The Social History of the European Cemetery

Harold Mytum. Handbook of Death and Dying. Editor: Clifton D Bryant. Volume 2: The Response to Death. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Reference, 2003.

The historical study of cemeteries has been dominated by several themes that have been played out in different religious, cultural, and political contexts across Europe. The first has been the concern with health as old burial grounds were unable to cope with increased population density and the consequent numbers of deaths. The second was the overcoming of entrenched vested interests in old patterns of burial, notably from the established churches. The third was the fascination with fashionable designs for the new cemeteries, which changed over time and, to a lesser extent, location. The fourth and last was the nature of burial and commemoration patterns within cemeteries. These four themes are interrelated and are discussed within an overall narrative that concentrates on France and Britain, followed by comparisons and contrasts from elsewhere in northern, central, and Mediterranean Europe. This geographical bias is based on centers of innovation from the 18th century onward and also on those regions where research has been most extensive. There has been relatively little research on cemetery development in many parts of northern, eastern, and Mediterranean Europe, and where this has taken place, it has often been only with an ethnographic or architectural emphasis.

Cemeteries in France

Populations were rising to new levels in Paris and other French cities during the early 18th century, produced by a combination of inward migration and lower mortality levels. These dense concentrations of people required burial spaces in the churchyards established in earlier times and now hemmed in by urban development. Moreover, additional structures such as chapels, lodgings, and offices were added to many churches during the Counter Reformation, removing parts of the ground previously used for interments. All burial was under the control of the church and physically intimately related to it. Only the wealthy could be buried within the church itself, although there was a gradation of burial locations depending on wealth and status. For example, Saint Severin had internal burial but then had the choice of large communal vaults beneath the church or 18 chapels around the perimeter of the churchyard (Etlin 1984:10-11). Earth burial in the churchyard was the fate of most of the population, although even here, one part was termed the “cemetery of the rich” and the larger section the “cemetery of the poor.” Overburial and clearance of decayed remains led to the placing of the bones in a charnier, charnel house. The pattern of hierarchy in burial location was a theme to be maintained in cemetery development.

The largest burial ground in Paris was the Cemetery of the Holy Innocents, which served a massive population from not only 18 parishes but also two hospitals and a morgue (Etlin 1984:10). It also displayed social stratification by location, but greatest concern grew regarding the mass of common burials. The rapidity by which areas had to be reused meant that decay was not always complete. Moreover, the smells from the decaying bodies and sanitary and household wastes dumped there by those living nearby created considerable health risks (Etlin 1984:14). This environment was also extremely unappealing to those who wished to attend the church or visit the chapels.

The debates regarding the unsanitary nature of urban churchyards, and the need to for new cemeteries beyond the cities, first surfaced in Paris during the 1740s. The Parliament of Paris carried out research into the problem on a number of occasions and discovered some alarming statistics. The average period before overburial in the typical Paris churchyard was a mere 9 years; soil levels in some burial grounds had risen unacceptably, and large communal burial trenches were left open for months at a time while they gradually filled with bodies. In 1765, the Parliament stopped all interment within churches and requested that burial grounds be moved outside the city. Medical opinion was that the miasma that came from decaying corpses was the major cause of disease in the city.

Death rituals began to decline from the 1740s, and there was a rise in the fear of being buried alive and of the corpse as a spreader of death to others (Aries 1974). Thus the pressure for change came from a number of concerns; the health issues were not new, and intellectual developments brought about by the Enlightenment provided the context by which the sanitary argument could be used against the burial authorities. The upper levels of the church supported the moves, but the parishes themselves were less enthused because they had to find the capital to purchase and develop the new cemeteries (Kselman 1993). Burial still remained within church control, however, and so was still a regular and valuable income stream.

France was the first to issue a decree against urban burial throughout the country in 1776, and some areas such as Brittany had banned church burial in the 1750s (Kselman 1993). In the last two decades of the 18th century, many cemeteries were established and the old ones closed and cleared. The most dramatic was that of the Cemetery of the Holy Innocents that was cleared over a couple of years from 1786, with the bones moved to the south Paris quarry tunnels, which became known as the Catacombs.

The clearance and obliteration of old burial grounds and the establishment of new ones profoundly affected both urban landscapes and the patterns of mortuary behavior. The process was slow, however, with many parish burial grounds continuing in use for decades, and the design opportunities were rarely taken in new cemeteries because of costs and lack of imagination (Kselman 1993). Although historians have studied the numerous architectural plans for mausoleums and cemeteries in a variety of styles that were created in the 1750s onward, these are important only for examining attitudes and ideals, not for practice (Curl 1980; Etlin 1984; Ragon 1983). In France, the shift in location during the 18th century did not lead to more elaborate burial rituals or commemorative practices. Indeed, the popular attitudes toward death, the fall in religious observance, and then the Revolution with its demands for minimal ceremony created a period when the cemetery was a forgotten part of the urban landscape (McManners 1981). Ironically, it was in a rural context that the inspiration for commemoration was developed that would, in turn, feed back to the urban cemetery movement.

