Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Mapped in Stone



On my walks in the “Pointes,” as we call this inner-most of all cluster of Detroit suburbs—settlements sandwiched between the city to the west and Lake St. Clair to the east—I have access to two cemeteries. The first is a columbarium, crypts placed in two waist-high structures and others placed in the walls that surround this facility which is open to the sky. Each crypt holds ashes. This secluded facility—with a pair of benches for contemplatives who wander there—is part of St. Paul on the Lake, a Catholic church. As the name implies it looks out over Lake St. Clair. The other is a cemetery located a good ways to the north and much more inland. It fronts on Moross, one of our major avenues. A large and much-weathered stone in that place announces that it is St. Paul Cemetery. Strange. I looked into this and discovered that even cemeteries sometimes “pick up and move.” St. Paul’s used to be where the columbarium is now. But what with the expansion of St. Paul’s, which extends a good ways to the north of the church itself and houses St. Paul on the Lake Catholic School, extensive playgrounds, and housing for nuns, the old cemetery was dug up and transported elsewhere long ago. And before it finally settled on Moross, it used to be in another location. We are a mobile society. Even our departed are on the go…

Speaking of transportation, anyone local to this area will immediately recognize the names on the gravestones that I feature today. They are also the names of major avenues. I’ve arranged them in geographical order, running from north to south. All four of these prominent families just happened to be members of St. Paul on the Lake, a church established in 1834. At present banners hang all over the ground of the church celebrating its 175th anniversary.

That word, columbarium, derives from the Latin for dovecote. These, of course, are structures of small compartments. In the funerary uses of this structure, each cote holds cinerary urns.

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