MOTHER OF GOD CEMETERY
2701 Latonia Avenue
Covington, KY. 41015
Bella Morte Rating: 1 Tombstone
Located in a lush Kentucky valley, at first glance one might think Mother of God Cemetery in Covington would have little but its pastoral setting to recommend it. Upon entering, however, visitors may well be delighted by the peaceful ambience and surprising number (for its diminutive size, that is) of emotive and lovely monuments. We write this while simultaneously issuing the following caveat: the day we visited was gorgeously overcast with only one or two brilliant blue breaks in the grey canopy. It could be that a sunny day would have negatively affected our outlook and rating. Yet, even having said that, the number of interesting figures would make us recommend a visit when in the area (even if having to be armed with a large-brimmed hat or umbrella to ward off the sun--Mother of God has an appalling lack of trees for shade).
The cemetery was established in 1887 in answer to the near-capacity problem of Buena Vista (a/k/a "Old Mother of God Cemetery"). Although it had its origins as a parish graveyard used by the predominantly German citizenry, it has gone on to become a regional cemetery which is still in use today.
Perhaps the most remarkable memorial is the life-size crucifixion scene. Created by internationally recognized sculptor, Clement J. Barnhorn, the figures at the foot of the cross stand or kneel in attitudes of deep grief while Christ's muscular body strains in agony, his gaze fixed heavenward. Most striking is the figure of Mary Magdalene. Unable to look at the suffering man above her, she kneels at his feet and weeps, hands open in her lap in a gesture of helpless resignation. Mr. Barnhorn was a student of Frank Duveneck, a well-known Covington artist whose mortal remains repose in one of the cemetery's most noteworthy monuments. Rendered in lustrous pink granite, the entire crypt stands above-ground, flanked at each of its four corners by a different bronze angel with his or her outstretched wings flung wide to embrace and protect the tomb. Doubtless, the angels are allegorical and probably represent Faith, Love, Hope and Charity though of this we are uncertain. What we can state unequivocally is the monument is beauteous. Each Memorial Day since 1923, members of the Cincinnati Art Club meet at the artist's grave for a brief service to remember him and all of their deceased members.
Another interesting aside: Frank Duveneck married Elizabeth Otis Lyman Boott, the daughter of a wealthy, widowed American expatriate who moved to Italy from Boston after his wife's death (and when "Lizzie" was but a babe). An accomplished artist in her own right, the love affair between the two (who came from different social classes) was considered scandalous by many at the time. Be that as it may, after years of transcontinental courtship, the two determined to marry, but Lizzie's father (fearful for his only daughter's fortune) had Duveneck sign a pre-nuptial agreement effectively barring him access to his soon-to-be-wife's considerable wealth! The love the couple shared for each other eventually won even Lizzie's father over and he dissolved the agreement five months after the couple's first (and only) child was born. Like his mother, Fate stepped in and rendered him "motherless" while still in his youth. Lizzie, who had returned to her art after weathering the worst of the battle involved in caring for an infant, succumbed to pneumonia and died only four days into the illness. Grief-stricken, Duveneck created a monument of enthralling merit. The original rests over the body of his beloved in the Cemetery of the Laurels in Florence, Italy. It depicts the dead figure of Lizzie, lying in repose on her bed, a palm branch resting along the length of her body. Rendered in bronze, the effigy appears to float in space owing to its black granite base. So taken was Lizzie's father with the memorial, he commissioned a marble copy to be made and brought to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (see image below) where the "motherless child" could easily see her form and where friends and admirers could come to pay their respects among the great works of art which surround her.
Back to Mother of God Cemetery now. Aside from the Duveneck monument and the crucifixion scene, there are a number of figures, mostly religious (Roman Catholic) worth seeing. In one area, a metal statue of St. Francis stands sentry to a family grave, in another, an unusual statue of Jesus as the Good Shepherd (but wearing a hat that resembles a helmet) casts its shadow across the grass, and in another a crop of crosses mark the graves of deceased nuns (unfortunately, we can't recall to which order they belonged). The nuns rest directly across from the large passion scene, their bodies facing the cross for eternity. Also facing the tableau are the tombs of a number of priests and even some "higher ups" from the Catholic Church (I.e. bishops, etc.). Elsewhere, angels is various attitudes of grief or hope grace the green lawns.
In spite of several exceptional monuments, Mother of God Cemetery is not worth going out of one's way for; however, as Cincinnati and the nearby area of Kentucky host a number of good cemeteries, it is certainly advisable to add this to your list of "should sees" if you happen to be on a cemetery tour of these locales.