Why are Cemeteries Beautiful?


Visiting churches and cemeteries…

on vacation helps me feel connected to the people, their past and their values. The cemeteries lure visitors with a combination of natural beauty, pretty flowers, ornate monuments and tombstones, interesting history and residents, and of course the wildlife. The churches are spellbinding with soaring, ornate architecture. You breathe in the sense of place.


Not all cemeteries have what I listed, but they do have intrigue, especially seeing them on a day with a fast-moving storm. They capture interest under a watchful eye.


I suppose I was drawn to the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin because of the epic location. Presumed built in the 12th. century, the church belonged to the Abbey. It sits in the shadow of the abbey ruin, Whitby Abbey, atop the West Cliff along the North Yorkshire coast.


I will show you more of the Abbey next post. I also discuss how frustrating it can be trying to get a good photo of a beautiful place under less that optimal conditions.


The Town of Whitby is approached by the famous 199 steps that lead from the Whitby Abbey. I descended all 199 of them. It is not as tiring as the 325 of the Niagara Gorge, but it still is a long way down. You can see it is narrow and filled with tourists, but the decent presents a beautiful view of the Town of Whitby.

The cemetery has a few pasturing friends, some very cute and small ponies. Don’t think sheep were far off. Sheep are everywhere in the rural UK. I even saw llamas too.


The church is a bit unique and rather complex in nature. It has a hodgepodge building style of Norman architecture, complete with an odd use of Georgian windows and porch. Each successive generation added their own particular style as the church grew in size.  Although I did not see inside the church, the interior is a “labyrinthine of complexity.” I purchased the English Heritage Guidebook, Whitby Abbey, and agree this is an odd interior layout.

What was most eye-catching though, was the windswept churchyard and neighboring cemetery. Yes, the abbey (above) was impressive, but the church and grounds pulled me away. The unkempt graveyard was like out of a movie, tombstones swallowed up by time. This really would have been a great place to photograph at the sun-kissed golden hour. You can see for miles…the North Yorkshire coastline is lovely.


What a restful place.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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41 Responses to Why are Cemeteries Beautiful?

  1. When we were in Ireland last year I really enjoyed visiting all the churches and cemeteries as well. The architecture varies so much from church to church. Also, the sizes of these structures amazes me especially when you consider the timeframe they were built in.
    Your pictures are lovely and really show the beauty of the countryside. Loved the ones with the coastline in them.

  2. Alesia says:

    I love cemeteries. Always have. Breathtaking photos

  3. lulu says:

    I’m glad to know I’m not the only one fascinated by cemeteries. I often wonder what of us will be left behind with so many choosing to be cremated.

  4. Maria F. says:

    I think your images came out really well. You got very good light and the clouds really make these stand out. It seems to be a “sweet” light, either early morning or late afternoon, or was it midday?

    • Thank you. It was high noon though!!! That really is the unfortunate consequence of an organized trip. We see amazing places, but not at a time suitable for photographs. Next post I discuss that subject. I briefly mentioned all the tourists in a previous post and how I go about avoiding them. It is not just the time of day, it is all those people too.

  5. Emily Scott says:

    You’ve made me want to visit Whitby again. I’ve only ever been there for a very chilly school trip in February. Cemeteries are fascinating places, so many stories in the stones.

    • Sorry I missed you in London. It would have been nice to see you if possible. Emma sent me a message on FB and I missed it since I am not on FB much. I did get to Kew though and loved the Hive. The kids loved it too. I have photos of kids laying prone looking down from the top. They were amazed.

  6. Beautiful and peaceful-thank you for sharing!

    • Thank you. Their rural areas are lovely with all those sheep. The ponies seemed out of place on that high hill though. The sheep nearby did not. At Stonehenge, there were pasturing sheep right in the area.

  7. I’ve always loved touring cemeteries. I live off the Mormon trail and there are markers along the way where people or families perished. I go through them and see several family members perishing in a short amount of time and you wonder if it was an illness or something more sinister. I loved your pictures. Can you read those stones?

  8. I’ve been to Whitby a few times and it was always dark and stormy, a perfect setting for those gothic novels of the Brontes and others! And the North Sea is so huge and powerful. Your photos are gorgeous, and you are right about the golden hour idea! I climbed those stairs (up and down) with my kids once! Thank you for bringing back such wonderful memories. I recently spent some time in the famous Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA, and it was quite peaceful and moving. I hope you have a chance to visit it someday as I think you would find it to be fascinating. Linda

  9. swo8 says:

    I love cemeteries too. I always wonder about the people there. Are they some distant relative? What was the world like when they walked the earth. What are their stories? Thanks Donna.