The Enlightenment had a profound effect on the aristocracy and their attitudes toward church burial. Inspired by developments in England such as family mausolea first created at Castle Howard and the commemorative Elysian Fields at Stowe, the French developed this idea of the commemorative and contemplative landscape on several estates. In Paris, the Bois des Tombeaux was established in the Parc Monceau in the 1770s (Curl 2001:7), but it was at Ermonville that the most influential example was created, mainly due to the burial and commemoration of Rousseau there (Etlin 1984:204-16). His body was placed on a small island, with a neoclassical monument surrounded by poplars. Rousseau’s tomb encouraged large numbers of visitors, but there were many other monuments, some marking burials others not, which created an Arcadian landscape for contemplation. Many were overcome by emotion, encouraged by the landscape setting enhanced by plantings and monuments.

Underlying these developments was a shift in attitudes regarding the relationship between living and dead (McManners 1981). The physical remains and their decay were no longer to be emphasized but, rather, the lives and successes of the deceased should be celebrated, remembered, and contemplated in an appropriately designed setting. This was continued following the Revolution, with monuments to celebrated individuals placed in parks and gardens (Etlin 1984). These attitudes toward the body, interment, and commemoration were to be applied to the mass of the population, with the desire for a “field of rest,” and this was achieved first through the creation of Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris in 1804 (Curl 2001:13). This marked an important turning point in the development of urban cemeteries as the garden setting became available, in an albeit developed form, to the population at large.

The undulating topography of Père Lachaise, combined with the sensitive planting of trees, created a garden landscape within which new vistas opened at every turn (Etlin 1984:303-68). An existing landscape garden gave maturity to some of the plantings, enhancing the experience from the beginning. Popular with wealthy individuals from its inception, the landscape rapidly began to fill with monuments. In the early decades, most of these were sarcophagi or columns topped with an urn, with the plots defined by wooden or iron railings. Some larger monuments were erected, and family tombs were set into the steep slopes. By the middle of the 19th century, however, more substantial family monuments, often in the form of miniature chapels, took up much of the space, and the garden atmosphere was being lost. Attempts by the authorities to limit the number of plots available for sale in perpetuity were unsuccessful in the face of the demand, and it became an example of the necropolis cemetery, full of tombs not trees. Additional ground on the flat areas around the hills allowed the cemetery to continue to function, but its aesthetic charms and influence elsewhere were now waning. Nevertheless, the landscaped and planted cemetery was now the established format for urban burial.

In much of France, the move to modern cemeteries was more protracted and with greater amounts of dispute (Kselman 1993). In Angers, for example, 10 burial grounds within the town were reduced to 5 by the early 19th century, but only in the 1840s were the final stages of transfer completed with the opening of the Cemetery of the East.

The evolution in the appearance of the cemetery, both through stylistic changes in memorials over time and the gradual infilling of plots with memorials, has been far less studied than the numerous unfulfilled plans and initial designs of cemeteries. This emphasis on primary design is the case throughout Europe, not just in France, and means that much of the later 19th-century and 20th-century cultural history of cemeteries has been sadly neglected, although a few trends can be identified. At Père Lachaise, the success of the cemetery in attracting those affluent enough to erect monuments led to the inevitable destruction of the rural illusion. Moreover, as the towns and cities continued to expand, the creation of suburbs surrounding the cemeteries created a different landscape context for burial. By this time, medical knowledge had developed to the point that the miasma given off by decaying bodies so feared previously was shown to be harmless and that diseases came from other sources. Also, fears of the body had subsided and religious and cultural attitudes had developed, supported by a complex set of funerary and commemorative rituals. The proximity of burial grounds no longer held the fears that had been prominent a century earlier.

The importance of the development of cemeteries in France, first seen at Père Lachaise, is that the remembrance and emotion experienced by the affluent, who could visit the gardens such as Ermonville, could now be available to all. Moreover, the middle classes could now erect their own foci for remembrance and grief, and this became a major theme in popular literature and art throughout the 19th century. The family monuments erected by the middle classes emphasized a unity that was given physical form through the monument with its names and dates. This affirmation of the family when there was so much insecurity within the developing economic and social systems was perhaps a compensation for the fragmentation of family life as work was separated from home by factories and offices. Just as the home became an arena for domesticity supported by sacred allusions through architecture, stained glass, and religious prints (including those concerning death and remembrance), so the family plot in the cemetery was a focus for the family reunited in death and embracing the generations. As increasing industrialization created both wealth and a more material world, so materiality in commemoration reflected the uncertainties brought by capitalist competition. This competition produced a hierarchy well appreciated by cemetery designers and managers, and this was evidenced in the zoning and pricing of cemetery plots.

