Is death a resting place?

History of the cemeteries

Such a burial ground for the dead was the exception in ancient Egypt. There were no cemeteries or burial regulations in the modern sense. The dead were buried on their own land or in the desert.

It was different with the Greeks and Romans. Outside the cities, the first necropolises emerged - fields where the deceased of the bourgeoisie were buried in simple graves. Occasionally, respected people were buried there in elaborate burial chambers.

The rule, however, was that prominent and wealthy citizens were given a pompous tomb within the city walls: in public squares and markets or outside the city on country roads. Many such memorials were created in Rome along the famous Via Appia.

For the poor and slaves, exploited stone and clay pits became the final resting place. Anyone who did not have the money for an expensive funeral was cremated.

Christianity brings the cemetery culture

With the rise of Christianity, the funeral cult also changed. Not only in life, but also in death, the Christians wanted to wait together as a community for the last day of the resurrection. For this reason, communal graves were created. Until the 4th century AD, it was mostly catacombs, i.e. underground burial chambers, in which the dead found their final resting place.

When Christianity became generally accepted in the West through the recognition of the Roman Emperor Constantine as a religion, churches emerged in many places. Enclosed tombs, the church yards, were laid out around them. This should express the closeness to God.

In church Latin at that time, the church yards were also called "Coemeterium", meaning "resting place". This word can still be found today in the French "cimetière", in the Italian "cimitero" or in the English "cemetery".

High ecclesiastical dignitaries such as bishops, but also secular princes and kings, were granted the right to be buried within the churches. Not infrequently the stench of putrefaction that penetrated from the crypts into the church was unbearable. This unsanitary type of burial drew critics on the scene, but this special funeral rite was initially adhered to.

Of ossuaries and mass graves

But the burial at the churches themselves, which mostly had a central location in the villages, was criticized. As early as the late Middle Ages, efforts were made not to bury the corpses in the immediate vicinity of the residential areas. The gravedigger were reprimanded when they did not dig the pits deep enough and the dead were dug up by stray hungry dogs.

When the fear of the plague grew in the 14th century, an imperial decree also created cemeteries outside of towns and villages. Incidentally, the name Friedhof does not come from the word "peace", but rather from the Old and Middle High German words "frithof" or "vrithof", which stands for "enclosed space".

The ideas of the Reformation also ensured from the 17th century that not only burials in the churches, but also burials within the city walls were gradually abolished.

But it was not until the 19th century that it became common practice to generally locate cemeteries outside the city walls. They also wanted to get the space problem under control. The population grew and the cities no longer offered enough space for their dead.

At first they helped themselves to limit the rest period for the dead to five to seven years. After this period the bones were dug up, cleaned and stored in ossuaries, where skulls and bones were piled up to the ceiling. Attempts were also made to overcome the shortage of space with mass graves.

Progress through Napoleon

The first reform efforts in the funeral and cemetery regulations had already taken place at the end of the 18th century in arch-Catholic, but modern-thinking Austria. In neighboring Bavaria, too, they were open to innovations. In 1789 the first communal central burial ground was built in Munich.

The funeral monopoly held by the two main churches so far began to falter. The church responded to the changes with protest because it missed the lucrative tomb money. But progress could no longer be stopped. The French occupation in particular brought many innovations with it.

Through Napoleon's reform decree of 1804, the burial order in the areas under his administration was secularized and redesigned. Huge cemeteries emerged outside the cities. One of the most beautiful preserved examples of this is the Melatenfriedhof in Cologne. The new row burial was intended to take account of the idea of ​​equality, and by means of lush vegetation, the aim was to reduce dangerous fumes that were supposedly caused by the decomposition.

The dreary and unsystematic-looking cemeteries had become parks that not only served to mourn and remember, but also invited people to stroll.

In the post-Napoleonic period, however, the concept of equality of the uniform row graves gave way again to a class view beyond death. Rich and respected families were buried in majestic tombs on the main roads, the less well-off on the side roads. This form of the cemetery hierarchy can be seen very well in one of the most famous necropolises of modern times: the Vienna Central Cemetery, inaugurated in 1874.