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Origins of Graveyards
By Tom Sangers

Graveyards, as we know, are a place set aside for the long term burial of the dead, usually with headstones or gravestones placed at the head of the burial. Graveyards were usually established at the same time as the church and were administered by the church and were often for those that couldn't afford to be buried inside or beneath the place of worship. Those that were sizeably rich, held important professions, were part of nobility or were part of any other high status had the privilege of being buried on individual crypts inside or beneath the church with an indication of their name, date of death and other biographical data. Middle and low social status people were largely buried in graveyards around the relevant church and were again divided up by social status. Those who could afford the work of a stone mason would have a memorial headstone carved for the deceased which held their name and date of death and was set up over the place of burial. The more writing and symbols carved the more expensive it was.

Similar to other possessions like house and transport, richer families would compete for the artistic value of their family headstone in comparison with others around it. Sometimes they would add a statue such as a weeping angel on top of the gravestone. Some were less fortunate and could not afford to pay for a headstone so they would usually opt for a religious symbol made from wood on the place of burial such as a Christian Cross; however these never had the longevity that headstones would achieve and would often deteriorate over a few years with rain and snow. Some families would opt for a blacksmith to make them large crosses made from various metals and this would be put on the place of the burial.

Thousands of graveyards still stand across the world today and although cemeteries took off largely in the late 18th century and throughout the 19th century, graveyards are a place where the oldest graves of a community or part of a city can still be found.


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