Maria Rossetti and Chelsea FC An Unlikely Connection
In searching for Maria Rossetti’s grave I learned two important lessons:
1. The Friends of Brompton Cemetery are amazingly helpful and deserve an award of some kind. But until that day comes, you can help support their work HERE.
2. When a grave of historical importance and great personal meaning is near a football ground, one should consider leaving one’s husband at home.
When I decided to make the treck to Brompton Cemetery to visit the grave of Maria Rossetti, I knew my husband (henceforth ‘the chap’) would be particularly useful. The Friends of Brompton Cemetery had kindly provided me with a map and a photograph of the Maria’s grave, but I knew from bitter experience that my navigational skills might lead me astray. Frankly, if the Friends of Brompton Cemetery had painted a line of yellow footprints from the Cemetery entrance to Maria Rossetti’s grave, I’d probably have taken a wrong turn and ended up blinking in confusion under the traffic lights on the Fulham Road.
So I was grateful when the chap agreed to accompany me. Among his native Londoner skills are: an ability to meander across violently busy streets as if he were strolling down a shady country lane; a knack both for successful map-reading and for instinctively finding his way.
Because I do not possess this knack, I failed to realize when we set out that my destination was perilously near Chelsea Football Ground. Until we sat down on the bus, and the chap told me. And then gave me a potted history of Chelsea FC. I am not, I confess, a Sports fan. ‘But you’re not a Chelsea supporter’, I protested, trying to make it stop. This led to a mini-lecture on the virtues of the football team he does support, with a few digressions on the apparently many faults of Chelsea.
As we walked toward the Cemetery, the chap used Chelsea Football Ground as his North Star, pointing out when it was in view, and faltering slightly when it was not. When we entered the Cemetery gates, and made our way toward the chapel, with colonnades stretching out from it, looking like St Peter’s in Rome in miniature, I was captivated. Like its sister-cemeteries, Highgate and Kensal Green, this one, built in the 19th century to receive the overflow of the city’s dead, was very grand and yet somehow intimate. It struck me somehow as more humble and less dramatic than the others; a perfect resting place for the modest Maria Rossetti. The day was one of those atmospheric days, peculiar to England, which are at once sunshine and shadow.
Maria had chosen to be buried, not with her family, but with her adopted ‘Sisters’, the Anglican nuns who comprised the Sisterhood of All Saints, Margaret Street. A scholar and Italian language teacher like her father, Maria had grown up in the shadow of her more famous siblings Dante Gabriel and Christina. Forced to leave home at a young age to work as a resident governess when her family’s fortunes took a turn for the worse, she was reportedly a lot tougher, more resilient, and happier by nature than her sister Christina. She published a successful work on Dante Alighieri which was praised by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, but this was the apex of her literary accomplishments.
Although her family supported her choice to join an Anglican convent, they were heartbroken when she started life with her new Sisters, and her religious vocation became an absolute priority. She died at age 49, at the Sisters’ residence at 82 Margaret Street, following a painful battle with ovarian cancer. She was, by all accounts, a wise person and a diplomat like her brother William. My favourite Maria Rossetti quotation is: ‘This is the great secret of peace-keeping; to be such that no one can quarrel with us.’
I was telling the chap all this when he interrupted me. ‘Look! Over there!’ I spun around, prepared to come face to face with Maria’s tombstone. ‘You can see Chelsea football ground from here,’ he informed me.
Reader, it was true. Yet not what I’d hoped for. I slumped on a bench feeling defeated while he took pictures of the top of the football ground of a team he doesn’t even like. He walked away to get a better angle. After a while, he beckoned me over. He ignored my thunderous face and pointed at a grave which I realized was Maria Rossetti’s. Typically, he had found it without a map.
Maria Rossetti’s gravestone.
There was no escaping football that day. Later that evening, we spotted Chelsea star Frank Lampard in the pub where we’d stopped for a swift half. I considered stopping to inform him that he could spot Brompton Cemetery from his home ground. But he’s probably about as interested in Maria Rossetti as I am in football, so I let the man nurse his drink in peace.
If you’re curious about the location of Maria’s grave, email me and I’ll give you directions. If you’re curious about football, I’m afraid I am unable to assist you.