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Revista Brasileira de Ciências Sociais

versão impressa ISSN 0102-6909

Rev. bras. ciênc. soc. vol.5 São Paulo  2010


Brazilian cemeteries, tomb styles, and their associated social processes


Formas tumulares e processos sociais nos cemitérios brasileiros


Formes des tombeaux et processus sociaux dans les cimetières brésiliens



Antonio Motta

Translated by Mónica Lourdes Franch Gutiérrez
Translation from Rev. bras. Ci. Soc., vol.24 no.71, São Paulo, Oct. 2009.




This paper focuses on the various levels of correlation between tomb style and social processes, particularly with regard to family composition and kinship, seated in the desire to ensure continuity in family order, through a common genealogical memory. It also seeks to analyze and interpret the logic of the burial transition, for a new family model based on individualism.

Keywords: Cemeteries; Systems funerary objects, Tomb styles, Social processes; Kinship; Person.


Este trabalho focaliza vários níveis de correlação entre formas tumulares e processos sociais, sobretudo no que diz respeito às composições familiares e de parentesco, calcadas no desejo de assegurar uma continuidade na ordem familiar por meio de uma memória genealógica comum. Busca também analisar e interpretar a transição das lógicas de sepultamento centradas na família para um novo modelo baseado no individualismo.

Palavras-chave: Cemitérios; formas tumulares; Processos sociais; Parentesco.


Ce travail met l'accent sur plusieurs niveaux de rapports entre la forme des tombeaux et les processus sociaux, notamment, en ce qui concerne les compositions familiales et de parenté, basées sur l'intention d'assurer une continuité de l'ordre familial à travers une mémoire généalogique commune, en même temps qu1il cherche aussi à analyser et interpréter la transition des logiques d'enterrement: de la famille vers l'individualisme.

Mots-clés: Cimetières; Formes des tom-beaux; Processus sociaux; Parenté.



One of the earliest cultural and sociological practices that we know of is concealment of the dead to protect the living from the corpse's decomposition. Whether buried, or burned, embalmed or exposed to the air on the mountain heights, if deposited in streams or in rivers, if in exposition to visitors, at home, or the funeral home, in the drive-up or virtual funeral home, the corpse is the primary and decisive element that guides human death practices and funeral rites, from the first records and testimonies of history. In fact, though society will act and express itself after death in ritualized forms, it is the very body of the dead which is the object (Hertz, 1980, p. 90).

Western societies have always sought to preserve or save the remains of the dead, whether through the construction of monumental tombs, as in some past civilizations, or in the secularized burial cemetery, or in contemporary versions, the cemetery gardens, and vertical cemeteries where only the name of the deceased remains to identify the burial site. Currently when the corpse is cremated and the ashes sprinkled in the air, (still, a less conventional form of expression), the remains of the dead are confirmed only to manage the affective memories; a tomb is no longer the specific place for inscription of the body.

Funeral services and burial forms have also been changing, while following the significance given to the relationships that the living have with their dead. Dying in a room surrounded by the family, in the same way as you were born, and in the same house as well is no longer common in most contemporary western societies. It is now preferred, to deliver death and dying to the market economy (over keeping death inside a living home), out of sight in clinics and hospitals. In the so-called traditional societies there was a greater social closeness and familiarity with death, enhanced by various symbolic activities that favored the recurrence of the ritualized forms, and providing what Marcel Mauss referred to as the  "obligatory expression of feelings" and that in turn, contributed to the collective construction of social relations (Mauss, 1921).

The contemporary drama of death, with its rites and burial places is increasingly giving the protocol a gloomy character of sham and dissimulation, in which the dead man is deprived of his very death, and his family of mourning. And what to say of the remains of the dead, and the tombs that in the past played an important role in the ritual and burial space configuration which the living's delight and disguise perpetuated through customs and mortuary practices for their missing?

The new cemetery spaces seem to reflect a different kind of reality: grassy surfaces with gardens that resemble the image of Eden and its eternal spring, spectacular theme parks giving to the space of the dead an unequivocal mark of high tech funerary kitsch, luxurious buildings, high rises which house the burial place for the individual while equipped with the latest technological resources for the comfort and welfare of the family, often getting confused with real apartment buildings or luxury hotels in their appearance.

There is a common element: no explicit reference to death, or the dead. The concern with the space, first of all, is to make it contradict what it is actually intended to offer: burials and cremations. Instead of the allegorical evidence found in the ancient cemeteries of the nineteenth century, what the new burial spaces propose is to dilute any trace of death. The less obvious death is, the more distant the idea of death, the more refused, the weaker, denying the uniqueness and greatness of its attraction, the desire is to secure and to delete from the dead the great punishment of death.

However, what the reader will find in this essay is not theory nor history of death, nor the ritualized forms of its known expression: pain, suffering or distress, nor the transcendent, eschatological, or religious which individuals and social groups prefer to attribute to finitude. What really interests and mobilizes the focus of this analysis is the corpse, and the social treatment accorded to it, the logic of burial. How one can read and understand social attitudes and meanings from a system of funerary objects that is still found through material remains in the cemeteries?

