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Eugenio Agnello is a volunteer for the Brompton Cemetery Conservation Project. Eugenio explores the connection between his country of origin, Italy with the architecture of Brompton Cemetery.

Brompton Cemetery is one of the Magnificent 7 Cemeteries built in London in 1840, with a rich heritage of beautiful architecture, monuments, and grave stones of notable people.

The story that we will tell in this post concerns the presence of a suspicious resemblance between the buildings of the Brompton Cemetery and another building constructed about 200 years earlier in Italy, designed by some of the greatest artists of the Italian Renaissance.

Let’s start with how the project of the main building of the Cemetery was born. The origin of Brompton Cemetery lies in the movement to remedy the shocking state of the overcrowded graveyards of the metropolis in the early nineteenth century. Between 1832 and 1841 Parliament, in order to relieve this situation, authorized the establishment of half a dozen cemeteries near London by commercial companies. Of these the West London and Westminster Cemetery Company was one, and undertook to lay out a large new burial place at Brompton.

In 1838 the Board of Directors of  the West London and Westminster Cemetery Company decided to hold a public competition. This competition was won by Benjamin Baud.

Benjamin Baud won First Prize for an imaginative design which exploited the linear nature of the site. Baud's design was that of an immense open-air cathedral with a central “nave” running up to a high altar, symbolized by the domed Anglican Chapel. Other features included colonnades flanking the central avenue, and a Great Circle, beneath which were catacombs with impressive cast-iron doors.

The design with the two long colonnades that embrace the Great Circle, was reputedly inspired by the piazza of St. Peter's in Rome. Although there is no definitive proof, several clues relate Brompton to the Vatican’s church although the central chapel seems to give more than a nod to St Peter's Basilica in Rome. The Chapel, colonnades and imposing North Gatehouse on Old Brompton Road, which was built to look like a triumphal arch are all now Grade I listed.

Just a few words about St Peter’s Church. The dome of St. Peter's Basilica was designed by Michelangelo and St. Peter's Square was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. St. Peter's Square is surrounded by two arms of columns, designed to welcome the faithful and spread the message of a Church capable of embracing the needs of every believer. Bernini's ingenious solution was to create a square in two sections. That part which is nearest to the basilica is trapezoid, but rather than fanning out from the facade, it narrows. This gives the effect of countering the visual perspective. It means that from the second part of the piazza, the building looks nearer than it is, the breadth of the facade is minimized and its height appears greater in proportion to its width.

In the Brompton Cemetery you can find a lot of details that are arguably inspired by San Peter Basilica as illustrated in the images.

Despite the similarities of the shapes, there are huge differences on the size of the two buildings: St Peter’s Square is about three time bigger than the Brompton Cemetery’s great circle and St Peter’s Dome is about four times bigger than the Brompton Cemetery Chapel’s Dome.

Whereas St Peter’s Square is crowded and full of people, Brompton Cemetery is noted for being a unique quiet escape in a busy part of London, which is particularly lucky for me, an Italian in London.

Visit and see for yourself soon, full details on how to get to us, and opening hours can be found here

Credit: Google Maps. Composite: Eugenio Agnello.


Written by  Eugenio Agnello

Volunteer of The Royal Park at Brompton Cemetery

Photo Credit: Victoria Smith

Volunteer of The Royal Park at Brompton Cemetery

Historical Aerial View of Brompton Cemetery: British History Online

Contemporary Aerial View of Brompton Cemetery and St Peters Basillica: Left photo: Brompton Cemetery, Credit: Bing Maps. Right Photo: St Peter’s Basilica, Credit: Google Earth.

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