what do you think?

Old Photo

We know that the photo was after 1853 because that was when the chapel was built.  However, did the chapel originally not have a door? In this photo, it also appears to have a cross on the roof, although different from the current cross.

The tree in the photo appears in another old photo we have, but we’re not sure of the date of that one.  The stone enclosure with the sort of “portholes” is still standing, but the stone with the cross and the scrolled name or names has disappeared, as has the vault in the lower left corner .  Some of the later (1870s and 1880s) markers don’t seem to be there, so this may be a relatively early photo. Or then again, maybe not.

I went out to the cemetery and tried to figure out where the photographer had been standing.  I took this photo below from further back and more to the left to see if I could get some idea of the general layout, but I don’t think it really revealed much of anything.

2011-08-10 No 1

Any ideas or observations? All suggestions are welcome.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

1st Ever Preservation Work Day!

The hardy band below assembled at Tolomato on a very, very hot and gnat-filled Saturday for our very first preservation work day.  Our objectives were to clean some markers in an area where we had done work earlier this spring, during the NCPTT workshop, to prepare a site for a storage shed we are installing to keep our preservation supplies on site, and to replace a brick in a long-damaged vault.

How did we do?  I’ll show you in detail over the next few days, but in the meantime, here’s a general idea. Below volunteer Elisabeth Seaton stands near the markers in a “before” photo.  We had cleaned two of the markers in this section last spring, and aimed to do 3 more today (we did five!).

Here volunteers Heather Alexander and Rosalie Cocci work on two of the markers while Matt Armstrong, our TCPA preservation pro, prepares to start on another marker and Elizabeth Seaton cleans a ledger stone.

Omitting  photos of a couple of hours of gritty, wet labor, this is what we ended up with:  A row of lovely, clean markers whose text could be read for the first time in decades. But a more detailed report on that will appear later…

You’ll notice that the marker on the left was not cleaned. This was because it is cracked and in unstable condition, so we decided to wait and save it for a major project at some point in the future.

But throughout this, we had a particularly outstanding worker:  Bob Kennedy, who toiled quietly behind the vault for 3 hours, hacking his way through roots, buried ironwork and lumps of coquina, to create a level space for the storage shed that will enable us to keep our supplies dry and at the ready for the next preservation day!