This is not to replace statements with objects or vice versa, but to identify and locate the material elements that enable the funeral culture to make sense of and give meaning to the social language of a particular time, while allowing an understanding of its changing socio-cultural dynamics. Both burial practices (developed under different tomb morphologies), and epitaphs (the ornamentations and statuary representations), reveal elements of social organization and represent the world and its people. When read correctly, the fashioning of funerary tombs translates not only the accommodations and balances, but also the tensions and changes actuating in the context of a specific group or the wider social body, and it is also able to reveal the influence of institutional acts and varied social and moral conducts, because it seeks to make sense and meaning.

In the past the dead were the object of interest and special care, now the relegated ones, they are forgotten and ignored, this, in itself is an important heuristic device for understanding the social dynamics herewith discussed. The nineteenth-century Brazilian cemeteries were the privileged places (all in Rio de Janeiro) where the research took place: St. John the Baptist Cemetery of the Third Order of Minims of St. Francis of Paula (Catumbi), Cemetery of the Third Order of St. Francis of Penance Third Order of Cemetery of N. S. of Carmo, St. Francis Xavier Cemetery (Caju); in São Paulo The Consolation Cemetery and Cemetery of Araçá; in Recife, The Cemetery of Santo Amaro, in Salvador, the Campo Santo Cemetery, in Belém the Cemetery of Our Lady of Soledad and The Santa Isabel Cemetery; and in Manaus The Cemetery of St. John the Baptist.

In these mortuaries, the main features are preservation and conservation of the remains of the dead, embodied in the magnificent buildings, decorated with statutory representations and other props. The presence of monumental tombs is the ultimate affirmation of an official and symbolic space in the graveyard owned by certain bourgeois segments of Brazilian society, in the second half of the nineteenth century, who claimed for themselves by their class singularities through the restoration of family bonds and afterwards, in the first decades of the twentieth century, a progressive individualization for its members in "custom tombs".

Such that, when the first Brazilian cemeteries in the second half of the nineteenth century began to arise, one notices a growing interest on the part of some families to build the family tomb, installing the direct descendant, and perpetuating the generational chain. In turn, the cult of memory was often motivated by the desire to keep the dead of the family group in the tomb, in mind, which in a sense, reiterates the idea that the tomb is the continuity of the home, the symbolic equivalent of the residential unit of a family marriage.

In the first decades of the twentieth century a significant change takes place in burial customs, and with it, new forms of tomb morphology gradually will mark the cemetery space. This change is reflected also in the representations and attitudes that the living dedicate to their dead. It was then that this taste for the individual tomb, built especially to house a single individual and with intent to evoke revealing traces about him was translated as an expression of particularized affection.


The Tomb and distinction

[...] The dead inaugurates more than dies, and doubly: and now his
own statue, and now his own life […].

João Cabral de Melo Neto.

By the end of the second half of the nineteenth century, the taste for the individual grave had become an important reference for Brazilian urban elites, who quickly adapted to the new pattern of cemetery space use and ownership, as well as the new burial logic. With the passage of time, the first secularized Brazilian burial cemeteries began to compete among themselves for the grandeur and luxury that was being displayed in the construction of their tombs and graves. Each tried to attract to itself the most fortunate layers of the connected and patronymic grand families who enjoyed the economic and political prerogative of trade, the slave production, landownership, and key positions in power. Years later, it would be the turn of the new fortunes, coming from speculative financial capital, industry, the professions, as well as other sectors of the urban strata that appeared in the major capitals of the country.

Whereas the Cemetery of the Third Order of Minims of St. Francis of Paula, opened in 1850 in the neighborhood of Catumbi, Rio de Janeiro, became the favorite place for the burial of the elite nobility of the Empire, with its marquis, earls, barons , officers, commanders, lieutenant colonels and other titles of the national guard, as well as owners of land and slaves, the Cemetery of St. John the Baptist, built in 1852, in Botafogo, held the very same role during the Republic, welcoming important figures from the country's public life: politicians, heads of state, bankers, prosperous merchants, rent owners, humanists, and militaries as well as new segments from the wealthy bourgeoisie of the time (Valladares, 1972).

But regardless of elective affinities and religious or political-ideological preferences in the choice of cemeteries, the fact is that all were representations of the privilege that the various wealthier layers sought by building a great tomb, marking class position and endorsing the family genealogy and origin. The process of differentiation and distinction in burial forms is also reproduced in three other Rio de Janeiro cemeteries. The Cemetery of the Third Order of St. Francis of Penance, which opened in 1858, remained more hierarchical in the profile of its users, prioritizing burial for members of the brotherhood, many of which stood out among the familiar names of the Republic. The same could be said of the Third Order of Cemetery "Nossa Senhora do Carmo", which became operational in 1857, and gathered a clientele from the nobility of both the Empire and the Republic, as well as prominent figures linked to the new professions. The Cemetery of St. Francis Xavier, also in the neighborhood of Cajú, opened in 1851, and had a very diverse parish, composed of some important names in public life of the time, and also the professions, yet attracting more the remediated and poorer segments of the population.

At the time, being the capital of the country Rio de Janeiro was the articulating center of power and political decisions, and also had the privilege of hosting the largest number of cemeteries. This does not mean however, that in other cities cemeteries were not a priority in both the modernization and transformation of the urban fabric. They were in fact, an obvious reflection of the new health policies that were being adopted, and widely disseminated in the second half of the nineteenth century. Also, one should not reject the intimate relationship between the growth cycles of certain urban centers and the construction of new cemeteries.

