After some lovely weather in Edinburgh, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by the grey clouds and drizzle that greeted me on my first day in Glasgow. Luckily it wasn’t windy or raining that hard, which meant a nice easy day of exploring Glasgow’s most well-known cemetery that it only needs one name: Necropolis. The cemetery is to the east of Glasgow (aka St. Mungo’s) Cathedral, and is connected by a bridge (known as the ‘bridge of sighs’ – yes, it’s an allusion to the one in Venice). I found this to be a really interesting approach to a cemetery, almost like one is leaving the earthly world behind and moving on to something more ethereal, as the stones appearing on the hill beyond seemed to go on forever.
There are multiple roads, paths, and stairways to get around the cemetery, which often can mean some backtracking, as this is a place to wander. It was established in the 1830s, like so many other large cemeteries in Europe at that time, as the need for larger burial grounds was apparent due to population pressures and epidemics such as cholera. Like the magnificent 7 that were created in London, which were in turn inspired by the policies and cemeteries in France, this Necropolis was developed to have a more park-like feel, and as such does not have a grid-like pattern of graves. For me, this made it a little more difficult to choose where to go, but in the end it didn’t matter – the paths all eventually led me to cover most of the grounds.
Like many (mostly) Protestant cemeteries, this one does not have a lot of grand monuments or statues. But it certainly had its fair share of Celtic crosses, in a variety of styles. The photos I have here are just a few of the many, many crosses I came across while exploring the cemetery.
I remember many years ago someone telling me you should never get married in a hat, as it will date your photos really badly, and I kind of feel the same about having a portrait of some kind put on your gravestone. Whatever unfortunate hairstyle you were sporting at the time of your death will be there for all eternity. Seriously though, I really do like these portraits – especially in a time before photographs (or when they were still very expensive), this is really one of the only ways to see what people really looked like at the time (assuming the artist was honest in his/her representations). Of course, like so many other cemeteries around the world, many life-like portraits tend to be of men. Women, if they do get some human representation, will often have a more general sepulchral statue representing grief, or of angels, or mother/child relationships, etc. without being specifically represented in the same way that men are.
There were a few grand mausoleums and other memorials here too. The John Knox memorial dominates over the entire cemetery, as it is at the highest point of the hill and is indeed the tallest monument. It’s a big ironic that he is looking towards Glasgow Cathedral, one of the few churches that was not destroyed by the Reformation that he was a major part of. My favourite is that of actor John Henry Alexander, an actor who died in 1851 (see bottom left and centre). The monument bears various sculptures related to the theatre, and quite a lovely epitaph at the bottom. The grandest mausoleum has to be that of Major Archibald Douglas Monteath (bottom right), which is a neo-Norman structure (which stands out in a place of mostly neo-Classical work) and it has absolutely no writing on it, so you have no idea who lies within (Archibald (d. 1842) and his brother James (d. 1850).)
There are also some interesting reliefs, usually at the base of a column, obelisk, or cross. I particularly liked the one to a football player who died at age 29.
One of the best parts I liked about exploring this cemetery was all the trees (apple? cherry?) that were in bloom while I was here. I have come to realise that spring is one of my favourite times to visit cemeteries – the weather is changeable which can provide some dramatic skies and/or lighting changes in a short period of time, the trees are still pretty bare which makes it easy to see things, and if you are lucky, you’ll be treated to blossoming trees and flowers, like the wild hyacinths that seemed to be everywhere here too.
Monuments: There are some grand memorials here, but not so many iconic statues, save for the many, many Celtic crosses that you can find all over the grounds. Images of people tend to be of the deceased, and not allegorical.
Grounds: This cemetery is on a hill behind the cathedral. There are roads and stairs to get all over the grounds, but it can be slippery when wet, which was the case when I was here.
Visitors: Quite a number of people were visiting, I think most were curious after visiting the cathedral.
Notes: Not a lot of tree cover here, but the paths are a little maze-like which makes exploring interesting.
Site: Glasgow Necropolis
Notable Internments: Over 50,000 people buried here, but not everyone is marked by a stone. There are 19 war graves here, 15 from WWI, and 4 from WWII. More notable internments include Lieutenant-General Sir James Moncrieff Grierson, John Knox, actor John Henry Alexander, Charles Tennant, William McGavin, Thomas Reid.
Location: Castle St, Glasgow, G40UZ
Hours: 07:00-16:30 daily, hours may differ on holidays