What is a Graveyard?

Although many people use the terms graveyard and cemetery interchangeably, there are a few technical differences between them. These differences include space, location, religion, and headstone requirements.

Historically, church graveyards had a monopoly on burials. However, as the population grew and churches ran out of space, independent burial sites called cemeteries became more popular.


A cemetery or graveyard is a place where people are buried. It can be located next to a church or may be independent from any particular religion. The terms cemetery and graveyard are often used interchangeably, but for linguistic accuracy it is better to use the word graveyard when referring to a resting place on church grounds and the term cemetery when referencing a non-church-associated burial ground.

In the past, wealthy and important people who were buried in their lifetimes were typically placed into a crypt inside a church with a tombstone showing their name, date of death and other details. In time the practice of burying people outside of churches became more commonplace, and cemeteries were developed to meet this growing demand.

Cemeteries are primarily run by the local council and not tied to any specific religious organisation. As such, they can be much larger than a graveyard. In addition, most modern cemeteries feature mausoleums as a place for people to be buried.


In the past, people were buried in churchyards, and these were known as graveyards. As the population of Europe began to increase, these grew beyond their capacity and new places for burial were needed. As a result, completely new sites for the burial of the dead emerged which were independent of churchyards and called cemeteries.

Some families were able to afford the services of a stonemason and would have a headstone erected over the place of burial. The more intricate carvings and symbols on the headstone, the more expensive it was. The wealthy used to compete with one another over the artistic quality of their family headstones and were often seen adding statues (such as weeping angels) to their graves.

In an era when child deaths are rare, grieving parents create shrines at their children’s graves, and such objects as toys, wind chimes and flowers are left on the gravestone. Cemetery authorities try to restrict the quantity and nature of such items placed on a grave, but this can be difficult given the strong emotions involved.


A graveyard is a burial ground. It can be used for any kind of interment, including bodies, ashes, or cremains. It can also contain a tomb, mausoleum, or columbarium.

The word cemetery is derived from the Latin word coemeterium, which means “burial place.” Before people began to bury their dead in mass cemeteries, they usually buried them in graveyards attached to a church.

These early burial grounds were often divided by social status, with rich families able to afford the work of a stonemason and more elaborate headstones. The less wealthy buried their dead in simple wooden crosses.

It is now acceptable to use the words cemetery and graveyard interchangeably, but if you’re interested in linguistic precision, then it’s better to stick with “graveyard” for resting places on church grounds and “cemetery” for more modern separate burial grounds.


Those who were wealthy or of high social status during their lifetimes were generally interred inside a place of worship in individual crypts, while lesser congregants were buried outside the church on its grounds, the area becoming known as the graveyard. In more recent times, as the world’s population has rapidly increased, church graveyards became overcrowded and independent burial grounds called cemeteries have become more common.

For many, a graveyard is also the final resting place of loved ones who have passed away. People visit their loved one’s graves to pay their respects and light remembrance candles, often leaving a small timber remembrance cross (znicz in Polish) or red poppy wreath. This is particularly the case with war graves.

In the card game Magic: The Gathering, a player’s graveyard is a pile of cards that they put on top of their deck when they are countered, discarded, destroyed, or sacrificed. Those cards are then removed from the graveyard and returned to their owners’ hands.

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