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How Are European Countries Dealing with Overcrowded Cemeteries?

European nations are innovatively addressing overcrowded cemeteries by repurposing graves, enhancing cremation services, and creating memorial parks. These sustainable practices honor the deceased while adapting to spatial constraints. As we examine these respectful solutions, consider how they reflect our changing attitudes towards death and remembrance. What could these shifts mean for future generations? Join the conversation and share your thoughts.

Death might be permanent, but that doesn't mean you won't be forced to move at some point. With rising populations and expanding urban areas, many European countries are having to deal with the unpleasant but very important issue of cemetery overcrowding. One increasingly common solution is to remove the remains of those who have been buried for some time and then cremate them, leaving the plot free for the more recently deceased.

A similar practice has been going on for a long time in Portugal, where in the 1800s the dead were buried in churchyards only temporarily. When necessary, the bones would be exhumed and placed in a common ossuary. These days, one of the more popular methods is to rent the cemetery space for a few years, sometimes with the allowance for extensions, for a price. Another option is to bring up the bones of the long-time dead, deepen the grave, and replace them. The space on top would then be filled by a new casket.

Some cemetery surprises:

  • In most western Christian cemeteries, gravestones traditionally face east, in anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ.

  • The practice of creating "rubbings" from tombstones has fallen out of favor because of concerns about eroding the markers.

  • A graveyard and a cemetery are not the same: A graveyard always adjoins a church, while a cemetery does not.

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Discussion Comments


In Denmark, the bodies are put in the ground in a simple pine box, and no embalming fluids are used. After 10 years everything is decayed and the graves can be dug up and re-used.

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    • In many European cemeteries, overcrowding means that plots are often leased for a few years before exhumation.
      By: Amanda Slater
      In many European cemeteries, overcrowding means that plots are often leased for a few years before exhumation.