In French cemeteries, plots were sold by the square meter, with prices fixed according to location and length of tenure. Common graves were occupied for only 5 years, but temporary and permanent concessions could be purchased. This can be illustrated through figures collected by Kselman (1993:184-85) for Paris cemeteries in 1821 to 1823. Most people were too poor to make any choices, and over 80% were placed in common graves. Temporary concessions made up over 13% of the interments, however, and over 4% purchased plots in perpetuity. Small memorials, such as crosses or simple headstones, were purchased for over 37% of plots, indicating that even those with very limited occupation wished for a memorial even though it would not last beyond 5 years. Only about 2% could afford large monuments, and many of the smaller examples have not stood the test of time, either because of reuse of plots or because of decay and cemetery management.

Evidence from other regions of France also supports the notion of widespread erection of modest memorials. Crosses were very common, and in Provence, over 80% of all graves were so marked (Kselman 1993:205). Many were made of wood, although iron crosses were also widely available as a more durable but relatively inexpensive alternative to the costly but resilient stone. As affluence increased, more could afford perpetual plots and iron or stone memorials, and from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many graves had upstanding crosses on them. The metal examples could be elaborate wrought iron forms or cast iron that allowed for the inclusion of elaborate iconography, such as the crucifixion and foliage and, increasingly, the Virgin Mary (Kselman 1993:206).

Zoning within cemeteries was largely financial. Prominent areas were set aside for perpetual purchase and could have conditions demanding a certain scale of memorial. In other areas, the plots closest to the paths would be reserved for the more affluent, although if demand was high, then inner rows of plots could also command a price. Thus the cemetery represented a grading of society, with the lowest classes conveniently obscured from view in less easily reached areas.

In many French cities, Jews had their own cemetery and had a separate section at Père Lachaise. Protestants had separate cemeteries, too, where their populations were large, such as Nimes and Castres, and at Montpelier, although elsewhere, the burial of non-Catholics could be problematic (Kselman 1993:189-90).

With the establishment of cemeteries in France came also the organization and development of an increasingly complex funeral industry (Kselman 1993: 222-56). This is not discussed at length here, but it should be remembered in the context of cemetery design and development, which provided a setting for the last stages of the funeral. Moreover, the growth of permanent memorialization should be seen as part of the expected and desired expenditure on death in all its aspects. This lasted after interment through various stages of mourning, with the choice and erection of a memorial if there was not already one in. The elaboration of these various stages of mourning were controlled largely by economic constraints and so could be fully indulged in only by the more affluent middle classes and above.

Cemeteries in Britain

The establishment of cemeteries in most of Britain was largely a 19th-century development (Curl 1972), but a few significant changes before this time affected certain regions or groups in the population and set precedents important in cemetery evolution. The Reformation affected English burial patterns hardly at all, and the Church of England took over all the rights, responsibilities, and income derived from burial. In Scotland, there was more obvious breaking down of previous religious control (Curl 2001:14). For example, as early as 1562, Greyfriars cemetery in Edinburgh was created because of distaste for intramural burial at St. Giles’s church and the inadequacies of its burial ground. It is noteworthy that it is in Scotland that the earliest external headstone memorials appear in burial grounds, from the 1620s. In Scotland, elite family burial places, or aisles, were constructed attached to churches or carved out of existing spaces (Colvin 1991). There was much opposition to this internal, family aisle, form of burial, so many memorials were instead erected in the churchyards, often against the perimeter walls. Monuments, mausolea, and unroofed walled enclosures termed lairs became common. This generated architectural and monumental traditions that were further developed in later cemetery architecture.

In England, by contrast, the practice of intramural burial, became extremely popular from the 17th century onward, perhaps through the influence of the supporters of William of Orange in whose homeland such a tradition was well established (Brooks 1989:3). The wealthiest families established dynastic chapels or built vaults beneath the body of the church (Litten 1991). Interment for the affluent middle classes was often marked by an inscribed ledger slab, which was set in the floor of the church over the grave. This moved many burials of the more powerful and influential in church and community out of the churchyard, where problems of overcrowding were already becoming noticeable. This meant that protests about the state of the churchyards were largely ignored, particularly because the parishes did not wish to lose their burial income. During the 18th century, some churches constructed communal crypts beneath the building to provide a repository where bodies could rest undisturbed by later interments. At this time, there was also increasing concern that new churchyard interments could be illegally exhumed and sold to the medical profession, and burial grounds near London and Edinburgh where the medical schools were based seemed at greatest risk (Jupp and Gittings 1999:224). The conditions in the communal crypts, while safe from the “resurrection-men,” were far from ideal, as detailed examination of the crypt beneath Spitalfields, in London, has shown (Reeve and Adams 1993).

