On one of the higher hills around, our 7th floor flat looks out over the outskirts of Lisbon. To the east we see rooftops and the Benfica stadium. To the West a spot of green and more rooftops. To the north one’s eyes catch sight of the tops of tombs and temporary graves as the third largest cemetery in Lisbon wraps around us. This municipal graveyard, built in 1869 to replace the replete parochials, was originally named the Sandy Barrens Cemetery.
Nowadays, amongst temporary and permanent inhabitants, Benfica Cemetery hosts at least one candidate for sainthood and one bona fide martyr, the former, the Venerable Padre Cruz, and the latter, José Dias Coelho, a communist operative murdered in 1961 by the secret services.Francisco Rodrigues da Cruz stood for his belief in God, in simplicity and the defense of the poor, facing persecution and imprisonment during the anti-clerical period of the first Portuguese Republic.
When the second Republic degenerated into totalitarianism, José Dias Coelho forsook first his art and then his life to go underground in the fight against the dictatorship.
Neither catholic nor communist, I admire their common qualities: conviction and courage.
We did an episode of House Hunter’s International. When the film crew first visited the flat, the producer exclaimed, “You didn’t tell us you had a view!”
Because a cemetery doesn’t count? Because you can’t quite see the soccer matches played in the club competing for the largest number of active members in the world? Because a “view” in Lisbon must, by definition, look out over warrens of medieval alleyways or the magnificence of the Tagus River. It never occurred to me that my “unobstructed view” was, in fact, “A View.”
Until I took a stroll through the cemetery.