‘The Graves of a Catholic Woman and Her Protestant Husband, Who Were Not Allowed to Be Buried Together, Holland, 1888’

On February 7 2023, Twitter account @historydefined shared an image described as the graves of “a Catholic woman and her Protestant husband,” buried side by side in neighboring cemeteries:

The tweet appeared just before Valentine’s Day.

Fact Check

Claim: Photograph depicts the “graves of a Catholic woman and her Protestant husband, who were not allowed to be buried together, Holland, 1888.”

Description: A photograph shared by the Twitter handle @historydefined reportedly showed the graves of a Catholic woman and her Protestant husband in Holland, 1888, who were not allowed to be buried together.


Rating Explanation: The claim that the Catholic woman and her Protestant husband were not allowed to be buried together is backed by multiple sources verifying their story, including an Atlas Obscura article and historical records.

The image depicted two tall cenotaphs, each with a stone arm holding hands. Text in the tweet read:

The graves of a Catholic woman and her Protestant husband, who were not allowed to be buried together, Holland, 1888.

No links or references to further reading accompanied the tweet. Reverse image search (via TinEye) first crawled the image in September 2012, but — as has been happening more and more over the years — links to the earliest iterations no longer functioned, typically pointing to an error page.

One of the first crawled versions of the image was on a site called Retronaut.com, leading to a “content not found” link. The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine archived the image alone, with no additional content visible.

Google’s image search (Google Lens) suggested the search string “Colonel van Gorkum” for the image, but most of the search results were individual posts on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. A Facebook post from 2021 featured the image, with a status update reading:

In 1842, Colonel Jay van Gorkum of the Dutch cavalry married an aristocrat named van Efferden. The marriage was recognized as a monstrous misalliance: a Protestant from an ordinary family in those days simply did not have the right to marry a representative of a noble Catholic family.

Religious contradictions not only significantly complicated the life of a young family, but certainly would not have allowed the spouses to be buried nearby. When the colonel left this world, his widow found an original solution. The tomb of van Gorkum was placed as close as possible to the wall dividing the Catholic and Protestant parts of the cemetery.

Immediately behind this wall, Lady van Efferden also bought a place for her last refuge. When she died 8 years later, her relatives buried her there, installing a very symbolic tombstone on the grave: two identical monuments, from which the hands of lovers are connected over a stone wall.

One search match was an October 2013 Atlas Obscura article, “The Linked Headstones of Two Lovers Who Refused to Let Go, Even in Death.” It identified the decedents as “Protestant Colonel J.C.P.H. of Aeffderson” and “Catholic noblewoman J.W.C. Van Gorkum,” adding:

Their marriage would’ve caused a storm of scandal back in the 19th century. Not only was it religiously mixed, but they were from two very different social classes. However, despite all of the taboo in 19th century society, the couple’s marriage lasted for 40 years, only ending with the colonel’s death. Eight years later, when his wife passed away, her wishes dictated that she wanted to be buried next to her husband. [A form of religious segregation known as] Pillarisation was still in effect at the time, and according to the law, this was impossible. However, with a little creative stonework, both Husband and wife were linked eternally together in a different way … Now J.W.C and J.C.P.H’s graves show their two hands clasping one another across the graveyard wall that separates them, forever joined.

Another match was on the “scholarly blog” Culture on the Edge in April 2013, alongside a post titled “Defying the Edge.” Tagged with “Pillarisation,” it began:

Just as for every center there is a corresponding periphery — i.e., they are co-constitutive — so too for every boundary there is a transgression under control and a workaround that was not anticipated by the rule. For example, consider these adjoining Dutch graves from the late 19th century.

Under that text, the image appeared with a caption. It was credited to “Retronaut,” presumably the no longer accessible content originally paired with the photograph:

The graves of Colonel J.C.P.H and Catholic noblewoman J.W.C Van Gorkum. They were married in 1842. In 1888, Van Gorkum died, she wanted to be buried next to her husband. Pillarisation (a form of religious and political segregation in Holland [verzuiling in Dutch]) was still in effect at the time, and according to the law, this was impossible. His wife was buried on the other side of the wall, which was the closest she could get to her husband.

We retrieved an archived copy of the inaccessible Retronaut page, saved in July 2013; it was undated, and cited “Atlas Obscura” as a source. On February 26 2014, the image made an appearance on Reddit’s r/pics:

In December 2022, the couple’s graves were the subject of uCatholic.com’s “The Sad Story Behind This Catholic ‘Grave Of Eternal Love.'” In that post, a color photograph of the graves from a different angle appeared, and a 2021 Flickr post featured a color photograph (“Reunited”) captioned:

Funeral monument of Van Gorkum-Van Aefferden, also known as “The grave with the hands”, or “Het graf met de handjes”.

Jacobus Warnerus Constantinus van Gorkum (1809-1880) was a protestant colonel, who married the catholic noble woman Josephina Carlina Petronella Hubertina van Aefferden (1820-1888).

They were not allowed to be buried in the same section of the cemetery.

So they hold hands over the wall separating the catholic and the protestant section of the graveyard.

The cemetery was redesigned by architect Pierre Cuypers in 1858, who is also buried at this cemetery.

Begraafplaats nabij de Kapel in ‘t Zand, or “‘Oude Kerkhof” or “Den aje Kirkhoaf”, Roermond, The Netherlands.

Stock image site Alamy.com’s image entry PN3PN9 (“grave with the hands”) provided a 360° vantage point of the conjoined cemetery plots. Its caption read:

Colonel J.W.C. Van Gorkum was Protestant and married to the Catholic noble woman J.C.P.H. van Aefferden. He passed away in 1880 and she wanted to be buried with him in the same grave when she should die. But the difference of their faith did not allow that. So when she died in 1888 she was buried at the other side of the fence in the catholic area of the graveyard. But with their hands they are joined forever.

A February 2023 @historydefined tweet featured a photograph captioned: “The graves of a Catholic woman and her Protestant husband, who were not allowed to be buried together, Holland, 1888.” An appended image depicted a well-documented set of graves in the Netherlands, which Atlas Obscura indicated “resurfaced on the internet” in 2013 — and intermittently since. The image indeed depicted the respective graves of a Catholic noblewoman and Protestant colonel, buried in adjoining graves in the late 1800s.