Establishment of burial grounds away from churches was rare, and if this happened, as in Exeter in the later 17th century, they were still under ecclesiastical control (Brooks 1989:3). An exception was the cemetery established at Bunhill Fields in London in 1665, which in effect became a largely nonconformist burial ground (Curl 2001). Although there was much demand for burial places for those not belonging to the Church of England, this development was not taken up elsewhere.

With the Enlightenment came an aristocratic interest in melancholy, contemplation, and remembrance, and this was manifested in the development of gardens and landscapes that incorporated commemoration in various forms. Castle Howard set a trend first with the mausoleum by Hawksmoor, with space for many family members, and then the pyramid, celebrating the memory of William, founder of the Howard dynasty (Colvin 1991; Curl 1980). The poets Pope and Shenstone created memorial gardens at Twickenham and Leasowes, but it was at Stowe in the 1730s that commemoration reached a new level of investment, with the construction of the Elysian Fields (Etlin 1984:173-97). A mixture of funerary and civic memorials were combined with careful plantings, and the Temples of Ancient and Modern Virtue and the Temple of British worthies provided larger-scale foci in the landscape. Above all, this site was the exemplar for the French developments that led to Ermonville and thence to Père Lachaise. Whereas the aristocracy could escape the churchyard to commemorate and, if they chose, bury on their own estates, for the overwhelming mass of the English population, there was to be no alternative to the churchyard for about a century.

The development of modern-style cemeteries started in the 1770s in Scotland with Calton Hill, Edinburgh. Earlier than French implementation of architectural schemes, this may have been inspired the earlier discussions among intellectuals and architects that were never put into practice elsewhere. Perhaps at least as significant were the practical advantages of a well-planned and architecturally impressive cemetery in action in the colonies. The establishment of the South Park Street Cemetery in Calcutta, India, the chief administrative center of the East India Company, had taken place in 1767, and it rapidly became an impressive sight, visited by many who had business in Bengal (Curl 2001:2). Strangely, however, while English cemetery enthusiasts knew about Calcutta, their main inspiration came from Père Lachaise rather than cemetery initiatives within Britain or its empire.

The first cemetery in England was the Rosary in Norwich, founded by a nonconformist and open to interments from any denomination, although it was a local initiative rather than part of a wider campaign (Brooks 1989:8). In the 1820s, cemeteries began to be built, again largely by nonconformists, in northern industrial cities such as Manchester and Liverpool. With the establishment of the Cemetery of St. James in Liverpool, the Anglican establishment became involved with the cemetery movement, and the possibilities for such sites became more widely appreciated (Brooks 1989:9). This was assisted by the architectural quality of these initiatives, and in the case of St. James, its scenic setting within a disused quarry. These developments attracted a middle-class clientele, and the prices that could be charged for family plots indicated the economic viability of cemeteries. Cemeteries became part of the repertoire of entrepreneurial developments associated with urban expansion, in most cases financed in the first half of the century by joint stock companies established by local businessmen.

In London, Kensall Green was eventually established after much disagreement in 1833, with the buildings finished a few years later (Curl 2001). It was a grand and extensive site, the central avenue leading to the Anglican chapel. This was a cemetery aimed at the affluent middle classes, and so the established religion was dominant; a small portion with its own chapel was set aside for nonconformists, after some lobbying by interested parties. Both chapels had catacombs beneath them, but here, as in other cemeteries that developed this option for burial, demand was never as high as the owners had anticipated. British families desired a separate defined plot on which they could construct a memorial appropriate to their station, taste, and aspiration. There were no regulations regarding the style of monuments, with the results that a wide variety of styles were rapidly erected. Investment was high because the cemetery was viewed as an acceptable place to be buried by those of power, influence, and status. This was confirmed in the 1840s when two members of royalty, the Duke of Sussex and Princess Sophia, were interred in prime locations near the Anglican chapel.

Cemetery construction began to spread throughout England during the 1830s and the 1840s (Brooks 1989). Although a financial element was present, many were established to deal with three main problems. The first was the health risks that were increasingly being demonstrated by the overcrowded churchyards. Just as in France, local enquiries produced dramatic evidence of appalling conditions. This health risk was the most openly championed reason for burial reform (Mytum 1989), but two other factors were also at work—religious conflicts and desire of the middle classes to have an appropriate context for burial and grieving. The second is explicitly stated at times; the third less so, but it lies behind many of the horrors outlined with regard to health and the physical state of urban churchyards.

