THE VATICAN’S TEUTONIC CEMETERY, A HISTORY
The small but very beautiful Teutonic Cemetery is in Vatican City between St. Peter’s Basilica and the Paul VI Audience Hall. Vatican City State’s website tells us, “it is the oldest German establishment in Rome. The entire area is surrounded by a high wall but even a rushed visitor will quickly be drawn by the charm of this plot of land so rich in history. In ancient Roman times Nero’s circus was found here and it was the site where many Christians were martyred. The cemetery was founded around 799, when Pope Leo IV presented the land to Charlemagne for a school.”
It is beautiful and peaceful and well kept – almost charming, if one can say that of a cemetery. …the beautiful headstones, mosaic stations of the cross, the plants and trees and flowers.
The Holy Year 1450 brought many pilgrims to Rome. The cemetery and the church were in terrible shape at the time, but both were soon rebuilt. In 1454 the German members of the Curia formed a special Confraternity that still exists today and is now called the “Archconfraternity of Our Lady.”
Over the years institutes of study were built and two chapels were attached to the cemetery, one of which would serve as the burial place for Swiss Guards who died in 1870 defending Rome against the forces of the new Kingdom of Italy.
Being a member of this Confraternity is said to be essential if one wishes to be buried in the Teutonic Cemetery. You also have to prove German ancestry, going back as far in time as possible. According to the statutes, those who have a right to be buried here include members of the Archconfraternity, members of many religious houses of German origin and members of the two German colleges in Rome (the Anima and the Germanico).
In 1876 a residence was built for priests studying Christian archaeology, church history and other similar fields.
On the outer wall you can see a ceramic plaque naming Charlemagne the Emperor as the founder of this cemetery. And the inscription CAROLUS MAGNUS ME FUNDAVIT – CHARLEMAGNE FOUNDED ME!
Seems that when the emperor came to Rome, the Pope made him a gift of this land so he could build a residence and set up a Schola Francorum, a hospice for pilgrims from Franconia who were starting to pour into Rome. Some of the pilgrims arrived after their long and arduous journey so tired and worn out after their trials and dangers of the trip over the Alps that they died in Rome, asking before they died to be buried close to the goal of their pilgrimage, that is, the tomb of St. Peter.
The words on the Gates: Teutones in pace – Germans in peace!
To walk through this beautiful and peaceful place and to read the headstones is to read a history book, and perhaps even a book of spirituality. One special grave is that of Jesuit Father Engelbert Kirschbaum, an archaeologist and key person in the discovery of Peter’s tomb. He died in 1970.
Legend has it that Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, had earth from the Holy Land, from Golgotha, spread over this land to symbolically unite the blood of Christ with that of the Roman Martyrs.