At Death’s Doors
Doors to the ossuary niches at the cemetery on the island of San Michele, near Venice, Italy. The island serves as Venice’s active cemetery. Land is limited in Italy, particularly in places such as Venice. For all but the wealthy, bodies are generally buried in leased ground for a fixed period of time. At the end of the lease, the bones are disinterred, cleaned, and placed in a box, which is then placed in a small niche. A niche can be decorated with the name of the person, a picture, dates, a holder for flowers, and sometimes an eternal light. Families often visit the deceased to maintain the niches—ladders are positioned throughout the cemetery to give access to the higher niches. In addition to individual niches for a box, San Michele also has family mausoleums, individual burials with headstones (such as Diaghilev’s grave), above ground niches large enough for a coffin, and cremations. The island houses 3 different cemeteries; Catholic, Protestant, and Greek Orthodox. Areas are also designated for those killed in war, for Catholic nuns and priests, and for gondoliers.