The most concrete result of the process of economic enrichment of Brazilian society, especially in the first decades of the twentieth century, manifested clearly in the Consolation Cemetery, in the Sao Paulo state capital, built in 1856, and considered the most traditional of the city, by bringing together both the old elite, coming from four hundred years of coffee bourgeoisie, and the new immigrant entrepreneurs of the early twentieth century. We must, however, note that this cemetery knew distinct phases. The first phase was predominated by the tombs of the land nobility, both at the time of the Empire and the Republic. In the second phase it was the monumental tombs and mausoleums of the great fortunes of industry and commerce, the majority of immigrant origin. Given this scenario, the oldest deposits, Portuguese and Italian stonework, more sober and conventional structures, characteristic of the first phase, were eclipsed by the luxury and ostentation of the later buildings and gravestones, coinciding with the peak of bronze as a material for artistic expression.

This phenomenon is not observed in the same proportion or intensity in other urban centers of the country that have only recently come to know a period of relative economic rise, as is the case for Salvador and Belem. Recife had its greatest economic boom in the transition from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century. In these cemeteries what can be seen, among other things, are the towering vaults in marble from the consolidation phase that in general occurred from 1870 to 1900. In the years following its inauguration in 1851, the Cemetery of Santo Amaro, in Recife, went on to attract a number of names coming from the old rural bourgeoisie, though already in frank decay, this is reflected in many of its small and medium-sized gravestone buildings with few attractive sculptural or allegorical references. But there are also notable exceptions, especially in magnificence and grandeur as in some of the proprietary mausoleums of the so called "sugar barons", landowners in the cultivation of sugar. An analogous process is seen in Belem, in the Cemetery of Our Lady of Solitude, which opened in 1853, and is currently disabled, but which met at the time expressive names linked to the rubber boom, as well as some tombs built especially to house the leaders of the "Cabanagem". Also in the same city, the St. Elizabeth Cemetery, which opened in 1870, played an important role in preserving the memory of the more fortunate layers. At the time "rubber barons" as well as judges, commanders, and rich mining deposit owners imported from Europe lined the axis of its main entrance. Repeating the same process of ostentation, the Campo Santo Cemetery in Salvador around 1855 became the favorite place of burial for Bahia'n land elites, senior traders and prominents linked to the professions and politics, who highlight monumental tombs, many of them ordered from Lisbon marble workers, especially in the period between 1855 and 1870.

Instead of the Anglo-Saxon cemetery known as the garden or rural cemetery, in Brazil the layout of the urban cemetery closely followed the direction of Europe, filled with statuary and miniature replicas buildings inspired by the past, for which the Père Lachaise and Staglieno were important references. Within this line, the development plans of the first Brazilian cemeteries followed the conventional models in vogue in Europe, varying in accordance with the topography in which they were erected. Viewed as a whole, the scheme is predominantly traced and divided into regular blocks, interspersed with large and small streets and alleys, and usually centered by a cross or chapel with its axis or center monument. In this axis or in the vicinity we find the oldest mausoleums and the ossuaries, in the form of urns or obelisks brought from churches to the new locations of secularized burial.

Just as in the city of the living, inequality also became even more blatant in the posthumous spaces with both the good and the bad. The most expensive and coveted were located in large central boulevards or avenues, whose presence was noticed and admired by all who came, were for those who could pay more for the privilege of a special place, and also grant a perpetual, or material heritage transmitted like any other: house, land or other real estate. The most isolated regions, located at the ends or sides of these block cemeteries were for those who had less purchasing power, often without permission.

Every effort to add sculptural elements to the tombs reflected not only the desire to differentiate the family of the deceased, through the individualization of the tomb, a hallmark of a surname, but it was also indicative of a significant change of habits and expectations in the face of death. By the second half of the nineteenth century, visits to cemeteries had become increasingly frequent, and with them the veneration of tombs became a family practice, at once affectionate and of reputedly good moral conduct, and being popularized through chronicles and other literary genres. Jealous of their privileges, the well provided social layers of the time brought to the ultimate consequences the project of uniquely materializing the grave, be it an individual or family project, influenced by a policy of death appeasement, including respect for the rituals, the individualization of mourning, and frequent visits. And it is no coincidence that during this time the family tomb, taking the form of a chapel, reached its maximum for cemeteries in Brazil, often forcing the individual to abdicate his own expression of individuality to join the family group, under the pretext of solidarity and cohesion, with the main anchor being the surname recorded prominently on the front of the tomb, because from now on, "it is no longer the soul that is indestructible, but the family, the surname" (Ragon, 1981, p. 102).


Death in the Family

Tout graphéme est d'essence testamentaire

Jacques Derrida

The epitaph says it all

Machado de Assis

Like any brand, or foundation stone, the tomb is the sign of a first inscription; mark, trace, writing, origin. It is no accident that the word in Greek sema, at the same time serves to designate both the sign and the tombstone.

Built around a name, usually the father, the family tomb brings the individual to a common heritage, linking him to a chain of generations. That is why the dead must give up part of their individuality to join to a name or surname: that of the family. What prevails in this type of construction is the idea of the sum being greater than the parts, seeking to strengthen ties between family members and, in turn, awakening in the living the feeling of common identification, often related to a home or residential unit, even if it no longer exists.

What you see in the more elaborate versions of these tombs is the desire for unity and continuity that is necessary in the face of the segmentation and dispersion beyond death, avoiding, thus, that burials are carried out separately. In them the isolated individual does not matter, but the group membership, but the generic social person, constructed from references to an ancestor or common heritage and through connection and relationships with his ancestors and descendants.

