If you walk along Redcross Way, a quiet street a stone’s throw away from the hustle and bustle of London Bridge Station and Borough High Street, a strange sight can be found. Hundreds of colourful ribbons, flowers, toys and other trinkets are tied to the railings that surround a small garden, some bright and fresh, others faded with time and exposure to the elements. This is Cross Bones, an old burial ground where thousands of Londoners, mostly the poorest members of society, were laid to rest. In recent years this place has been transformed from a bare piece of land to a colourful community garden dedicated to the memory of London’s outcast dead.
This week Flickering Lamps is taking a break from the hidden, not so well known sites that often grace this site to explore probably the most famous cemetery in the world: Paris’ Père Lachaise. Opened as the world’s first garden cemetery in 1804, Père Lachaise (or to give its original name, cimetière de l’Est – East Cemetery) was the inspiration for many other grand Victorian garden cemeteries, both in Europe and across the Atlantic in the Americas. Situated on the edge of the city, Père Lachaise was opened to provide a dignified burial space for all of Paris’ citizens. Around a million people have been laid to rest there since it opened in 1804, and today, around two million people visit the cemetery every year.
Today, the tiny Scottish island of Iona is not the easiest of places to get to. It’s a long drive across the Isle of Mull to Fionnphort from the main ferry link with the Scottish mainland at Craignure. However, in the past Iona was the centre of Christianity in the region, as well as being a site of political significance. Travelling by boat, it was easier to reach than its geographical isolation suggests.
I visited the island on a mild September day, after a long drive from the eastern coast of Mull. The sea was clear and calm and made for a smooth passage on the short ferry trip from Fionnphort; later on a pod of dolphins could be seen in the Sound of Iona. It is a peaceful place, with beaches of white sand and outcrops of pink granite. Since the 7th Century it has been a place of pilgrimage, and it continues to welcome thousands of visitors every year.
Scenes of tragic road traffic accidents are very often turned into temporary shrines – loved ones of the unfortunate individual killed leave flowers and other tributes at the site. Sometimes, these little shrines are maintained for years – in my hometown of Preston I still often go past a regularly replenished floral tribute at a set of traffic lights where a lady was killed in an accident in 2004. One such shrine in south west London has become a permanent fixture and a place of pilgrimage for fans of man it commemorates, the musician Marc Bolan, most famously the frontman of glam rock band T. Rex, who was killed in a car crash on Queen’s Ride in Barnes in 1977.