Art and sculpture lovers alike frequent museums to appreciate ornate pieces, but perhaps they should be stopping by their local cemetery instead. Headstones can be beautiful works of art meant to honor those who have passed away. While many markers are simply names, dates, and small images, others have the unique goal of drawing attention to themselves. A walk through most cemeteries will reveal any number of lavish memorials. Many are designed by talented artists, architects, and sculptors to help preserve a family’s history. Below we’ll explore our picks for the top four most beautiful headstones in the world.
The Angel of Death Victorious
Also known as the Haserot Angel, this haunting figure can be found at Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio, USA. Winged angels were a common symbol of death throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the use of this image isn’t unique to the Haserot family’s memorial. What sets this sculpture apart are its stunning workmanship and aging bronze materials. After years of oxidation, the bronze has turned a powdery green, but rain and snow have caused the angel to seemingly be crying black tears. The image of an ominous, weeping angel presiding over a tomb has imprinted this headstone into the memory of all who see it, so much so that many people explore this 280-acre cemetery specifically in search of the Haserot Angel.
Rudolf Nureyev’s Oriental Rug
One of the most stunning mosaics in the world won’t be found in a museum or antique building, it’s quietly sitting at the orthodox cemetery of Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois. Famous Ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev was an avid collector of ornate rugs, carpets, and tapestries. He particularly loved Oriental Cilium rugs. Years after his death, set designer Ezio Frigerio, architect Stefano Pace, and mosaicist Francesca Fabbri installed his astonishing memorial. The sculpture is built to look like a rug draped over a coffin with all the folds and textures added to create realism. The stone rug was then covered in colorful mosaic tiles to enhance one of the most unique markers in the world. Art lovers won’t regret making a stop at this cemetery to visit Nureyev and his colorful headstone.
Daniel’s Growing Grave
We don’t commonly think of gravesites as growing, except perhaps the grass on top, but that is the case with Old Testament prophet Daniel’s supposed grave in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. History tells us that Timur, a Turco-Mongol leader on a quest to conquer Persia, stole and reinterred Daniel’s presumed remains near him for good luck. He believed Persia had previously evaded his conquest due to these remains bringing them good fortune. Over time, Timur became afraid of thieves stealing the valuable remains, so he extended the tomb to almost 60 feet in length to confuse them. Local legend, however, says that Daniel’s remains have grown each year and the grave has grown along with it. Many other places claim to be the final resting place of this prophet, but Timur’s ever-expanding tomb is certainly the most unique story.
In Roermond, Netherlands you can find a truly heartbreaking set of memorials. These two markers are those of Colonel Jacobus van Gorcum and Lady Josephina van Aefferden. Lady van Aefferden was a Catholic aristocrat, and her marriage to protestant Colonel van Gorcum was a newsworthy scandal in 1842. The Colonel, unfortunately, passed away in 1880 and was buried in the strictly protestant area of Roermond’s local cemetery. Knowing she would be interred in the Catholic sector, Lady van Aefferden insisted on not being buried in her family’s burial plot, but instead in a plot near the wall between the two halves of the cemetery. With a headstone very near her husband, Josephina was able to commission truly inspiring toppers for both markers. They were connected by hands clasping one another over the top of the wall. This way they could always be connected, even if cultural rules attempted to separate them.
The next time you pass a cemetery, consider taking a trip inside to honor the families and enjoy the art found there. You might be surprised by what stunning pieces can be found inside small, local spaces. Spending time around memorials is a great way to view museum-level art and preserve history at the same time. The stories they tell simply can’t be found anywhere else. We also recommend making cemetery tours part of vacations and trips; you’ll never learn the history of an area so well as when viewing the headstones of its predecessors.