An introduction – Cemeteries and graveyards, what are they?

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As this is the first post on the site we thought we’d start off with a little introduction to what cemeteries and graveyards actually are.

St. Mary's graveyard Whitby Yorkshire abbey

St. Mary’s graveyard, Whitby, Yorkshire (UK)

Traditionally speaking a graveyard is a place of burial that is near or in the ground of a church (churchyard) or place of worship. They will usually be consecrated according to the respective religion of the place of worship. The wealthy were traditionally buried in graveyards so they could be laid to rest on ‘holy ground’and be closer to God, surrounded by saints or martyrs that were interred in the church. The richer you were, the closer you would be buried to the glorified soul. Crypts were often erected under the religious relic allowing large families to be certain that all members could be buried in the same place and therefore guaranteed a place in heaven.

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Edgerton Cemetery, Huddersfield, Yorkshire (UK).

Cemeteries, on the other hand, are often tranquil places and are often referred to as ‘Gardens of Sleep’ due to their setting. They are spacious, organised and usually found on the outskirts of a town or city where land is cheap and plentiful. There will often be different sections to cater to different faiths to practise their own rites and customs. What differs cemeteries from graveyards is that there will be parts that will be unconsecrated and others that cater for particular religions. They house a mixture of structures such as mausoleums, memorials, tombs and the humble head or gravestone.

Cemeteries came into existence at a time when the world was experiencing a boom in industrialisation, and therefore population. The graveyards in places of worship (e.g. churches) became overcrowded and were unsustainable.
In 1832, Parliament passed a bill in England to close all London churchyards to new occupants, resulting in the construction of large municipal cemeteries. This is when the Magnificent Seven of London (Brompton, Highgate, Nunhead, Tower Hamlets, Kensal Green, Abney Park and West Norwood) were founded, the first being Kensal Green in 1832. In the 19th century this opened up a number of government funded burial grounds to spring up all over Britain.

Nowadays the words ‘graveyard’ and ‘cemetery’ are interchangeable but if you really want to be fastidious you could say that a graveyard is a type of cemetery. In short, a graveyard belongs to the church it is situated in and a cemetery is any place designed for burying the dead. In subsequent posts we will explore London’s Magnificent Seven and other cemeteries throughout the United Kingdom and further afield in Europe and America, highlighting important buried historical figures, architecture and their histories as well as some of their legends and myths.

 

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