In this case, the primary goal is to gather and maintain, after death, members belonging to the same family unit and can be extended to secondary relatives, as each case may be. Those who are buried there take shelter under the same surname, carved in stone: a symbolic device equivalent to the cohesion of the group.

Just as in the cemeteries of Europe, in Brazil there was also a positive development in relation to the family tombs, especially after 1870. The morphology of family tomb gained new interpretations, varying according to the convictions of taste and class, some with Christian references, others were more secularized, and also a variety of styles ranging from the familiar chapel, to pyramidal forms, reinterpretations of the Assyrian-Babylonian monuments, neo-Gothic, Renaissance, and neo-classical temples, the eclectic, transitional, or even proto-modern versions being then replaced by the modernists.

The reference tomb was usually determined by the paternal line, and transmitted to the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, the surname engraved very discreetly or clearly written on the tomb capstone. In many cases, the indication was summed up with just one surname, as examples: "Família Vaz Carvalhaes", "Família Carapebus", "Família Nioac", "Família De Mauá", "Sepultura da Família Agra", "Família S. Clemente", "Família Guinle", and "Família Chamma".

But there is also an important detail that, in some ways, changed the name giving configuration of the family vault. In some cases, instead of the generic family name, which had became a hallmark of the tomb inscription, was the name of the father and husband as the primary reference to those who were buried there, for example, "Perpetual Resting Place of José Borges de Figueiredo and his family", usually referring to the conjugal family as it was before the children got married, and found frequently ex: " Perpetual Resting Place of Jose Gomes de Pinho and his Family," " Perpetual Resting Place of Bernardo José da Cunha and his Family" " Perpetual Resting Place of Joaquim Teixeira de Carvalho and his family."

However, with the dispersion of the children and the establishment of new conjugal families, the logic of burial was also subject to change. In many cases, the sons established new family tombs, keeping, however the paternal surname. There are also situations in which the children wanted to create new segments, adopting a secondary reference surname, acquired by the maternal line. This transmission line, the choice of a reference name for public life was, in some situations measured by the degree of prestige that the name had acquired of course, assessed for the benefit it would bring to the offspring. In such cases, it also came to be the guiding logic for the adoption and inclusion of a surname in the construction of a new tomb.
For this type of burial, we see the desire for a social advantage based on the new acquired status, whether through wealth, social position achieved, or through given noble titles, which was customary throughout the Empire, the Republic and the early twentieth century, and which can be found in some graves, examples: " Perpetual Resting Place of Baron of Amparo and his Family", "Perpetual Grave of the family Baron of Andaray, Viscount of Andaray", "Perpetual vault of Baron of Silveiras and his Family"," Perpetual Resting Place of the Barons of Mangaratyba and their descendants"," Family of the Count of San Joaquin "," Family Resting Place of the Baron of Limeira. "

Within the broad framework of tomb name giving, there is the presence of the "noble", the "rich", the "newly rich", each in his own way reinventing his genealogical roots. In whichever particular case, it was always a single individual to be esteemed. For these situations, what in fact was predominant was the prefixing of the honorific title (always represented by an individual reference) to benefit the descendants. As for other tombs, what was intended to prevail was the surname, transmitting the weight and importance of a profession or an inherited tradition. In the early twentieth century, in an expanding society of classes, there began to be invoked in tomb epigraphy the recognition for work arising from expertise or personal merit, often acquired by humanistic actions.

The names collected on the tombstones repeatedly appealed to the simple family tree, both to invigorate the blood relations or recall the social prestige of a given family. However, one should not forget that genealogical memory has its own convenience, and may also reveal itself in other ways, such as lapses, forgetfulness, and through restrictions, and selectivity. After all, we do not remember, except for those who are interesting, and therefore, with ancestors we find the lure of choosing one with whom we want to identify, and now and again, that choice is determined by the prestige of the name.

The place of ancestors in the genealogical chain, for obvious reasons, has always played an important role among the French aristocracy, whiles for some bourgeois segments the exercise of pedigree in many cases was of no interest or use. Still as already noted by French historian André Burguière (1991), some of the bourgeois families of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries sought to repair or in a sense, reinvent their genealogical roots, manipulating their origins according to their purposes and needs in order to create new identities to match a newly acquired socioeconomic status. To do so, highlighting the supposed signs of nobility was chosen over the view of money gained by the effort of work - since the latter had become a prerogative for the bourgeoisie of the time.

As can be seen today in most of the cemetery graves referred to here, epigraphic name giving is guided by the chronological order of death, summarizing only to inform the individual's name, and surname, date of birth and death, and eventually additional information on the personality of the deceased. Moreover, the logic of burial within a family tomb is usually guided by the principle of consanguinity, gathering up descendants in a direct line (father, mother, children, grandparents, and grandchildren). Depending on the case, some relatives or allies are included. In any case the existence of burials of the children from extra marital relations within these deposits is unlikely, except while still living being civilly recognized by the father, or if contained in a will. A widow, who was married later, and with children from her first marriage, was usually buried in the family tomb erected by her first husband buried there. The same is not true for the death of the male spouse of a second marriage, who was usually buried in the family tomb in a parental or individual grave. In the event of a common second marital union resulting in children, the responsibility of deciding the burial of father and stepfather in the family tomb, inherited from the mother at first marital union, would be generally with the older children. When it came to single individuals, they were buried in individual graves or a grave belonging to their family of origin.

