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A Little History About Cremation

It’s said that cremation started in the Stone Age mostly in Europe and spread across Northern Europe. Decorative pottery cremation urns have been found in Western Russia among the Slavic peoples. Cremation spread to the British Isles, Spain and Portugal and later became an integral part of the burial customs for the Greeks. Cremation was widely practiced by the Roman Empire. Cremated remains were stored in intricate cremation urns and placed in columbarium-like buildings.

Around 400 A.D. because of Constantine the Great, the Roman Emperor, who made Christianity the dominant religion; cremation was replaced with in-ground or in-tomb burial. This would remain the accepted practice throughout Europe for approximately 1,500 years.

Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews frown on cremation. Jewish law banned the practice. However, cremation has been increasing among Jews, at least 30 percent of Jewish deaths in North America and Europe are followed by cremations, and the percentage is on the rise.

The early Roman Catholic Church rejected the practice of cremation. The basis for this rule was simply that God has created each person in His image and likeness, and therefore the body is good and should be returned to the earth at death. But on March 21, 1997, the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments granted an indult authorizing each local bishop to set a policy regarding the presence of the cremains for the funeral Mass. Cremains must be treated with respect and must be interred or inurned after the funeral Mass.

Protestants are more accepting of cremation. Theologically, cremation is not a modern concept and in no way discounts the Christian understanding of resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Cremation simply speeds the natural process in which the body decomposes in burial. Cremation does not change God’s plan for us or diminish our love for the deceased. Christians have stated their belief in the life to come, and the hope of resurrection does not depend on the presentation of ones mortal remains. Therefore, cremation is entirely consistent with the Christian belief. A columbarium on the church grounds allows the closeness that church cemeteries once provided.

Islam strictly forbids cremation. Islam has specific rites for the treatment of the body after death. Usually deceased are wrapped by a single piece of cloth for burial and without a casket.

But religions, such as Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism, mandate cremation. As society grows increasingly multicultural, growth in cremation practices will increase along with it.

In 2006, Greece approved legislations allowing for the cremation of the dead, breaking with a centuries-old Orthodox religious tradition. Demand for the option of cremation was due to Greece's overcrowded cemeteries, which force relatives to exhume their loves ones after three years to make way for the next burial. For decades the Greek Orthodox Church had strongly opposed cremation, saying the body is God's creation and cannot be burned. "The church does not oppose and has no right to oppose the cremation of the dead for those of other religions or other Christian denominations," said a spokesman for the Church of Greece, Charis Konidaris. "For the Orthodox people, though, it recommends burial as the only way for the decomposition of the deceased human body, according to its long traditions," he said.

Cremation has been the norm for dealing with the deceased in Japan because communities are crowded and land is scarce. Almost 100 percent of the people of Japan are cremated. Health ministry data show that in 2010, the cremation rate was 99.94 percent, the highest in the world. Though there are no national laws in Japan that mandate only cremation.

According to the Cremation Association of North America, 14.9 percent of Americans were cremated in 1985. By 2015, the percentage is expected to reach 44.42 percent. By 2025, more than 55 percent of Americans will choose cremation as their end-of-life process.

Our society today is becoming more and more involved with cremation and in the memorialization of the cremated remains. Columbaria are becoming more popular and more in demand by today’s consumer. If you have ever wondered about cremation, history and background this brief analysis should prove beneficial to you.


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