If you were to wander around the cemetery at the St. Mary Magdalen Catholic church in the southwestern suburbs of London, you would come across all the usual sights—burial vaults garnished with crosses, crucifix grave markers that are outright sculptures in stone, and an army of headstones. And then there is the one gravesite that is not like the others.
Against the brick wall that encloses the world of the dead, there is a life-size, 19th-century “expedition-style tent” that serves as a mausoleum for the famed British explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton and his wife Isabel. A glance through the stained glass window at the back of the canvas reveals their two coffins resting side-by-side for all eternity.
It is a rather strange, though fitting scene—one that maintains a customary undercurrent of peacefulness. It is also very unlike Burton in life or death. While alive, Burton was constantly on the move, racking up as many languages and scandals as he did roles—explorer, soldier, spy, writer, poet, publisher, linguist, religious scholar.