Indeed, this whole argument, which points to the desire of distinction, material possession, reproduction and conservation of a family memory, could be further supported by another important variant or representation of the tomb, that is, the analogy between home and gravesite. When living familiarity with the dead no longer exists, when the dead are driven out of cities and the churches, and off to the cemeteries, graves began to share a function formerly occupied by the church. As is known, inside these temples, on a composted and cadaverous humus floor in the custody of a divine ceiling, laden painted clouds and suspended archangels, were shared collective moments of intense sociability, not only through beliefs and common devotions, but also through the rituals that were celebrated: baptisms, weddings, anniversaries of both life and death, confessions, communions, religious processions, festivals, and funerals etc.. In the cemeteries, far from their homes, churches, and parishes, under the open sky, the dead find shelter in their graves. Grave scenarios of churches and chapels (on a smaller scale) were common, while others resembled the homes of their owners. It was not just to ensure the dead a place in heaven, but also ensure a place on earth, under the protection and the care of the family, to protect from the elements, and conserve the body image. In graves the corpses remain besides one another, so that each party retains its individuality, yet the common genealogical memory is always invoked, because the tomb is also a family dwelling.

If considered from this perspective, the house and the family tomb almost fulfilled a similar function, the tomb can be interpreted as the place that reproduced and perpetuated the family group through successive generations, assuring them the transmission of a last name, material and immaterial goods, power relations, authority and hierarchy. While the house could be seen as a local for socialization of the family, and in some cases, successive generations, integrating them through various rituals (births, baptisms, graduations, weddings, birthdays, deaths, wakes, collective participation in the elaboration of mourning etc.), the grave in turn, reproduced the plan, imagery, and the desire to reunify, and perpetuate different moments of collective expression of the family, and thereby strengthen its symbolic dimension, the continuity of kinship ties among its members.

Seen from this angle, from the bases upon which family relations are structured, the father's death could represent a decisive break in the economic social organization of the family group, interfering in the domestic relations of the affective. When this occurred, it entailed various effects, which could trigger the dissolution of the patriarchal family, whether through disagreements on the economic division of property, or through differences in the choice of interests and values to be followed. But if on one side the father's death was always a threat to the family, because it represented to some extent the economic dislocation of the group, with interference in the definition of roles among its members, on the other hand, the tomb embodied a representation, a conservation, and "presentness" of the dead, and the reintegration of family ties, allowing neutralization of conflicts between members, since the house could no longer fulfill this role.

There are many similarities between the sumptuous coffee plantation mansions of the Valley of the Paraiba do Sul - some were destroyed, while others are currently under the control of strangers - and the no less opulent graves of their respective owners. Many of them resist the action of time; you can still see them in the cemeteries of Rio de Janeiro, especially Catumbi, and in São Paulo, in the Cemetery of Consolation.

In the Cemetery of Consolation, in another economic context, a significant example of formulation is the tomb of an owner of coffee plantations, importer, and entrepreneur, "Count Alexandre Siciliano and his descendants" in white marble by the sculptor Amadeu Zani. It is a chapel reinterpretation in the Assyrian-Babylonian style, surmounted by an allegorical figure on the porch and various lion details, including the presence of two large guardian lions that flank the main entrance of the mausoleum, a symbol of vigilance, very frequent in manors . But worth mentioning is that the similarity of the grave with the residence of the said count, designed in 1896 by architect Ramos de Azevedo, on Avenida Paulista. Perhaps the most peculiar detail is the transposition of the domestic universe to the mortuary space, for instance the presence of a chair with its heraldic carvings on the back that the Count used to use in everyday life, as well as other decorative objects.

Avenida Paulista (Paulista street) shows almost nothing remaining from the time of its economic peak, which was dominated by the bourgeoisie homes and their owners, whose coffee capital was invested in industrial production. Most of these homes became showy office buildings, but most of the tombs belonging to the former owners of these old homes are still alive as a testimony to family memories.

The home of Count Francisco Matarazzo and his family, one of the icons of Brazilian industry, was built in the midst of approximately 12 thousand square meters, was designed by Italian architect Giulio Saltini and Luigi Mancini, with the prominent family crest engraved on the main residence entrance is now home to a huge parking lot, after its demolition in the 1980s. Paradoxically, if the land which was in the past emblematic of this wealthy family villa has become a large garage for cars, while the heirs look to sell, the family mausoleum in the Cemetery of Consolation seems to fulfill the wish of its founding fathers, perpetuating the count's lineage. Moreover, the mythic narrative of the successful Italian immigrant, with a noble title extended to each of his sons, fits in perfectly with the architecture that guided the construction of the pharaoh like mausoleum, erected in 1925, with bronze sculpturing of authorship Genoese, Luigi Brizzolara. Even today the design meets the powerful chief's desire to reunite families, and protect the core formed by his name, his wife and children, and includes his mother. With a huge underground crypt, side galleries, and a chapel at street level, the compact construction covers an area of over 150 square meters block marble from Genoa direct from the workshop of Luigi Brizzolara. It was transported by ship and reassembled on site. It stands out from others on an exaggerated scale; the highest point is above 15 meters and shows the family crest.