The total control or near monopoly of burial by the established Church of England was a cause of great protest from nonconformists (Brooks 1989). Conflict on this issue had been present for many years, and although a few groups gained burial areas in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, these were rare and were not nearly sufficient. As the various nonconformist sects expanded, often at the expense of the established church, the demand for alternative burial arrangements grew (Mytum 1989). This was further exacerbated by the Methodists’ split from the Church of England in 1811. Moreover, many of the most successful and influential figures in the industrial towns were themselves nonconformists; they had both the resources and influence to initiate change. Despite considerable efforts by the Church of England to protect its burial income, there was little to prevent such initiatives in areas where the existing provision was weak, and the Church of England was hardly represented by churches and churchyards. Moreover, in some areas, Church officials realized the possibilities of cemeteries; just as it had developed its own Liverpool site, so the church set up the Abbey Cemetery in Bath, and clergy became involved in some of the private enterprises (Brooks 1989:38-39).

During the 18th century, the gentry and aristocracy had developed a pattern of burial in family vaults and commemoration within churches (Litten 1991). This allowed the proper storage of their deceased family members and the public affirmation of loss through monuments, often placed in classical styles on the walls of the church. Even the few churches with crypts offered no opportunity for middle-class memorials, at least for the urban classes. In rural churchyards, chest tombs and ledger slabs allowed tenant farmers, professionals, and traders to display dynastic allegiance and have a focus for remembrance; this was not an option open to the burgeoning urban affluent classes. Cemeteries provided a pleasant, safe, and focused arena within which middle-class sensibilities could be addressed, and indeed their scale encouraged the establishment of appropriate tradesmen in the vicinity to service the demand for material goods for either the funeral or the subsequent memorial. The creation of a rural effect could link back to the romantic churchyard setting on the one hand but also to the urbane and refined city of culture and architectural modernity on the other. The ownership of plots, no longer under church control, set well within the mind-set and everyday experience of many city dwellers.

From the later 1840s, local authorities began to construct cemeteries, such as at Southampton, and from 1848 and through the 1850s, various acts of Parliament gave local authorities powers to establish burial boards that could close old burial grounds and construct cemeteries (Brooks 1989). This produced the mass of urban cemeteries seen throughout England and Wales, and the phase of joint stock development was over, although existing independent cemeteries continued. A more formal arrangement within cemeteries appeared first in entrepreneurial developments and then in authority cemeteries but was often mixed with elements of the landscape tradition. Planting schemes of trees and shrubs were enhanced by greater choice of species available from other parts of the world, thus increasing the visual and educational value of the cemetery visit. At various times during the later 19th and early 20th centuries, an increased role was given to flower beds for seasonal color, linking the cemetery closely to the urban park, also often under local authority control.

Most cemetery studies have concentrated on the landscape of the cemeteries and particularly the architectural styles of the entrance and chapels (Curl 1972, 1980). A “battle of styles” was fought out between the revival movements of classical, Gothic, and Egyptian. Each had its champions and logic applied to the cemetery context. The classical reflected Enlightenment values of rational order, to contrast with the chaos and squalor of the urban churchyard. Moreover, the cemetery was to function as a place of contemplation and education, a suitable setting for walks where the vegetation planting, any landscaping, and the qualities of the architecture and individual monuments would provide an enriching and improving experience. The Gothic revival style was espoused by those who wished to emphasize Christian values. It provided continuity with the past, although in an enhanced and improving ambiance. Death and remembrance should be celebrated within a Christian setting so that the resurrection to come could be anticipated and appropriate Christian sentiments be felt by the visitors. The Egyptian style was felt to be suitable for the cemetery because of the associations between that style and concerns with death. Numerous archaeological discoveries reported in the press and displays such as those at the British Museum excited the public and created a demand and taste for this style.

Many of the grander monuments, such as family mausolea or impressive edifices to individuals, could be in one of the main revival styles or a strange eclectic mixture. Other styles such as the Romanesque also occurred, and all were also reflected in smaller-scale monuments. Emphasis on the aristocratic and upper-middle-class monuments by those interested in architecture and art has meant that the great mass of memorials has largely been ignored (Mytum 2000). Although churchyard studies of the same types of monuments have been carried out with illuminating results, such work in cemeteries has been rare. Nevertheless, it is clear that more successful working-class families could invest in some form of memorial to mark their graves and to provide physical foci for grief and remembrance.

Popular memorials, on a small scale, represented the various revival styles seen elsewhere in the cemetery, but the smaller features of decoration and text attracted greater attention to the simpler headstones (Mytum 2000). An early emphasis was on the body and its presence, with inscriptions beginning with phrases such as “Underneath this stone” or “Here lies the body of.” During the middle part of the century, this shifted to a theme of remembrance, with “In memory of” and “In loving memory of.” Early headstones were often quite plain or had simple architecturally derived features such as scrolls, but as sentimentality grew, there was a greater use of flowers as decorative motifs. Epitaphs also changed in tone over time. The earliest were often a warning message from the deceased to grave visitors that death was closer than they thought and appropriate preparation was urgently required before meeting their Maker. Later-19th-century epitaphs tended to emphasize the qualities of the deceased and also the concept of reuniting with other family members in the next world. Thus modest 19th-century cemetery monuments can reveal aspects of popular culture and belief that the more grand and eclectic structures do not.