  10. What beautiful and stunning photos. I think you were up near Robin Hood’s Bay which is one of my favorite spots along the North Sea coast.

  11. Lovely photos. Cemeteries are just one place i don’t really take photos off. Here in New Zealand the Maori are very strong in their beliefs about imagery of the dead, that includes gravestones. So I have to be respectful of this.

  12. Søren says:

    I’m fortunate enough to live in a spot where I can see the tower of a 12th century church from my front room windows – and the spire of another from my bedroom window! And there are 3 more 12th century churches within a few miles of my house! I love them. In Denmark – by all standards a rather small country and certainly not very populous in the 12th century – more than 2000 village churches were build during the period 1150-1225, and my local parish is now a combination of 6 original village parishes, so we basically have 6 medieval churches and the Sunday services rotate between them so they are still living buildings, rather than dead monuments of the past.

    I like having that history literally outside my windows, and I like having these buildings that I can visit whenever I want to; they’re so full of strange details that there’s enough to explore for a lifetime! And of course they are also nice and peaceful places to just go and sit with your own thoughts, regardless of religion, whether you sit inside them or in the churchyard. (The best is that I have to get the keys for the churches from the grave digger when I want to go inside; there’s something magical about opening a heavy oak door with a 10-inch iron key to let yourself into a medieval building…)

    • You are so fortunate to live in such a rich, historical area. My next post talks on people who live in these special places. You are also sensitive to the beauty around you. Like you, I often sit and think about times before and wonder what it was like. Also opening those old doors and passing though the same threshold where others passed long ago.

      • Søren says:

        Churches that are nearly 1,000 years old is nothing too special here – and the local burial mounds are more like 5,000 years old.

        Mind you, Americans are often very bad at recognising their own history, because there are some rather old, native American sites scattered throughout the US – your country is steeped in history just as much as Europe, but it’s just a different history and one that has perhaps not been celebrated as much.

        No matter where we go, somebody probably went before us.

  13. arlene says:

    I love the stillness and the quiet 🙂

  14. Kevin says:

    Gorgeous. I love the quiet in cemeteries — and the history. My mind wanders as I look at the dates and think of how they lived, what they saw. Fascinating post.

  15. If you love local history, you can learn so much from cemeteries. In England, it’s not unusual to see a goat or two grazing in the churchyard. P. x

  16. afarawayhome says:

    Hello! I love these photos, I think they are beautiful (even if the conditions weren’t so great…) I’ve never been to Whitby since I thought it was just a holiday resort, I’d love to see this church though. I’m often draw to cemeteries, when I was in Vienna I spent a whole day looking for the graves of famous composers. The cemeteries there weren’t very relaxing though, they were too grand and formal: I much prefer ramshackle villages churchyards 🙂

  17. rogerbrook says:

    I was delighted to read of your visit to Whitby. It is one of my favourite seasides which I have visited for seventy years – if you include my parents taking me as a toddler from Huddersfield!
    We have some wonderful churches and abbeys in the UK. You would love Jervaulx abbey that I recently blogged about. You would also have delighted in the lovely millennium window in Bolton Percy medieval church – where I have my own cemetery garden widely featured on my blog!
    You would have also been fascinated by the magnificent grave of the Worsbrough fisherman at the other cemetery I maintain in Barnsley.

    • I do need your link to your blog Roger. I found I loved so much in the UK. It makes me feel like I was born at the wrong time. All the amazing architecture of the churches and abbeys in Europe are such a fascination for me.

  18. Sue Vincent says:

    No so restful in reality. Since I was a child and visited regularly, a large proportion of Whitby’s cemetery has fallen from the edge of the cliff because of constant erosion, dumping skeletons on the houses below.
    The interior of the church is a sstrange place, very much a social commentary and showing the evolution of the building and its congreegation. There are some pictures of the interior on my blog from a trip a couple of years ago. https://scvincent.com/2015/02/12/discovering-albion-day-8-the-church-on-the-cliff/

  19. Of Gardens says:

    Such a good question. I realize I have asked myself that question many times, without ever putting it into words. I, too, really like cemetaries and also think about the people who are there and what their lives mgiht have been. Good post. England is such a wonderful country to visit. Looking forward to reading more.

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