Although the logic of this burial site would have the primary function in worshiping the memory of ancestors, while often coupled with other interests of the group, it also allowed the yet living family members, by the posthumous habitat of their relatives to distinguish themselves socially. We cannot forget that death in the bourgeois world, besides its dramatic dimension, transmits as well a heritage, if not material then symbolic. For this reason, the tomb of the family is projected not only with the desire for continuity and perpetuation of the family, but also to be exhibited through its architecture, in most cases sumptuously, with the sign of class, marking thus the position of both the dead and his descendants.

All this symbolic effort to perpetuate to family an overriding and important efficacy in the intersubjective family relations restoration plan, for the graves enable members of a family, depending on their particular interests, to recognize each other through a common genealogical memory that at the same time that allows them to reconstruct and upgrade their individual ties of identity. Even taking into account the discontinuity between generations of burials, these sites, in their current state of preservation, even today symbolically represent a permanent place by which families can still disguise the effects of their economic decline, since their material wealth that includes the home, could not stand the dynamics of systemic transformation.

While the analogy between the cemetery and the home was much more evident throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, in its last decades early manifestations of individuality, with personal renunciation of the group, both integration and membership might be seen. This practice became even more frequent in the early years of the twentieth century. Thus, some sumptuous tombs adorned with allegorical representations to mark and perpetuate their presence were remarkably built to house a single person. Increasingly the family was no longer so imperishable, and neither the name, it was now moving toward the individual.


For the living stone

j'écris, je ne veux pas mourir

Georges Bataille

Ecrire c'est se souvenir. Mais lire, c'est aussi se souvenir

François Mauriac

If the bourgeois family burial model met its peak during the second half of the nineteenth century with the "pantheonization" of its members, then it was in the early decades of the twentieth century that the cult of the individual rose up, and its narcissist counterpart; the first family (genealogy) disconnected graves.  It is around the individual which complements and sometimes separates from the nuclear family that derives another logical order of burial and in turn determines the architectural configuration of the new graves, as well as the new representations by which to express the aspirations, and attitudes of the living toward the death.

Not that the family had disappeared in this new model of burial, but the bourgeois individual's uniqueness emerges from emotional ties maintained with their family group. And beyond that, reciprocal obligations and expectations, the creation of relationships based on the principle of belonging as much as on differences, redefinition of the social roles and hierarchy in the domestic context and the public sphere. These social functions could be now seen in the tombs showing more detailed representations covering aspects of family life, the life of "marital love",  "maternal and filial love ", respect for the tangible, and intangible heritage of a long lived relative, the enhancement of personal virtues, promotion of work values, professional competence and so on.

What is observed from the first decades of the twentieth century is a progressive distancing from the previous model which was based primarily on the recognition of blood ties by procreation, the surname's importance, as a differentiating factor and social prestige, and the family's interest in perpetuating the parental bond. Still with the notion of family as described above, there are several authors who stress the importance of the authoritarian character of family relationships and the centered power of a chief, who not only inhibits but often prevents bonding between its members. It is even reflected in the optional choice of tomb chapels, symbolic equivalents of the houses, which given the austere nature of their morphology served to mask particularized expressions of affection, which would have been exacerbated in individual graves. Recurrently associated with this family model is the idea of marriage subordinated to economic interests and social reproduction of the group, instead of the conjugal union motivated by affection, which began to take hold among individuals, and little by little would also become a recurrent pattern.

While in the more conventional models of the family tomb, distinguishing marks valuing the individual members should be avoided if possible, securing against eventual conflicts, or distractions from a single component of group membership because in principle all should receive positional treatment, in the tomb built for a single individual or couple, stands the desire to value and enhance the dead person's attributes while hiding the undesirable. What seems to matter is the desire for subjective self-expression, self-recognition, or even recognition of others. In some situations, the dead can be represented as an autonomous subject, whose independence should not be shared or divided, for risk of losing its own characteristics.

Gradually, in this new context, the family surrenders to the individuality of its members. Depending on each particular situation, you begin to shift the interest from kinship relations to the interpersonal relations something which is reflected further in newer forms of burial in cemeteries, parks and vertical cemeteries.

There are cases where the graves reflect explicitly the desire of someone who aspires to be remembered after death for their actions and achievements and also to be later converted into an edifying synthesis of memory and collective recognition. In this genre of autobiographical epitaph it is common to attribute to the individual personal qualities implying a particular socio-cultural dimension and therefore a symbolic system and specific representations. Ritual devices often tend to give both that sense of identity and its attributes of value. In Western cemeteries, to the dead person are usually added epithets, invoking the intimate, and also the moral and civil. The lexicon of tomb qualities emphasizing "deserving", "dignified", "honest", "charitable", "spiritual", "benefactor", "honorable", "integrity", "fraternal ", " just", " worker" etc.

Many examples in the cemeteries mentioned here evoke personal merits, especially the work ethic, and allegories representing the person of the deceased. Perhaps among the most significant examples elucidating the ideology of work is a tomb erected in the cemetery of Araçá in São Paulo; of the prosperous grain merchant Antonio Lerario.