Although a visit to a historic cemetery today tends to focus on the visible remains, the vast majority of interments had no memorial (Brooks 1989:49). The joint stock companies, although gaining most income from the wealthy purchasing plots, needed to satisfy the demand for working-class burials to fulfill their claims for improving sanitation and providing a decent burial for all (Brooks 1989:28). This was also a major force behind all local authority developments. As in France, the ground was graded in price depending on plot size and location, although plots were generally already planned out in detail, usually on a grid that was masked by any curvilinear paths, landscaping, and planting. For those who could not afford family plots, common graves were provided, although the numbers per grave varied from cemetery to cemetery depending on available space, expected demand, and the geology of the ground. The density of burial in these areas was high, but once a plot was full, it was not reused. Even for the poorest, there was no risk of their remains being disturbed to create graves for a later generation.

Most cemeteries that were not established by a particular denomination were designed to have a consecrated area for the Church of England burials and an unconsecrated section for others; there were usually two chapels, frequently placed as a pair, providing an architectural focus for the cemetery (Curl 1980). As the 19th century passed and as increasing wealth led to greater demand for family plots in the 20th century, cemeteries expanded by purchasing more land. These new areas were nearly always laid out on a grid plan with less attention to landscape and planting and sometimes continued the division between consecrated and unconsecrated, although this became less of a concern. No longer were cemeteries places for an uplifting experience but, rather, a functional necessity that decency and concerned bereaved relatives demanded.

Following the devastating losses of World War I, and the development of the war cemetery and its small, simple gravestones, memorials became smaller and less elaborate (Mytum 2000). Imported materials such as marble and granite already in use in the previous century came to dominate the market, and some suppliers such as the Italian Carrera marble factories produced crosses and angels for many British cemeteries but also exported elsewhere in Europe and, indeed, to North America and Australia. Expenditure in relation to income dropped for both funerals and memorials, although a greater proportion of the population engaged in erecting stones. There is often conflict between those attempting to manage cemeteries and the bereaved and their desire to decorate graves.

Cremation became popular in Britain during the middle and later part of the 20th century, and this reduced the demand for burial spaces (Jupp and Gittings 1999:264-66). Many crematoria were built on new sites, although a significant number of cemeteries were used to construct these facilities, which often help to fund the upkeep of the historic cemetery areas. Commemoration of cremated remains has taken a number of forms, but most cremations are not marked with a memorial.

Attempts to introduce the North American-style lawn cemeteries were not popular, although a few were established; rather more damage was done to old cemetery areas in laying flat or clearing blocks of the cemetery to ease grounds maintenance. This is now far less common, although many problems of cemetery management remain. During the 20th century, many joint stock companies came under financial pressure as income from burials dropped; some were taken over by local authorities, and others became charitable trusts. Many historic urban centers now function in part as green areas for recreation, although pressures for burial are still intense. Many ethnic minorities living in inner cities require burial, and operating cemeteries now reflect the diverse origins and religious persuasions of the population. In contrast to the native population for which commemoration is not a major medium for cultural expression, many ethnic minorities use the cemetery to reinforce identities. Not only can many languages be seen on memorials, together with appropriate symbols and decorations, but some are constructed in the style of those from their homeland.

Cemeteries in Northern and Central Europe

Cemetery research in northern Europe has not been intensive, a problem exacerbated by the fact that many local studies of architecture and history have had extremely limited distribution. Nevertheless, trends identified in France and England can be recognized, with local variations, across much of the continent.

In northern and central Europe, there was some reform of churchyard burial in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, but most changes took place, as in France and Britain, during the 19th century. With the Reformation, a few cities closed all churchyards and restructured their burial arrangements. The Protestant republic in Geneva created one cemetery for the whole city in 1536, and later in the 16th century Marburg, Germany, converted gardens beyond the walls into a new burial ground.

Health concerns were again largely promoted as the reason for reforms, and cemeteries were established away from the city center in Hamburg in the later 18th century (Whaley 1981). As elsewhere, the church resisted the establishment of new burial grounds, wishing to retain the income derived from burial in the albeit crowded churchyards. Hamburg suffered repeated plagues, but only in 1765 were some burials moved to a new cemetery beyond the city walls. The effective change to cemetery burial took place in Hamburg thanks to a parish administrator buying a new plot of land for burials in 1793, a pattern copied by other parishes in succeeding decades. Walled cemeteries were meanwhile established at Dessau in 1787 and in Vienna in 1784. German cemeteries in the 19th century tended to have a policy of limited tenure for plots, a pattern also seen in the Low Countries. As a result, relatively few monuments remain from this period, apart from occasional survivals commemorating figures such as artists and major politicians who remained known and respected.

