Cremation Through the Ages

by L-Johnson

The LeMoyne Crematory was the first crematory built in the United States.

The word cremation comes from the Latin word cremo which means “to burn”. Most archaeologists believe that cremation was invented during the stone age, about 3000 BC. It became the most common method to dispose of bodies by 800 BC in Greece, and by 600 BC in Rome.

In ancient Israel, cremation was shunned. The bodies were kept in tombs or vaults and decomposed over time. Cremation was widespread in Ancient Europe, but when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, an official decree was issued against cremation and burial become the only method of disposing bodies throughout Europe. The reason for this was that it was believed God could not reunite the body with the soul if the body had been cremated. Although it used to be the standard, cremation became undignified and disappeared in Europe in the fifth century AD causing the Romans to switch to ground burial and entombment.

In Asia, cremation became popular in areas of Buddhist influence until about 1300 AD when the advent of Neo-Confucianism brought burials back into popularity.

Modern cremation as we know it started with Professor Brunetti of Italy, who invented a practical cremation chamber and presented it at the 1873 Vienna Exposition. This invention started a resurgence in cremation on both sides of the Atlantic. The first crematory in America was established in Pennsylvania in 1876 by Dr. Francis LeMoyne. The first person cremated in America was Baron de Palm, who died in 1876. His body was embalmed and put on ice for about six months until the LeMoyne Crematory was completed.

In the 20th century, it had become apparent that cremation was no longer an anti-Christian practice and was sometimes necessary for economic or health reasons. This led to a 1983 Code of Canon Law: “The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burial be retained; but it does not forbid cremation, unless this is chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching.” In other words, burial is preferred but cremation is no longer forbidden.

Today, cremation is practiced in at least 31 countries around the world, with rates ranging from less than 2 percent in Ghana to more than 75 percent of people in Switzerland choosing the cremation option.

The cremation rate in America is rising, and is expected to pass 50 percent by 2017. In 1985, this rate was at 15 percent. The rate differs across states however, from 13 percent in Missippi to 73 percent in Nevada.

Read more:

America’s First Crematorium | LeMoyne Crematorium

Code of Canon Law | Intratext.com

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