Like many other immigrants of Italian origin, Antonio came to the city of São Paulo for a new start. The tomb erected for him in dark granite blocks, on which high relief bronze plaques narrate his history, highlights the funeral mythology of upward mobility through hard and painful work. His peasant roots, dominated by the countryside, even in Italy, are represented by scenes of sowing, growing and harvesting wheat, serving as a leitmotif for the first three plates that serve as seals for the burial sites located at the base the grave. In a prominent position, the remaining plates depict another narrative sequence which shows the mythic construction of the hero, conceived by his own merit. In the first, on top of the vertical volume, the scene evokes his departure. Apparently, in search of greater opportunities, Antonio decides to make a living on another continent, his face looking back with an umbrella resting on his left arm and right hand waving to his mother and father they reciprocate the same gesture to their parting son. In the next scene, on the ship that takes him to Brazil, the young arms leans on the vessel railing with both hands holding his head in a contemplative gesture, looking to the distance. In the following allegory, in São Paulo, Antonio begins his new life as a newsboy on the streets. In hand, the newspaper is offered up to two gentlemen properly characterized as the successful local elite, into which the immigrant himself will soon integrate. The final allegory is represented by the figure of Antonio, now mature, fortunate grain merchant, with obvious social connections to the rising bourgeoisie in the midst of two workers carrying sacks of grain. At the bottom of the scene stacked bags suggest the basis of his wealth and at the same time, the product converted by the virtue of his own personal efforts, a legacy that was probably intended as a message for his descendants who would subsequently incorporate the common grave.

Interestingly however, the emphasis stressed is not the case in analogous instances of equally successful immigrants, who preferred to build their funeral mythologies less on effort and achievement by drudgery the hallmark of the old bourgeoisie but rather by legitimizing some aristocratic ethos, as did the Count Matarazzo, followed by others originating from the bourgeoisie of commerce and industry of the state.

The allegory fortune to work and also reappears in a more general or diffuse form, serving as a decorative element in some tombs, especially of Consolation Cemetery in São Paulo and St. John the Baptist, in Rio de Janeiro, sometimes in ways signs depicting trade and industry (weaving machines, industrial equipment, anvils, mounting hardware, consumer products, etc..), and sometimes related to agricultural production and livestock (coffee, cocoa, rubber, sugar cane, and animals for slaughter etc..), given the work activities of the tomb owner. Work is also valued as a humanitarian quality in the tombs of the deceased, especially those of doctors, lawyers, engineers and the less recognized technical activities. The same could be said in relation to the tombs of figures linked to the world of the arts, music and literature. And would include those who performed notorious and recognized public activities, "the illustrious dead", politicians, military leaders, or heads of state.

The emulation of the "greats", usually in epic representations acquires a pantheon's dimensions in some cemeteries, and serves the historical imaginative function to build myths and promote civic and patriotic devotion. These monument-tombs fulfilled their civilizing role in the service of the Brazilian nation-state ideological construction during the late nineteenth century and in subsequent years by reinforcing the collective sense of belonging to the civic identity and national memory. When it came to heroes who died in the service of the homeland, the representations of the tombs should allude to strength, greatness, glory, honor, manhood, and other attributes of the genre. The higher the bravery and sacrifice for their country the more recognition and importance for the deceased person, being promoted to the noble class of national martyr. The mode with which these were reserved at the monument could vary between the civic and the patriotic, depending on the magnitude of their parts, which, if he was a fearless hero would certainly promote a single monument, or if a particular group in the service of the fatherland, collective.

But if the deaths of the heroes were seen as noble and grand, and rarely accidental, because the predictability of danger and the requisite courage are part of the status of the mythical heroic sacrifice, the death of ordinary people did not arouse the same feelings. No more "the beautiful death," but rather "the good death" of "natural" causes, without pain or sacrifice, the ideal model spread throughout the eighteenth century. The manner and circumstances in which an ordinary person left the living world gave the understanding, significance, and meaning, that his closest expressed and felt in relation to the deceased person, and reflected particularly in the choice of tomb.

Depending on the situation, what is observed is the preference for construction of the individual tomb, small, as a testimony of the affectionate family, which might take on different characteristics when it came to an expected death usually acquiring a subjective dimension of recompensation for the tangible and intangible heritage left by the dead. But what about when death supervened in unexpected circumstances considered disastrous? In these cases, the gravestone representations are more prone to drama. Very often in cemeteries are the tombs built for the mothers whose sudden death left orphaned young children. The representation of the mother often reproduces scenes of domestic life surrounded by children. When the male figure, husband and father died in unexpected circumstances he becomes the object, and is figured in the form of busts in high plate relief, which gives him an epic sense, which was very common throughout the nineteenth century. In other situations, the male bust comes with a three-dimensional representation of the widow, sometimes surrounded by children, in a gesture of reverence for the figure of the dead husband and father. When you want to post the most dramatic of losses, the male figure becomes absent, and in its place is spotlighted the female figure crying.

The allegories also tend to reflect the gender, or the social sphere assigned to male and female. Women, an identity tied to motherhood and domestic activities; men, competence in the sphere of public life and work. From the first decades of the twentieth century, began to appear an emphasis on the whole statute, male three-dimensional representations usually associated with public work and life. When linked to situations or scenes of private life, they generally invoke some kind of moral or spiritual heritage, as in representations of the grandfather with his grandson, a chronological reference transmitting the value of knowledge and moral values.

The tribute to the "conjugal love" is another frequent theme in gravestone allegories. In the broad framework of ideas it is common to see pictures of matrons, covered with veils or mantillas, whose facial expressions vary between mourning, and grief and an explicit collection of introspective and quiet mourning. The expression of the character may change with the feeling that the owner of the tomb would like to transmit as a message: the woman that stretches or bends inconsolably over the grave or coffin of her husband, sometimes in situations ranging from melancholy to ecstasy.

