Had I lived in Malta in the 1800s, it is unlikely that I’d have been buried in the Msida Bastion Garden of Rest. Not because I didn’t have the money or the lineage, but because I was Catholic. The vast majority of cemeteries in Malta are Catholic and for some, spending eternity with the Papists, even with one of the most spectacular views in Malta, just wasn’t an option.
In the summer, the Din L-Art Ħelwa (This Fair Land), guardians of this and another 11 sites on the island) host tea parties in the afternoons to raise funds to keep it going. A tad surreal to think of nibbling on strawberries and cream in Msida while taking in the views of headstones and tombs. The longest resident was buried here in 1806 – and most of the occupants are military personnel, civil servants and their families. Full up by 1856, bombed during the war, destroyed in large part by vandals, it took nearly ten years to restore the cemetery to a semblance of its former glory with its unique examples of Mediterranean nineteenth century funerary art.
Some of the epitaphs read like CVs; many more are illegible; and others still have been pieced together like jigsaws, still with key words and dates missing forever. I’ve visited a lot of cemeteries in my time and have read a lot of epitaphs. I’ve even wondered what I would like inscribed on my own headstone, should I go down that route. But, here amongst 560 graves in this small graveyard is one of the most beautiful legacies I’ve ever read.
Sacred to the memory of Lucy, wife of Theodore W Rathbone Esq. of Willerton Priory Lancashire, and eldest daughter of Edward Pearson Esq. Altrey Wood House, Flintshire, who died in this island on the 19th of April 1848 aged 42 years. Most beautiful, engaging and lovely and in every relation of life, daughter, wife, and mother as nearly perfect as it is given to human nature to become on this side of the grave, it was her appointed lot to know much of the bitterest sorrows and trials the human heart can experience until at length broken down in health and long banished by fruitless wanderings from her much loved home, her chastened purified severely tried but still bright and hopeful spirit was in mercy taken by the Father by whom it was given, to a brighter and happier world and “yet speaketh” to the sorrowing survirors, a bereaved husband and his three remaining children. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples if ye have love one to another.”
Certainly a departure from the norm.