G for Graveyard: Why do we have so much respect for the dead?

8 April 2019

Is a graveyard the same thing as a cemetery?

Believe it or not, graveyards and cemeteries are not the same thing. In fact, a graveyard is actually a type of cemetery. Of course, to be able to understand this a bit (or a lot) better, we need to dig up the past! Let’s head back a few centuries.

Around the 7th century, the part of the churchyard used for burial was called graveyard. Burial was a strong Christian practice and burying the dead was only permitted on lands near a church (a churchyard). This part of the churchyard was called a graveyard.

Soon enough, the population of Europe increased rapidly and graveyards were no longer sufficient. It was at the end of the 18th century that church burials were no longer adequate and new places for burying the dead, separate from graveyards, became apparent. These are called cemeteries.

grave stones in a graveyard

Why cemeteries are important

If you pay close attention, cemeteries are everywhere. In this case, we mean everywhere online. Cemeteries are quickly becoming popular destinations for photographers, walkers, runners, historians and of course genealogists!

They are fascinating places, filled with history and they’re sure to spark your curiosity. If you’re looking into the local past, you can learn so much about your community by learning about the cemetery. You’re going to have the iconic people of that one area buried there, local celebrities you might say.

Every gravestone has a story to tell, but they aren’t just for the dead, cemeteries are also for the living. By creating a monument to loved ones who are dead is crucial to those who mourn them. Whether a loved one wants to be buried, or cremated when he or she dies, we can still place a physical remembrance of them in a cemetery and visit it.

Seeing as we’ve started to dig up the past we may as well keep digging! Here are some fascinating ancient burials and rituals from different cultures around the world that some still practice till this day!


Ancient burials and rituals

  1. The Aghori Babas: A feast of flesh

The Aghori Babas practice a number of taboo post-mortem rituals, and have been known to carry hollowed out skulls, rub themselves in ashes, and feast on the flesh of dead bodies exhumed from the river.

  1. Amazonian ashes

An Amazonian tribe ritually eat the ashes of their loved ones (burying them would prevent the individual’s liberation).

  1. A Norse funeral

It was tradition to burn the dead in the Viking age. One burial practised amongst the Vikings was cremation. Loved ones were rested on a pyre (or boat or wagon if they were of high honour in some regions) and set it alight on a river bank in their daily clothes and few personal belongings, they would be sent off down the river, where they could be free. In some cases, the dead had to be killed in battle or with a weapon clenched in their hand for them to go to Valhalla.

  1. Madagascar: The dance of the dead

One ritual practised by millions in Madagascar is called the ‘famadihana’, where a group of Africans routinely dig up their loved ones and dance with their bones to aid in their decomposition and subsequent journey to the afterlife.

sleeping angel gravestone

Death is regarded as a spiritual passing by many faiths, which is highly valued and respected and is marked diversely across many religions and cultures, from mourning to celebration, to cleansing, to preparation.

If you’d like to know more on why we should have respect for the dead and the different interpretations on what this may mean, you can read a response from Thomas Mogge on the Ask a Philosophers page here.

Written by Rhianna Selkridge-Carty

Graveyards and Cemeteries seemed to be left unchanged, meanwhile, houses haven’t! Watch this video on houses throughout time for a insight into this fascinating history!

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