One of the more uniquely designed tombs in London, that of Victorian explorer, soldier, linguist and diplomat Sir Richard Burton (1821-1890; not to be confused with the actor of the same name) was created in the shape of a Bedouin tent.

Located in the cemetery of St Mary Magdalen Roman Catholic Church in Mortlake in south-west London, the Grade II* tomb was designed by Burton’s strongly Catholic wife, Isabel, Lady Burton (1831-96), who is buried in it with him (his body was brought back from Trieste, Italy, where he expired; hers added after he death several years later). The tent’s form was apparently inspired by one the couple stayed in during a visit to Syria.

The tomb, which is constructed of stone from the Forest of Dean and Carrara marble and topped with two gilt stars, looks a fitting tribute for Burton who not only took part in the search for the source of the Nile but also scandalously translated the texts The Arabian Nights, The Perfumed Garden and The Kama Sutra into English.

The coffins of the couple can be seen inside the tomb through a large window in the rear of the roof which is accessed by a short ladder. The interior is also decorated with a range of items including religious paintings, statues and other items symbolic of the Catholic faith as well as strings of camel bells.

The inscription on the front of the mausoleum features a commemorative sonnet by poet Justin Huntly McCarthy as well as the inscription, “This monument is erected to his memory by his living countrymen”.

The tomb was restored in 1975 and more recently in 2012-13.

The interior of the church also features a memorial to Burton (who actually described himself as an atheist). It takes the form of a stained glass window which depicts Burton as a medieval knight.

WHERE: St Mary Magdalen Church, 61 North Worple Way, Mortlake (nearest overground station is Mortlake); WHEN: Reasonable hours; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.stmarymags.org.uk.

PICTURES: Maureen Barlin (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0/image cropped)

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