When a remarkable loved one passes away, family members and close friends must make important decisions regarding their loved one’s final resting place. Choices such as which funeral home will be contacted and what kind of memorial service will be performed can feel overwhelming while processing grief and loss.
One of these decisions may be whether to cremate a loved one that did not leave specific instructions for their end-of-life services.
Cremation has surpassed burial as the most predominant post-life service in the United States. According to The Cremation Association of North America, over half of the people who pass away in the United States are cremated each year.
While it’s an extremely common practice today, cremation took time to settle in North America and other parts of the West. Together, we’ll explore the history of cremation and how it impacts today’s cremation practices.
How Did Cremation Originate?
Although evidence of cremation by ancient human civilizations has been discovered in Australia, many scholars consider the Neolithic Period as the origin of cremation practices.
Rustic urns from the Stone Age have been exhumed in parts of Europe, Russia, and Japan, showing that cremation has been a common way to lay loved ones to rest for nearly 3,000 years.
The Bronze Age
Between 2500 and 1000 B.C. the practice of cremation spread to the British Isles and Southern parts of Europe, like Italy and Spain. Evidence found by archeologists paints a picture of special cremation ceremonies celebrating loved ones’ impacts and legacies, followed by the burial of the cremated remains in special cemeteries.
The Mycenaean Age
As the cremation movement spread, it made quite an impact in Greece. Grecian funerals were known for being complex and decorative celebrations of life, and cremation was the choice for most early Greeks.
Another factor that popularized cremation in Greece was the number of fallen soldiers in the battle-ravaged region. Cremation was thought to be a better option for hygiene and sanitation than earthen burial.
The Roman Empire
Between the years 27 B.C. and 395 A.D., cremation was widely practiced and accepted as the most common form of burial in Rome. Ancient Romans used extensively decorated urns for their loved ones’ cremated remains.
Romans practiced two types of burial: cremation and inhumation, the burial of the dead in the ground. Inhumation required a large, heavily detailed sarcophagus and space for burial. The burials were usually located on land outside of the city walls due to disease and sanitation concerns. When land became scarce, they developed catacombs as final resting places for their loved ones.
The Roman cremation process was advanced and ceremonial, involving the removal of the body to the Necropolis (“city of the dead”) where it was placed upon a funeral pyre. The cremated remains were then collected and placed in an urn for a funeral procession.
Cremation remained the most widely used form of death care until around the 2nd century A.D., when inhumation gained more popularity due to the influence of early Christians and the Roman Catholic Church.
The Middle Ages and Constantine Period
The Age of Constantine saw sweeping religious reformation in the Roman empire. Christian and Jewish burial practices did not involve cremation, so cremation’s popularity took a long pause.
It occasionally regained prevalence in times of plague or war, when the number of people who needed to be laid to rest increased. Here, instead of being used ceremonially to celebrate lost loved ones, cremation was chosen for its efficiency.
Cremation, as we know it today, is only about 100 years old, beginning when Professor Ludovico Brunetti developed a cremation chamber that could regulate heat and replace an open pyre. Professor Brunetti premiered his chamber at the Vienna Exposition in 1873.
Meanwhile, another cremation chamber debuted stateside in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1876.
Even though these chambers were impressive, it wasn’t until later in the 19th century that today’s cremation developed in earnest.
In the early 1900s, Queen Victoria’s surgeon Sir Henry Thompson became concerned about the spread of diseases that had become epidemics and the sanitation of human remains. Piggybacking on Professor Brunetti’s chamber, he developed The Cremation Society of England in 1874.
Cremation in the United States
In North America, cremation was still not widely accepted in the late-1870s. End-of-life practices almost always involved an earthen burial instead.
This changed in 1876 when Dr. Julius LeMoyne built the first crematory in Washington, Pennsylvania. In 1884, another crematory opened, operated by a local cremation society, with more to follow.
Partially thanks to a push by protestants and health officials who wanted to reform the burial process for public health reasons, cremation was accepted in the United States as a respectable and reliable form of death care.
Cremation’s Rise in Popularity
Today, the cremation process has bypassed traditional burial in popularity for several reasons:
- Location. Families often live apart from one another, making the selection of a burial site more difficult. Memorial ashes can be given to multiple loved ones who want to honor the deceased’s impact and legacy.
- Religious liberty. Many religions that did not originally embrace cremation have relaxed their views, including the Catholic church, which now permits cremation.
- Expense. The cost of cremation is more often more manageable than burial thanks to the ability to forgo expenses like caskets and burial plots.
The cremation rate in the U.S. continues to rise, and with it, the question of how to best celebrate our cremated loved one’s lives.
Honoring Their Life
The ashes of a loved one are a precious gift, and what we do with them can help further our loved one’s legacy and commemorate their life. There are several options available.
- Relocation to a columbarium. Ashes can be placed in an urn and relocated to a columbarium, a room or building with niches created for holding these special vessels.
- Earthen burial. Ashes may also be interned in the ground, similar to other burial methods.
- Memorial jewelry. For those who want to keep their loved one close, memorial jewelry is a thoughtful option. Crafted using a portion of our loved one’s ashes, this jewelry allows you to keep the memory of your loved one physically near.
There’s no right or wrong way to preserve your loved one’s ashes. Remembering their story is the most important part of supporting their legacy.
The Cremation Diamond
We can celebrate our radiant loved ones through the creation and use of cremation diamonds. At Eterneva, it’s our goal to help your loved one’s memorial shine as brightly as they did in life and share their remarkable stories.
The process of transforming your loved one’s ashes into a beautiful diamond starts with a welcome package that includes step-by-step instructions on the creation process and a questionnaire so we can learn more about your loved one’s incredible story.
Once we begin creating your memorial diamond, you’ll receive continual updates about the transformation journey, including personal messages and videos that show your loved one’s ashes are being handled with the utmost respect and care.
At the end of the creation process, you’ll receive a family heirloom that is as unique as your loved one that you can keep by your side throughout your life.
Cremation and Beyond
When our loved ones pass on, we’re left with the challenging task of honoring their memory and channeling our emotions into a passion for lengthening their legacy. Eterneva makes the process effortless and transforms your loved one’s cremated ashes into a diamond that will spark a thousand memorable conversations.