Cemetery Customs in Europe


The story goes that a Frenchman who had lost his wife ordered a stone-cutter to make him a suitable tombstone and on it cut the single word regrets.  The stone-cutter respectfully hinted that regrets eternels would be a more appropriate inscription.  “Alas, no, sir!” said the gentleman; “I have hired the grave for five years only.”

The story may very probably be a true one, for it is a common practice in several European countries to hire graves for a term of years and renew the lease when the first one expires, if the friends of the dead have the money or the loving respect that would keep their remains undisturbed; but if there are no means of renewing the lease, or if the relatives are forgetful, or the family extinct, the remains are taken up and buried again in a common trench, or relegated to a catacomb, as the case may be.

In some of the burial-grounds of Paris the condition of things is really frightful.  Here the ground has been used over and over again till it has lost not only all its original antiseptic properties, but has become a distinct source of corruption.  It is no uncommon thing for the grave-diggers, whose unpleasant duty it is to exhume the bodies which have been buried for a longer or shorter period, to be asphyxiated by the gases arising from the graves they are opening, and it has been more than once suggested to the Municipal Council of the city that these men be furnished with pure air while at their ghoulish work, by the same kind of apparatus that serves for submarine divers. — American Architect. (The Walnut Bureau, July 4, 1878, p. 1)