The romantic movement influenced by Prince Frederick of Denmark and Norway who constructed a landscape garden, Jaegerspris, near Copenhagen in the 1770s to celebrate Danish heroes (Etlin 1984:212). Monuments sometimes marked actual burials but, more important, provided a suitable setting for celebration and remembrance of the country’s great figures. This can be linked to similar developments in England and France. In Sweden, as in Britain, family chapels were constructed for the wealthy families, or medieval chantry chapels were taken over for this new purpose during the 16th and 17th centuries (Colvin 1991). Here, it was deemed necessary that the coffins could be seen, usually through grilles in the floor, but most of the architectural splendor was on the exterior of the chapels. Intramural burial was prohibited in 1783, and from that date, the focus of commemoration moved outside. By the late 18th century, mausolea could be constructed in the churchyard or even on private estates, as in Britain.

In Lithuania, research on the Vilnius cemeteries as part of a conservation program provides a valuable indication of trends in the Baltic (Malachovicz 1996). A number of parish churches established burial grounds beyond the city walls during the 18th century, in response to overcrowding. By this time, a range of burial grounds existed according to religion, including Jewish, Muslim, Orthodox, and Catholic. In the early 19th century, the official status of the cemeteries was confirmed, and in 1865, all churchyards were closed. The main cemeteries were landscaped with paths and a chapel and could have an elaborate entrance. Italian influence, presumably through the Catholic church, can be seen with the use of loculi—above-ground chambers to take coffins, usually end-on, and placed in freestanding structures or as part of cemetery boundaries. These blocks of loculi were constructed in the early 19th century at the Rossa Cemetery, designed in a hilly setting southeast of the city, and also used later elsewhere, such as at the Bernadine cemetery. In both cases, loculi form wings on either side of the chapel, creating a visual centerpiece for the cemetery. Elsewhere in the cemetery, these aboveground repositories were also established on a smaller scale for religious orders, such as that for the Sisters of the Visitation at Rossa.

Many of the cemeteries contain fine monuments to local political, economic, and cultural leaders, with styles varying from baroque to classical, Egyptian, and Gothic revival, many defined by cast iron fences or posts and chains (Malachovicz 1996). Family mausolea were popular with the wealthy; many would be indistinguishable from those found in France or Britain, but others show baroque or Orthodox features more common in the architectural styles of central and eastern Europe. Many mausolea have vaults beneath, continuing the traditions previously followed in church crypts. Monuments were usually made from brick or granite. Many boulders, either unshaped or carved to give a rugged appearance, were popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Cast iron monuments, not only crosses but also a range of other forms, were not uncommon. In the 20th century, concrete memorials became common, although granite was still popular. Twentieth-century memorials tend to be smaller, and many reflect modernist styles in shape and decoration; in some regions, cremation has proved popular.

In northern and central Europe generally, polished granite and boulder memorials predominate. The limited survival of 19th-century memorials suggests that these could be taller than those of the 20th century. Many 19th- and early 20th-century memorials often have only the names and dates of the deceased, and the family name can be prominently displayed. In such cases, where the monument survives for many decades because of repeated interments and renewal of rights over the plot, a dynastic appearance has been created by each memorial and its list of names. Mention of profession and place of origin was also quite common, and epitaphs were less so. Catholic symbolism was common in some areas, although most monuments showed no religious affiliation. Busts, usually of men, were carved on some of the more substantial monuments, although more often applied in bronze. In some regions, photographs were used. Those parts of eastern Europe that were under Communist control in the middle of the 20th century had monuments in stone or concrete that reflect a simple style; they may have some symbolism linked to the party or national symbol. As in Britain and France, a greater proportion of graves became marked, although all tended to have smaller memorials. The historic areas of cemeteries have suffered neglect, and many are now within secondary woodland.

Cemeteries in Mediterranean Europe

The Mediterranean world provides a different set of solutions to cemetery development than those seen elsewhere on the Continent. Limited tenure of plots was the norm, but the way in which this was managed and manifested physically was very different. Above-ground placement of coffins in special chambers, loculi, similar to belowground catacombs, was common (Mytum 1989). These were arranged in large blocks, often around the perimeter of the cemetery. In some regions, earth burial was the first stage of body disposal. In all cases, there was usually a transfer to either a communal ossuary or family vault after the period of occupancy was over. Cremation was not approved of by the Catholic Church, and nowhere in the region has it taken hold as a viable alternative to burial.

Only the most wealthy purchased perpetual rights over plots in the initial phase, but gradually over time, more families have been able to invest in a dynastic burial space, whether one of the loculi or an earthen plot. On the latter, some constructed mausolea, most of them in similar chapel-like styles to those seen in French and British cemeteries. Mausolea and loculi can be used in the long term since the oldest coffin can be broken up and the bones placed out of the way, at the back of the loculi or in a chamber in the floor for mausolea, to make room for later interments. In this way, the relatives remain together, their bones mingling after the memory of individuals fades.

