Western cemetery history starts here.
The final resting place of the dead can symbolize so many different things. For some people, it might be a reminder of immortality and a place that invokes mystery. For others, it may be a location that is comforting because it is where their departed loved ones have been laid to rest.
These sites – cemeteries and graveyards – have evolved over time. In an effort to honor and remember those who have been buried, early death customs included placing stones or markers that would not only remind people where someone lay but also could provide some information about that person. And those not placed in the ground may have been laid inside tombs or hidden away inside caves or other specific locations.
Eventually those stone monuments became cemeteries that people could visit. Socially, they became places where communities could gather together for special occasions. One such example is Dia De Los Muertos; families tend to the graves of their loved ones and share meals.
In many parts of the world, like the United Kingdom, Europe and America, a majority of those more public places became garden cemeteries with park-like settings that were maintained.
Churchyards and select locations within churches were also burial spots. Most often, however, for the wealthier congregants. It has noted that even here, one’s social status depended on the section of the ground where one was buried. The most favored sites were those to the east, as close as possible to the church. In such a location, the dead would be assured the best view of the rising sun on the Day of Judgment. People of lesser distinction were buried on the south side, while the north corner of the graveyard was considered the Devil’s domain.
There, according to Beyond the Grave, written by Troy Taylor, ground was reserved for illegitimate offspring and strangers who passed away while traveling through the local parish.
New Phase of Western Cemetery History
Unfortunately church graveyards did not grow to accommodate the increasing populations. To manage the bodies, graves were sometimes two or three coffins deep. In some instances, the ground was leased for select periods of time. One that time had expired, the bones were moved to another location, such as an ossuary or a catacomb where they were more easily stored.
Once that capacity had been reached the overflow found its way to the public cemeteries.
Paris’s Pere-Lachaise set the tone with its hundreds of acres of green landscaping set the standard and America followed. However, until the 1900’s, the churchyard remained a common burial place. Eventually England caught on and followed suit.
Just as back then, these public spaces continue to require maintenance and care. Here at Santa Rosa Memorial Park we understand the commitment we make to our families: we will preserve the cemetery for their loved ones throughout perpetuity.
Yes, that’s a long time and much thought and detail needs to go into the decisions we make about our 36+ gardens, niches, columbaria and mausoleums.
To learn more about our Santa Rosa and Windsor locations, please click here.
To get more information about Beyond the Grave, click here.