The Difference Between a Graveyard and a Cemetery


The words graveyard and cemetery seem to be interchangeable today, especially when people are talking about where their loved ones will be buried. However, they have different etymologies and a very distinct difference in the way they are used.

A graveyard is a burial ground that is usually associated with a church. A cemetery, on the other hand, is not associated with a church.


A graveyard is a place where the bodies of dead people are buried. It is often associated with a church, although it may also be located in a neighborhood. The term is used interchangeably with cemetery. However, the single word graveyard carries more weight than does the word cemetery when discussing burial grounds.

Traditionally, only those whose families could afford to hire the work of a stonemason were buried in graveyards. The resulting headstone would contain the person’s name, dates of birth and death and other biographical data. Richer families competed to see who could create the most aesthetically pleasing headstone.

As population growth in Europe accelerated, the capacity of graveyards became limited. As a result, new places for burial were created, independent of churches, and these were called cemeteries. These were also more organized than graveyards. The term is now largely used in connection with non-church locations for burial, including those where the deceased have been cremated.


Although the terms graveyard and cemetery are used interchangeably today, they were not always synonymous. During the Middle Ages, wealthy and influential Christian congregants were often interred inside of their churches in crypts. Less privileged church members were buried in the surrounding graveyard.

As population growth began to increase in the 1700s and 1800s, graveyards became full and unsustainable. As a result, completely new sites for burial, independent of churches, appeared and were called cemeteries.

As time went on, cemetery planners created landscaped gardens that were meant to make death less traumatic and more of a restful place. These curated gardens were one of the first public parks. Today, some historic cemeteries are re-used as parks with paths for people to stroll and enjoy nature in the presence of loved ones who have passed away. Others are maintained as graveyards and still contain headstones to remember the dead. Many countries have laws against the destruction of old graveyards, so that they can be repurposed for other uses.


The size of a graveyard will vary depending on location, rules and regulations, religion, burial requirements, headstone specifications, and other factors. Graves come in different sizes, but the standard marker for most is a flat plate that sits on the ground and includes the person’s name, date of birth, death, and other identifying information. The size of the headstone may also differ, but the cemetery will likely have guidelines for sizing that are consistent with their other markers.

Typical grave spaces or “plots” are four feet wide and ten feet long, although they can vary in size. This is because the cost of land can be high, and cemeteries are often running out of space due to a large population boom in recent decades. Additionally, varying soil types require different sizing. The depth of a grave is often six feet, but again, this can vary. Some graves are double or even triple-depth to maximize space.


The location of a graveyard is important because it defines the boundaries of the space where the dead are interred. Churchyards were originally used for this purpose but when they became full, it was necessary to set up separate locations. This is when the term “graveyard” came into use.

A natural cemetery, on the other hand, allows for early re-use of plots due to the quick decomposition process. As a result, they do not usually have conventional headstones. Instead, a GPS recording or the placement of a tree, bush or rock will allow family members to pinpoint the exact location of the grave site.

A graveyard is often seen as having a spooky aura. It is believed to be a place where witches and sorcerers collect the skulls and bones that they use in their sinister rituals. There is also a belief that cemetery grounds are frequented by zombies during the night. These superstitious beliefs are not without basis in fact.

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