I’tisam al-Din’s Shigarfnamah, 8: buildings and burial ‘rights’

My translation, based on the Farsi version, publication forthcoming: Mirza I’tisam al-Din. Shigarfnamah Vilayet. Toronto: Foundation for Iranian Studies, 2014.

On the Features of London Buildings

Stone buildings are few and brick buildings many. But churches, old and new, are mostly built of stone. P 92

The St Paul Church is indeed pleasant and uplifting, and an edifice comparable to it in height and size and solidity does not exist in India other than the Doulatabad Castle. I have heard that there is a church in Rome that this church is modeled after. P 94

Another church is Westminster Abbey that was build by a Danish King. It is very old but stands like new. It holds many wondrous images that are made by strong brushworks of painters as skilled as Mani and chiseled by masters comparable to Farhad. P 94

I was told that the Danish king ruled in England for a long time and built other edifices like this. The painted images and marble sculptures were made by old masters in Rome and Syria and Egypt, and the Danish king purchased them for thousands of rupees and brought them to England. Nothing like them can be found today, and indeed I did not see any building as fine as this elsewhere. P 95

There is also the Westminster Bridge that is as long as the sea in Calcutta and so wide that four ships can easily pass under it side by side. It is said that there are only two bridges like it in the world, one in Rome and the other in Baghdad. P 95

Another sight is an old church to the south of Westminster Abbey which is a tall stone building where they keep as memorial the corpses of eminent personalities in heavy boxes lined up on two sides. Although it is their custom to bury the corpses of the rich and poor in the cemetery and build mausoleums at the gravesite of the rich, it is also their old custom to anoint and guild the corpse of those who are famed and celebrated with various materials and spices and wrap them in leaves and felt and seal them in the boxes. Thus the corpse always remains fresh so that whenever someone desires to see the corpse to know its likeness and features can open the box and close it again. It is necessary to be cautious of the air in opening and closing the boxes because if air reaches the corpse it will decompose immediately. The paupers are buried in a large pit that is dug deeply, its walls lined up with brick and stone like a well, covered with stone slabs. After funeral rites they throw the corpses in the pit and cover it again with the slabs. I saw such a pit near Westminster church and this was a fact that I investigated with many English. But recently a Mr Burnstone denied this and claimed that the graves of the poor and the wealthy are [not??] distinguished. [Farsi pp 95-96]

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