No Rest for the Christians

i-c6ed9aa2ab2157f9ee9ce38128eef27c-webres.27.2.06 DSCN5527 Snowdrops in Llandyfeisant churchyard, Llandeilo.JPG

My buddy Hans asked,

Do you mean that no excavations are done on churchyards, even though they are from the Middle Ages? Why?


A Medieval Swedish churchyard abandoned more than about a century ago will be excavated with great care if threatened. For instance, this happened recently at the cathedral in Hans’s home town of Linköping.

But at a churchyard that’s been in constant use since the Middle Ages, as is true for most rural churchyards in Sweden, it is uncontroversial to dig new graves and destroy whatever’s there. Why? Well, it’s kind of like the farmer who’s allowed to continue ploughing sites on his land like he’s used to, even though this gradually erases the sites. Also, very few rural congregations could afford any archaeology.

I think this is bad and should stop.

By the way, I should point out that a Christian churchyard is the least safe place in the world to get buried. It’s because of the concept of hallowed ground. Once you’ve filled the hallowed space with burials, you have to start over again and destroy older graves. You can also cart loads of earth onto the churchyard, raise the ground surface and make a skeletal layer cake. But many burials will still be disturbed as the fills are rarely thick enough, and as the grave diggers don’t know where an individual grave is after the headstone’s been removed. As it always is sooner or later. Sorry, kids.

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8 thoughts on “No Rest for the Christians

  1. Hmm. I’ve always thought to myself that I shouldn’t be buried in a graveyard, but have my body recycled as fertilizer or whatever. If we’re going to recycle, let’s get serious. But then again if we all adopted this stance archeology in the future would have much less to study. Science, or environment…

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  2. By the way, I should point out that a Christian churchyard is the least safe place in the world to get buried.

    As far as I’m concerned, once I’m dead all places are equally unsafe.

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  3. I didn’t know that about hallowed ground. Who hallows it? Can’t they do it again? I like walking around in cemetaries and reading the headstones– you can piece together a story just from names and dates and the location of family members. And it’s peaceful. But I will probably be cremated anyway. Like the new site, by the way, though I’m coming to it late. Sorry!

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  4. Welcome Martha!

    In the Catholic church, only a bishop can hallow a churchyard. So you have to invite him to get the job done. The farmers who own the adjoining fields may not want to sell. And traditionally, you wouldn’t want to get buried far from the church — the best spots are under the eaves of the chancel, where hallowed water from the roof drips down onto your resting place. So traditionally, churchyards have hardly ever been expanded. It starts to happen sporadically only in the 19th century.

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  5. I like the route we took with my grandfather. We’ve got a heavy urn in the living room that’s containing ashes that we (to quote Monty Python) “pretend are [his]”. It freaks out the more sensitive guests:
    -“Hey, what’s in the urn?”
    -“Oh, that? It’s just grandpa. He’s been living with us for quite some time now.”

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  6. Hey King Aardvark, no less! Welcome!

    Your grandpa urn is so Iron Age. Love it.

    Did you know all modern crematoria are equipped with little bone mills that grind the cremated bones to a fine white powder? After cremation, if you don’t do anything to the bones, the largest pieces will easily be about 10 cm long.

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