Italian Benevolent Society Tomb
Of all the tombs in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, the New Orleans Italian Mutual Benevolent Society’s marble masterpiece is the shining star. Architect Pietro Gualdi (his name is inscribed underneath the “Italia” name) designed this tomb in 1857, that for all the world looks like a fancy chest of drawers. Its 24 vaults were for the temporary use of the society’s members, and one’s stay would generally last for a year or so before the bones would be scooped up and placed in a receptacle in the tomb’s basement. The $40,000 cost of the tomb had to be shared among the society’s members, so it was understandable that one’s stay would be brief before joining the bones of their fellow Italians.
The tomb is a fine example of the fanciful nature of the Baroque style of architecture, which fittingly had its roots in Italy. Baroque architecture is characterized by exuberant decoration, sweeping curvaceous forms and an almost playful delight in composition, all of which are evident in this society tomb. The tomb includes three elegantly carved marble statues of female figures; one holding a cross surmounting the top, one in a niche above “Italia” and another out of view in a niche on the left representing “Charity”.
Photo and text © Douglas Keister Visit Doug’s Author Page