The Difference Between a Graveyard and a Cemetery

Graveyards are areas where people are buried. They may or may not be associated with a church.

Those who could afford to pay for a headstone would hire a stonemason to have the family name and dates of birth and death carved on it.

The word cemetery comes from Latin, meaning “burial place”. While the terms graveyard and cemetery are often used interchangeably, they have different definitions.

What is a Graveyard?

Many people use the terms graveyard and cemetery interchangeably, but on a technical level, there is a difference between the two. Graveyard is the older term, and it refers to a burial ground that adjoins a church. In the Middle Ages, wealthy and influential Christians were generally buried inside of a church in crypts beneath the floor, while less well-off congregants were buried outside in the churchyard.

When the old churchyards began to fill up, modern burial grounds called cemeteries were established. While some still have religious affiliations, they are not associated with a particular place of worship and can be used for members of any religion. Similarly, mausoleums are separate structures that may be located in either a cemetery or a graveyard. However, the word necropolis is also used to describe a large group of burial sites.

What is a Cemetery?

When someone dies, they are buried in a cemetery. That’s the big clue in its name: Cemetery means that it is a place set aside for burial. Originally, a cemetery was just part of a churchyard; the process of burying people was very tightly controlled by the church in Europe, and only members were allowed to be buried on their grounds.

As the population of European countries began to grow, these graveyards were overcrowded; the number of burials far outgrew their capacity. As a result, a new type of cemetery was developed, separate from churches, which could bury followers of different religions. The term “cemetery” was adopted from the Latin word koimeterion, meaning sleeping place or bedchamber. It is now the most common form of a final resting place.

What is the Difference Between a Graveyard and a Cemetery?

Although often used interchangeably, the terms graveyard and cemetery mean slightly different things. Graveyard is the older term, traditionally referring to a burial ground attached to a church or chapel. In the past, wealthy or influential Christians were generally interred inside a church, often in a crypt, while less-wealthy congregants were buried outside, in what was known as the graveyard.

However, as European populations began to increase and church graveyards became full, new burial grounds that were independent of churches appeared, which came to be known as cemeteries. Cemeteries are generally larger than graveyards, and are usually run by councils rather than religious organisations. They are also more likely to be open to people of all faiths and have more flexible rules about headstones.

What is the Difference Between a Churchyard and a Cemetery?

Despite their similarity, a graveyard and cemetery are not the same thing. The key difference is that a churchyard adjoins a church, and a cemetery does not. This is significant because it means that a churchyard is limited to people who belong to the same religion, while a cemetery can be open to anyone.

In addition, the term graveyard has a more rustic feel than a cemetery, as it is typically located on church grounds and may have older tombstones that aren’t perfectly manicured. For the sake of linguistic accuracy, you should avoid using the terms cemetery and graveyard interchangeably. Instead, refer to a churchyard as a resting place affiliated with a specific church and to a cemetery as a separate burial ground that is either public land through a city or town, or private property owned by an independent company like Arbor.

What is the Difference Between a Cemetery and a Necropolis?

During the Middle Ages, wealthy or influential Christians were generally laid to rest inside church premises in a crypt. Less wealthy congregants were buried outside in the churchyard, also known as a graveyard.

Necropolises are expansive burial sites that showcase societal and cultural values, with tombs and structures of varying size and complexity. They often contain a range of funerary objects, including urns, obelisks, or mausoleums for royalty, officials, and revered individuals.

While graveyard and cemetery are now used interchangeably, they are two distinct concepts. Historically, graveyards were confined to the church grounds, while cemeteries are larger pieces of land that may be public through the city or town or privately owned by an independent company like Arbor. Both have their own set of rules and regulations governing what goes into the graves and who can be buried there.

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