Each in its own way, sought to reconstruct the individual grave through features, elements, and representations that identify the dead man as unique and irreplaceable, bringing to the imagery, scenes or important moments in life, like the memory of the sinister circumstances in which the person was subtracted from his nearest. Due to the diversity and richness which these tombs represent, it would be impossible to classify all the categories found. Among them however, many call attention, especially those that express situations in which death arrived by violence. In such cases, different values are mentioned, such as the positive attributes of the person killed, which could include honor, age, courage, sensitivity, all converging to construct the individual funerary mythology.

Accidental or not, the death of young children is unacceptable for most Western societies of Christian tradition. In many cases graves are reserved for them apart from those of their families. When it came to newborns, the event was often inserted at the level the "angels", a belief which finds its roots in popular Catholicism. In this type of representation, the child's soul, given their state of "original innocence", was closer to immortality, and is routinely associated with the figure of the angel, as it appears in most funeral allegories. In some cemeteries, we see areas with a higher concentration of graves reserved for children, and populated by representations of boys with wings (the putti), the little cherubim and seraphim, spaces probably provided in their initial designs for the burial of infants and newborns - they are called Crypti di Bambini in Italian cemeteries.

When death supervened in early childhood, the representations change, because the child was beginning to have its own identity, becoming seen as an individual, besides a name, a recognized right, a particular place and a role, a chronological age and some specific duty in family life. In many cases, the child would not join the family tomb, but be buried in an individual grave, specially designed to perpetuate his presence on earth and mark the interaction between family members. The representations varied depending on the circumstances of death and the degree of family affection. Usually in the place of the angels, what is seen are representations of children that enhance their personal peculiarities, so portrayed both realistically and metaphorically and by means of allegory: children in school activities, children playing, or accompanied by brothers, children being taken by the angels etc.

With regard to adolescents or those who died young, the symbolic treatment, in sculptural form completely changes. This is because young people in some ways have already integrated the world of adults, with sexual identities defined, even the ability to procreate. In addition, their functions have become more specific within the family, as well as in broader social relations, disqualifying future expectations of death. In some cases, they become part of the graves of the family, other times, depending on the circumstances of death, individual graves are erected for them in order to cultivate and preserve a personal funeral mythology.

At the end of the first half of the twentieth century, the tomb building, little by little, ceased to be an investment priority for the social distinction of the family, as with identification with and transmission of a common surname, ties of identity, or the cult of memory. Similarly the individual tomb also began to bring with it other expectations and interests, subtracting allegorical references from the dead person.

One trend was to make the tombs more versatile, functional and less decorative, with capacity for reforming one's burial site, since morphology should be guided by rational principles, being appropriate to the smaller size of the lots that were still available, depending on the cemetery, could reach high speculative values. The new buildings now occupied the entire extent of the land, with proportions that allowed for only a certain number of burials, being replaced in accordance with the new burial needs of owners, and thus reflecting the new dynamics of family compositions. Ancient tombs were redone to meet the practical needs of their heirs or buyers.

Simultaneously with the population growth of cities and the expansion of the mortuary economy other alternative burial spaces emerged, with fully differentiated architectural and landscape designs. The new trend is that no allegorical evidence allusive to the conservation of the dead body should become a constituent element of the landscape graveyard. In versions of the park or garden-cemeteries, the graves pre-dominate the floor with horizontal openings, at ground level, the exact dimension of the human body, which contain one to three burials in overlapping slabs. The exterior surfaces are covered with a lawn with a discreet mark at the place of burial. The same principle applies to the vertical cemetery, where burial sites are distributed in floors, allocating the dead of the same family different floors of the same corridor. But with both, the cumulative logic of burials, and also the creation of presence as in the old family tombs, has completely disappeared.

Cremation, which is gaining adherents in recent years, seems to impose further challenges in relation to the treatment of the dead and ways to remember him. Is it possible to preserve the memory of someone without a material sign with respect to his existence or no objects of memory that evoke him? Very quickly someone might retort that the actual tomb is far more prevalent in living memory, or in the living cemetery, to be cultivated within each individual, than in the allegorical representation of the remains of a person.

There are several ways to remember. The photo album, an inherited object of estimation, a travel souvenir, music, a book, a scent, would not they also be able to evoke the memory of someone missing and in their way, pay homage to him? But we always need someone or something to remind us, and certainly it is there that lays one of the ghosts of those who live: the fear of being forgotten.

To the extent that the old cemeteries are not renewed, they increasingly tend to become archaeological remains, attractive museum-like curiosity, and place of residual memories. Some time ago Marcel Proust metaphorically compared the book to a large cemetery, in which most of the graves can no longer read, the names deleted. Maybe that's why, for many, the discontinuity in the generational chain still represents a constant threat, like the plight of a woman who already quite old, in which St. John the Baptist, in Rio de Janeiro, often spend hours a week caring for the grave of her only son, who died in youth. However, she regrets that with not many days left to go, nor any bond of family, for all is gone, the name of the son is gradually losing its contours in the small stone, and without ribs, like a large elusive stain, it will soon become all completely smooth with the surface of stone, and join the other deleted names.

Death is always a radical break, despite ritualized action, and despite collective or individual mobilizations to overcome it through gravestone morphology, seeking to perpetuate life's connections via cut stone with allegorical elements. Yet death retains its sting, because of the intersubjective links that it breaks down.



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