Vatican cemetery ‘a little piece of paradise’

A small, inconspicuous cemetery inside the Vatican walls made headlines recently with the burial of a Belgian homeless man, Willy Herteleer.

“The pilgrims’ tomb” is a common grave, just a few yards from the tombs of bishops, royalty and intelligentsia.

Herteleer is buried there, his name engraved on the tombstone of plot No. 106, along with five other pilgrims.

The Teutonic Cemetery, known officially as the “Camposanto of the Teutons and the Flemish,” lies in the shadow of St. Peter’s Basilica and on ground that was once part of the Circus of Nero, where early Christians were martyred.

According to tradition, the cemetery chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows marks the spot where St. Peter was killed.

Pope Leo III gave the land to Charlemagne, who used it to build a hospice for pilgrims, a church, and a burial ground for German and Flemish-speaking pilgrims in Rome.

For more than 1,200 years, this land has remained in the hands of the German people and its mission has remained intact. However, in 1876, the hospice was replaced by the Teutonic College, a residence for German priests studying in Rome.

“It’s a little piece of paradise,” said Paul Badde, a German journalist and a member of the Archconfraternity of Our Lady of Mercy, which is dedicated to the care of the cemetery and the adjoining Church of Our Lady of Mercy.

“Here we have palm trees and orange trees, which you don’t find in Germany.”

The lush grounds include flowering plants, holly, aloe and cedars. Four life-size marble statues line one side. The 14 Stations of the Cross, made with majolica tiles, were installed in the last century.

German members of the Roman Curia had founded the confraternity in 1454, when the church and cemetery were in major disrepair. Today, the confraternity’s members include both German clerics and laymen. Continue reading


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