|History of the Cemetery
By Definition a Cemetery is place or ground set aside for burying the dead. The
word was first applied to the early Christian catacombs. For many centuries
cemeteries were put next to churches. From about the 7th century, European burial
was under the control of the church and on consecrated church grounds. Practices
varied but, in continental Europe, bodies were usually buried in a mass grave until
they had decomposed. The bones were then exhumed and stored in ossuaries
either along the arcaded bounding walls of the cemetery or within the church under
floor slabs and behind walls.
The habit of burying corpses in land enclosed within the city walls had a negative
impact on health. As a consequence, some cemeteries were moved away from
heavily populated areas. As an example, in the late 18th century, skeletons
exhumed from major Paris cemeteries were moved into ossuaries in the
Catacombs, and burials were prohibited in inner-city locations.
Cemetery company and municipally owned cemeteries, independent from churches
and their churchyards, date largely from the early 19th century, certainly in their
landscaped or garden cemetery form, although the cemetery reform movement
began c. 1740 and there were a small number of earlier extra-mural burial grounds.
The earliest of the spacious landscaped-style cemeteries is Père Lachaise in Paris.
This embodied the idea of state, rather than church, controlled burial; a concept
that spread through Europe with the Napoleonic invasions, and sometimes became
adapted leading to the opening of cemeteries by private companies. The shift to
municipal cemeteries or those established by private companies was usually
accompanied by the establishing of spacious, landscaped, burial grounds outside of
the city limits.
Cemeteries are usually a respected area, and often include churches or other
religious buildings (chapels); and sometimes a crematorium for the burning
(cremation) of the dead. The violation of the graves or buildings is usually
considered a very serious crime and punishments are often severe.
The style of cemeteries varies
greatly internationally. For example, in the
US and many European countries modern
cemeteries usually have many tombstones
placed on open spaces. In Russia, tombstones
are usually placed in small fenced family lots.
(This was once common practice in American
cemeteries as well, and such fenced family
plots are still visible in some older American
Cemeteries in cities take a lot of valuable urban space, which could become a
problem, especially in older cities. As historic cemeteries begin to reach their
capacity for full burials, alternative memorialization, such as collective memorials
for cremated individuals, is becoming more common. Different cultures have
different attitudes to destruction of cemeteries and use of the land for construction.
In some countries, it is considered normal to destroy the graves, while in others the
graves are traditionally respected for a century or more. In many cases, after a
suitable period of time has elapsed the headstones are removed and the now
former cemetery is converted to a recreational park or construction site.
|African American Cemetery No. 2 (Lexington, KY)
Boot Hill- American West gunfighter cemeteries
Spring Grove Cemetery (Cincinnati, OH)
|Grove Street Cemetery
(New Haven, CT)
Widely recognized as the first
chartered burial ground in the
U.S., is the Grove Street
Cemetery, following the
previous common burial site, the
New Haven Green. After yellow
fever epidemics in 1794 and
1795, New Haven Green, which
held as many as 5,000 burials,
was too crowded to continue as
the main burial ground.
|In many countries, cemeteries are objects of superstition and legend; they are
sometimes used (usually at night-time) for black magic ceremonies or similar
clandestine happenings. In Haiti the traditional belief regarding zombies as practiced
under Voudun religion is connected with burial rituals. It is believed that the
zombified individual is buried alive in a coffin in a shallow grave after being given a
dosage of tetrodotoxin from the puffer fish to slow his heart so he appears dead
even to medical practitioners.
After all the burial ceremonies are completed the zombie victim is then dug up and
taken into servitude, usually as a punishment for some crime he committed. Some
Haitians deny that these practices exist and that these kinds of voodoo practices are
|While uncommon today, family
(or private) cemeteries were a matter of
practicality during the settlement of
America. If a municipal or religious
cemetery had not been established,
settlers would seek out a small plot of
land, often in wooded areas bordering
their fields, to begin a family plot.
Sometimes, several families would
arrange to bury their dead together.
While some of these sites later
grew into true cemeteries, many were forgotten after a family moved away or died
out. Today, it is not unheard of to discover groupings of tombstones, ranging from
a few to a dozen or more, on undeveloped land. Little effort is made to remove
remains when developing, as they may be hundreds of years old; the tombstones
are often simply removed.
More recent, is the practice of families with large estates choosing to create private
cemeteries in the form of burial sites, monuments, crypts, or mausoleums on their
property; the mausoleum at Fallingwater is an example of this practice. Burial of a
body at a site may protect the location from redevelopment, such estates often
being placed in the care of a trust or foundation. Presently, state regulations have
made it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to start private cemeteries; many
require a plan to care for the site in perpetuity. Private cemeteries are nearly
always forbidden on incorporated residential zones.
|Many places have been found where ancient people buried their dead. These
places could be an organized necropolis or they could be simply areas with highly
symbolic elements around (like the Tomb of Giants in Sardinia). The Egyptian
pyramids were tombs.
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|In 1796 New Haven citizens, planned a new cemetery at the edge of town. It was
officially recognized in October, 1797 when the State of Connecticut incorporated
the cemetery as The New Burying Ground in New Haven. The first burial, that of
Martha Townsend, took place on November 9, 1797.
|Grove Street Cemetery- New Haven, CT
(photo: courtesy of Yale Daily News)