A cemetery is a place where people are buried when they die. It is a place where family members can visit and reminisce about their loved ones.
The inscriptions and shapes of grave markers reflect notions of death and life. These markers also mark the boundaries between the worlds of the living and dead.
The terms cemetery and graveyard are sometimes used interchangeably, but there is a difference. A cemetery refers to a dedicated area for burials, with specific plot locations and clearly defined boundaries. It may be religious or non-religious, with a cemetery authority operating under its own internal set of rules and regulations.
Graveyards, on the other hand, often have more loosely defined boundaries. They were once a common sight on church grounds, but as populations increased and small churchyards became overcrowded, they began to pose a health hazard from the putrefaction of human waste and could lead to disease in the surrounding community.
As a result, completely new burial grounds were established, usually on the periphery of towns and cities and independent of churches and their churchyards. They also tended to be landscaped and feature different areas for entombment in mausoleum crypts, tombs and sarcophagi, as well as for traditional full-body burial. The new cemeteries were a reflection of the increasing belief that the ties of kinship extend beyond death.
A cemetery serves as a place of memory for the family. This place is also used to re-establish links with the past, and is sometimes a focus for festivals of mourning. Depending on geography, religious beliefs and social attitudes, cemeteries can be simple and stark or grand and elaborate.
Most modern cemeteries provide a range of visitor services like genealogy information and flower placement programs. Many have columbaria walls for cremation urns.
In the past, the burial of the dead was often carried out in a graveyard near a church. These were called churchyard cemeteries. Due to the limitations of land availability, the number of people buried in churchyard cemeteries was often limited. The church was often responsible for granting or denying permission for burials in the churchyard of the particular church. During the First World War, soldiers buried in cemeteries were usually marked with a timber remembrance cross. Many families left a poppy wreath on the crosses, a tradition that continues today.
As people move away from traditional burial, newer cemeteries are emerging that focus less on death and more on memory. These may be more like memorial parks where gravestones are plainer and often feature fewer images. Many people are also choosing cremation and preferring niches or columbaria for their final resting place.
The most common type of cemetery is the municipal or public one. These are owned by the local government and open to anyone regardless of religion or culture. They may have a stricter set of rules for grave markers and monuments.
Churchyard cemeteries are another type of cemetery where graves are reserved for members of the church. They can be found in rural areas and also in city center. Churchyards tend to have a more traditional look with older tombstones in a disorderly fashion. They are not as large as the garden or rural cemeteries. This type of cemetery is more prone to re-use of plots if family members pass on as it can be difficult to track down heirs.
A cemetery is a unique environment, often conjuring up powerful memories. As such, it’s a place that needs to be carefully maintained. This includes things like litter removal, mowing and weed-eating, cleaning graves, and preparing new plots. It also involves creating and maintaining visitor amenities and upholding certain policies.
For example, some cemeteries will remove decorations if they are considered unsightly or cause safety hazards. They may also remove items that create a disturbance in the natural beauty of the grounds, interfere with proper maintenance, or diminish the cemetery’s Catholic character.
The primary issue faced by many cemeteries is funding. While a single payment is typically made at the time of burial, this does not cover ongoing expenses. To solve this issue, many cemeteries use perpetual care funds to ensure that they can continue to provide service in perpetuity. This can also serve as a marketing tool to encourage families to choose traditional interments over cremations.