|Cremation Through History
Cremation first appears in the Levant in the Neolithic, but declines with Semitic
settlement of the area in the 3rd millennium. Cremation was widely regarded as
barbarian in the Ancient Near East, to be used only by necessity in times of plague.
The Babylonians, according to Herodotus, embalmed their dead, and the
Zoroastrian Persians punished capitally even attempted cremation, with special
regulations for the purification of fire so desecrated.
In Europe, there are traces of cremation dating to the Early Bronze Age (ca. 2000
BC) in the Pannonian Plain and along the middle Danube.
The custom becomes dominant throughout Bronze Age Europe with the Urnfield
culture (from ca. 1300 BC).
In the Iron Age, inhumation becomes again more common, but cremation
persisted in the Villanovan culture and elsewhere. Homer's account of Patroclus'
burial describes cremation with subsequent burial in a tumulus similar to Urnfield
burials, qualifying as the earliest description of cremation rites. Early cremation
may have been connected to ideas of fire sacrifice, such as those to Taranis in
Hinduism is notable for not only allowing but prescribing cremation. Cremation in
India is first attested in the Cemetery H culture (from ca. 1900 BC), considered
the formative stage of Vedic civilization. The Rigveda contains a reference to the
emerging practice, in RV 10.15.14, where the forefathers "both cremated
(agnidagdhá-) and uncremated (ánagnidagdha-)" are invoked.
Cremation was common, but not universal, in both Ancient Greece and Ancient
Rome. In Rome, inhumation was considered the more archaic rite (Cicero, De
Leg., 2.22), and indeed the Cornelian gens, one of the most cultured in Rome, had
with the single exception of Sulla, never permitted the burning of their dead.
Christianity frowned upon cremation, both influenced by the tenets of Judaism,
and in an attempt to abolish Graeco-Roman pagan rituals. By the 5th century, the
practice of cremation had practically disappeared from Europe.
The modern cremation movements began only in 1873, with the presentation of a
cremation chamber by Paduan Professor Brunetti at the Vienna Exposition. In
Britain, the movement found the support of Queen Victoria's surgeon, Sir Henry
Thompson , who together with colleagues founded the Cremation Society of
England in 1874.
The first crematories in Europe were built in 1878 in Woking, England and Gotha,
Germany, the first in North America in 1876 by Julius LeMoyne in Washington,
Cremation was declared as legal in England and Wales when Dr William Price was
prosecuted for cremating his son; formal legislation followed later with the passing
of the Cremation Act 1902, (this Act did not extend to Ireland) which imposed
procedural requirements before a cremation could occur and restricted the practice
to authorized places.
Some of the various Protestant churches came to accept cremation, with the
rationale being, "God can resurrect a bowl of ashes just as conveniently as he can
resurrect a bowl of dust".
The 1908 Catholic Encyclopedia is critical about these efforts, referring to them as
"these sinister movements" and associating them with Freemasonry. In 1963,
Pope Paul VI lifted the ban on cremation, and in 1966 allowed Catholic priests to
officiate at cremation ceremonies.
|In ancient times people regarded fire as
a purifying agent, one that would ward
off evil spirits and cremation was used
in most lands. Bodies were burned to
ashes in open air, slow burning wood
fires often called Pyres. Urns were first
used in Greece and Rome to hold the
ashes of their dead.
Exceptions to this practice were Egypt
where bodies were preserved by embalming;
Palestine, where they were buried in caves or sepulchers; and China, where they
were buried in the ground.
After the rise of Christianity, Western countries abandoned cremation. During
Medieval times and eras surrounding the black plague, when incinerators were
burning around the clock, cremation was halted because they were depleting the
In the 19th century there was a return to cremation as a safety and public health
measure, and because of many overcrowded cemeteries.
The first crematory in the US was built in Washington, PA, in 1876. After 1900
cremation gained support in most Western countries. Since that time there has
always been legal objection that cremation destroyed potential evidence in deaths
resulting from crimes.
|Vikings- Pyre often offered a sacrificed slave, their spouse or close relative with
|(Artist rendering of a funeral pyre)
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