In the island of San Michele, a monumental beech has been guarding the graveyard for 167 years now

9 November 2021

Venice, November 9th, 2021 – We all know it as “the beech cry” due to its huge foliage, with branches that can reach the ground, making it look like a weeping willow. For almost 2 centuries, an old beech has guarded San Michele’s deceased. Few know that, inside the monumental graveyard of San Michele, on a saline land of the XVIII fence, lay the roots of the 167 years old “Fagus sylvatica pendula”. More than twelve meters high, its foliage can reach a diameter of 10 meters while its roots are more than three meters long. Longevity and majesty are the main characteristics of this tree which, as such, is continuously monitored by the Municipality of Venice and by Veritas. Every six months the tree is analysed, with the aim of reporting any change to its structural characteristics, in order to later provide the Ministry of Agricultural Policy with the information. As a matter of fact, the Ministry conducts a census to protect every oldest plant growing in the whole Italian territory. 

The beech, at the entrance of the evangelical fenced area, found right here, in the venetian graveyard, the best living conditions. So, it has been slowly growing until becoming part of it, filling the space with natural grace, as if it wanted to guard and protect the many venetians and foreigners resting in peace.

Planted in the first half of the 1800s, the secular beech saw the birth of this graveyard, becoming part of a silent audience that witnessed every step of its transformation.

San Michele, a place of life and death, gathers and guards the story of more than 200 thousand deceased resting here. Venetian and foreign souls who loved the city that this year celebrates 1600 years from its foundation, chose the peace of this island as the place for their eternal rest. Souls with different religions, as protestants or orthodox, who are living together are still proving today how open Venice was and is to the world.

The graveyard was first established in the Island of San Cristoforo – right after the Napoleonic edict of 1804 that placed, for hygiene reasons, burials outside the city centre. Shortly after being completed, in 1813, there was not enough space and so, the island of San Michele became the new graveyard, completed in 1876.

The connection between the two islands, and so between the old and new graveyard, is the famous cycle of chapels lined one behind the other.

Not just a destination for pilgrimages due to the several graves of celebrities, San Michele is also a museum en plein aire, visited all around the year.

Some carry little stones and shells on Igor Stravinsky’s and his wife’s grave, while some others go and leave ballet shoes on Sergei Diaghilev’s grave or just pay a visit to the Russian poet Iosif Aleksandrovič Brodski. San Michele welcomes everybody, without making any distinction. From athletes, such as Helenio Herrera to actors such as Lauretta Masiero e Cesco Baseggio. Composers such as Luigi Nono, painters such as Emilio Vedova, Teodoro Wolf Ferrari e Virgilio Guidi but also physicist and mathematicians as Christian Andreas Doppler. Hundreds are the celebrities, to whom we add faded faces of religious people, soldiers, pilots, war victims, women who died while giving birth and to whom their husbands dedicated poignant words. Long is also the list of babies who lost their lives, normal little faces whose life is buried together with their bodies.

Many are the stories that San Michele passes on with pain, as the one of the 22 years old Russian Sonia Kaliensky, who killed herself in Venice. The reasons remained uncertain, but rumours said that it could be for deep love pain or perhaps for an arranged marriage. A bronze sculpture representing the young girl’s was made. She is in the same position as she was when they found her, lying down, with her eyes closed, in her nightgown with a hanging arm.

After hundred years, her hand shines for the countless cuddles received by people deeply touched by her broken life who is now resting in peace with a hundred thousand more.