New Life for Holy Rood Cemetery


Holy Rood Cemetery, located on a hill above Georgetown, has new life. Holy Trinity Catholic Church and Georgetown University have recently completed the long-awaited restoration of this beautiful, sacred space.

Holy Rood was established in 1832 as Holy Trinity’s parish cemetery. Its unusual name is taken from the Scottish “haly ruid,” meaning “Holy Cross.” The Jesuits who founded Georgetown College also established Holy Trinity Church nearby, which explains why the university still owns the parish cemetery.  By 1915, all the lots at Holy Rood were sold. There are approximately 7,000 burials at Holy Rood; the cemetery closed to further burials in the 1990s.

Over the years, the university has mowed the grass and replaced the stone retaining wall when it threatened to tumble onto Wisconsin Avenue. But without additional care, headstones toppled and weedy trees and invasive vines sprang up, marring this once-beautiful place.

Eventually, in 2010, Holy Trinity devised a plan to restore the cemetery, proposing to build a columbarium for entombing the ashes of parishioners and others. A portion of the proceeds from niche sales would be earmarked for restoring the cemetery and funding a perpetual care endowment. It took the better part of a decade for Holy Trinity and the university to reach a final agreement for accomplishing this plan.

Finally, in March of 2019, Holy Trinity began constructing a 645-niche columbarium at Holy Rood, consisting of 546 niches in a curved granite wall, visible from Wisconsin Avenue, and 99 niches in a nearby restored hillside crypt. The columbarium was completed that November. Renowned sculptor John Dreyfuss designed the bronze cross that was installed atop the crypt and two large bronze stands used for services held at the cemetery.

As part of the restoration, Holy Trinity planted more than 100 trees in the entrance and columbarium areas, along with 2,300 winter jasmine shrubs on the steep embankment along Wisconsin Avenue and adjacent to the crypt. The entrance has also been enhanced with new stonework and an ornamental gate and fence. A small visitor plaza near the entrance provides information on the cemetery’s history.

For its part, the university repaved the asphalt roadway, enhanced landscape maintenance and is in the process of resetting all of the fallen headstones.

Since launching the Holy Rood project, Holy Trinity has sold entombment rights in a substantial number of columbarium niches. Niches are available to parishioners, to Georgetown University alumni and staff and to the general public, Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Holy Trinity has also begun funding the perpetual care endowment. During the pandemic, the church has been holding Sunday masses outdoors in the columbarium area — an unexpected benefit of the project.

For further information on Holy Rood Cemetery and to purchase a columbarium niche online, visit holytrinitycolumbarium.org.

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One comment on “New Life for Holy Rood Cemetery”

  • z says:

    Then why is it being torn up again? Large blue tarps have covered a key area of the cemetery including the crypt the past couple weeks and bulldozers digging it up! Very annoying for those of us that have to look at this never-ending construction project all day for 2 years

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