By Constance C.E. Duncan

ROME (CNS) — Just a few steps away from Rome’s traffic jams, blaring sirens and sticky heat, the city’s Non-Catholic Cemetery is a garden of breezes and greenery, of crickets, birdsong, roses and pomegranate trees. Not surprisingly, it is also a magnet for visitors. There are students reading under trees by the graves of John Keats and Percy Shelley; young mothers pushing babies down shady paths flanked by graceful statues; and an older crowd milling around the little chapel which, like the cemetery, is still in use.

Amanda Thursfield, director of the cemetery, calls these people the “regulars” — local Italians who come to find a break from Rome’s chaos.  “A cemetery is not just a place for dead people; it needs to be kept alive,” she said.That concept is a familiar one to people from North America and traditionally Protestant regions of Europe.

“Anglo-Saxons and Northern Europeans are more used to living alongside their cemeteries,” said Thursfield, an Englishwoman who previously worked for the British Council, the government-sponsored cultural and educational organization. “You walk through the church (grave)yards to get to places, even at night. … We have a much closer relationship with our cemeteries, with our dead.”

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