In Italy, most cemeteries were established in the 19th century in a formal design, with linear streets and square cloistered blocks. There was sometimes some limited planting with cypresses or other trees. Vaulted galleries provided loculi for coffins, with wall monuments sealing them. In the open areas, earth burials were replaced by the wealthy with chapel-like mausolea, with coffins sealed within shelves on the walls. Sometimes existing buildings could be incorporated into the design, as at the Certosa, Bologna, where the cemetery was founded in 1801 on the site of a Carthusian monastery (Colvin 1991). Often the entrances to the cemetery were marked by elaborate gateways in a range of styles, with Greek Doric popular at site such as Brescia, Gerona, Lecce, and Verona. The plaques on loculi and other memorials gave details of the deceased and, sometimes, verses. Some were more elaborately decorated, and painting and gilding could be used. With the invention of photography, images of the deceased were fixed to the memorials. This aspect of commemoration began during the time when daguerreotypes were the form of image available and has continued up to this present day, with a shift to color despite its tendency to fade.

The later 20th-century practice in Italy varied. In the Certosa, Bologna, burials were placed in temporary graves for up to 20 years, after which they were exhumed. If they were not claimed by the family, the bones were placed in a communal ossuary, but many were taken and put in family loculi or in a smaller wall space, tombino, which could be marked by a plaque. In Naples, burials become sufficiently mummified in less than 2 years so that they could be placed in a family tomb where relatives gained access and continued to look after the remains as decay continued. Some cemetery extensions have been designed in modern styles, reflecting a dynamic interest in cemeteries in contrast to those in Britain and generally in France. Standards of corporate care were high, and family attendance to graves was often extremely frequent.

Burial in churches was prohibited in Spain during the 1780s. Cemeteries were established in the 19th century, as elsewhere in Europe, although following more the Italian model than the French. Most interments were for a restricted period before the remains were removed to either communal or family ossuaries. Perpetual interment again was initially the choice of only the richest but gradually became more widespread. Loculi were popular, placed around the boundary walls of smaller town and village cemeteries and sometimes in a series of courtyards in larger sites. These would be marked with small plaques, usually carved with only the simple details of the deceased; they could have some decoration but less than in Italy, and photographs were less common also. The central areas could contain marked graves with stone crosses and some plots marked by chains and low rails. During the 19th century, more expenditure on memorials by the middle classes led to the erection of family mausolea and a range of classical, Gothic, and Egyptian revival monuments. Modern developments include large blocks of loculi, mirroring in the cemetery the urban development of the cities (Mytum 1989).


In all parts of Europe, the combination of health concerns, increasing affluence of the middle classes, and the desire for more socially acceptable funeral and commemorative practice led to the abandonment of churchyards and the creation of cemeteries in towns and cities. Although some progress occurred up to the 18th century, it was in the 19th century that most cemeteries were established. This was the heyday of investment in death rituals, and the architecture and memorials were part of this trend.

In much of Europe, the English garden movement followed by the example of Père Lachaise set in motion developments that took local forms across the continent and, indeed, in many of the colonies of the European powers. The landscaped garden or park setting has remained a theme perpetuated with varying degrees of success and enthusiasm since that time; imported schemes such as lawn cemeteries have tended to fail. Only Britain emphasized perpetual plots, although the wealthy could purchase these anywhere; they became more common as time passed. In the Mediterranean, a contrasting built form based on courtyards and much above-ground storage of remains has been favored. The role of bones has remained central, continuing some of the medieval traditions, and communal and family ossuaries allow long-term use of burial sites. Even so, in all areas of Europe, cemeteries have continued to expand, stretching the resources of the site owners and creating conflicts in management and conservation.

Cemeteries are still retaining their traditional roles in the Mediterranean, but links with the burial places of the dead are less strong or long-lasting elsewhere, although cemeteries have new roles as open spaces, nature reserves, and historically valued landscapes. Ironically, in these cases, some of the original, improving ambitions of the cemetery designers may still be fulfilled today, although new forms of burial crisis are looming because of lack of space for current interment demands. Because most city cemeteries are now surrounded by built-up suburbs and planning laws restrict taking in of agricultural land on the edges of settlement for development, including cemeteries, the places for burial seem very restricted. It is likely that reuse of selected zones within existing cemetery areas will take place but with opposition from historic and nature conservation lobbies as well as still-active local families. This may be achieved through exhumation of human remains or more likely by adding soil and raising the level so that new burials do not interfere with earlier interments. The fate of existing monuments and landscapes in such areas is uncertain; large-scale recording and selective preservation may be the logical outcome.