What Is a Cemetery?


A cemetery is a serene place to visit loved ones, reminisce and pay their respects. It also serves as a historical repository of information about people who lived nearby.

A cemetery app makes it easier for family historians to locate graves of their ancestors. Previously, it would have been necessary to bring along a map, GPS device and laptop to find the right graves.

The History of Cemeteries

A cemetery is land that has been specifically set aside for the burial or entombment of human remains. It is a place where people go to pay their respects to the dead and often also serve as a memorial for those who have died. The layout and design of cemeteries reflect local geography, social attitudes, religion, aesthetic and sanitary precautions.

From the 7th century CE, church-controlled graveyards became common. The church would only allow members of the congregation to be buried on its ground, leading to overcrowding and poor conditions.

In the 1800s, curated gardens with paths and gazeboes began to replace these overcrowded areas of tombstones. Nowadays, many families who have loved ones buried in graveyards like to create shrines on their children’s and spouses’ graves, decorating them with flowers, wind chimes, toys and other objects. Although cemetery authorities usually attempt to limit the number and type of objects placed on a grave, these rules are often ignored by mourning family members.

Modern Day Cemeteries

In the United States there are over 144,000 cemeteries, which are both time capsules and a testament to America’s attitudes toward death. In his new book, journalist Greg Melville examines these graveyards from Colonial Jamestown to Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill to see what they reveal about religion, race, identity, and imagination.

During the 1800s, urban cemetery management had to become more sophisticated because of limited land available for burials and overcrowding in churchyards. This led to the development of “rural cemeteries,” which were more spacious than city burial grounds and removed the dead from public view.

Some modern-day trends in cemetery design have also focused on removing the dead from public view. For example, Seattle headstone manufacturer Quiring Monuments has incorporated technology into their grave markers by adding QR codes that link to a personal webpage set up by the family of the deceased, which can include photos, messages, and more. This helps mourners connect with the deceased and share memories.

Types of Cemeteries

Cemeteries can be classified into 4 major categories. The type of cemetery you choose will determine your options and cost.

Municipal, or public, cemeteries are owned by cities, towns, and counties and offer a range of services at a lower cost than private cemeteries. They are typically smaller and do not offer as many burial options as private cemeteries.

Private cemeteries are often owned by a religious order, fraternal organization, association, or individual. They generally have more burial options and services than public cemeteries, but they also tend to be more expensive.

Family (or private) cemeteries are where a group of individuals will purchase plots and inter their loved ones together. These are often located on the periphery of town or city centers and have more space than municipal cemeteries. They also usually have more beautiful monuments and mausoleums.

The Meaning of the Word “Cemetery”

The word cemetery comes from the Greek work koimeterion meaning “sleeping place.” It also carries the connotation of being a resting place for the dead.

Until around the 7th century, churches had complete control over burial processes. As a result, burials took place in the graveyards that were attached to their churches and were only available for members of that particular church or religion. Cemeteries are not associated with a specific faith and therefore can be larger than graveyards.

Often, people will visit a cemetery to pay their respects to their loved ones who have passed on. This is a very important part of the grieving process. It is not uncommon for visitors to leave flowers, food, or drinks at a grave site to show their respects and admiration. In some cases, war graves will be marked by small timber remembrance crosses or wreaths. Occasionally, candles will be lit on the grave site as a mark of remembrance.

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