The Secret Cemetery

The Secret Cemetery

The Secret Cemetery

The Secret Cemetery

Synopsis

Burial sites have long been recognized as windows onto past civilizations, yet the meanings of present day cemeteries have been virtually ignored, even though they can reveal much about ourselves. Through the process of choosing a memorial stone, inscribing it, and tending the grave garden, visitors fashion a dynamic personal landscape of memory and mourning. The contemporary cemetery is also a place where new immigrant communities can reinforce group boundaries and establish a sense of homeland. Exploring the memorial practices of people from Greek Orthodox, Muslim, Jewish, Roman Catholic and Anglican faiths, as well as the.unchurched,. this book shows how the material artifacts of mourning express sentiments that are shared, understood, and validated by members of the secret cemetery community.

Excerpt

Sir Raymond Firth

Are cemeteries a curious, even macabre subject of discussion? The authors of this volume do not think so, and they are right. Cemeteries offer a rich field for anthropological study, because they illustrate the emotional and symbolic meaning attached to material objects in human culture, including even the bodies of the dead. They show, too, how diverse can be the treatment of what is basically a very simple process, the disposal of a lifeless human body in the ground.

Death as the inevitable end of life has been a matter of much reflection by philosophers, theologians and poets, as well as of much concern to ordinary people. Such reflection has often been more on the fate of the soul than on the fate of the body. Yet the practical aspects of action following the demise of a person demand attention. In English society, disposal of a corpse is usually a matter for professional craftsmen known as undertakers. Undertaker in general means simply one who performs or agrees to perform a task or mission. It is presumably a term of Anglo-Saxon origin. But since its appearance in Middle English it has taken on some special meanings. In referring to those who arrange a funeral, the word undertaker contrasts with the American term mortician, a nineteenth-century word of Latin origin which . . .

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