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The crematorium at Haycombe Cemetery, Bath, England.
The crematorium at Haycombe Cemetery, Bath, England.

Cremation is the act of reducing a corpse to ashes by burning, generally in a crematorium furnace or crematory fire. In funerals, cremation can be an alternative funeral rite to the burial of a body in a grave.

Modern cremation process
Body container
Burning & ashes collection
Pyre alternative
Keeping and disposing
of cremated remains
Reasons for
choosing cremation
Environmental benefits
Environmental concerns
Religious views
on cremation
Indian religions
Roman Catholic
Protestant Churches
Eastern orthodox
Other religions
that permit cremations
Other religions
that forbid cremation
Middle Ages
The Modern Era
Recent negative experiences
World War II
Crematory incident
Indian Ocean
See also

Modern cremation process

The cadaver is checked to ensure jewelry has been removed.The cadaver is checked to ensure jewelry has been removed. This checking process is not done in the UK - see text below.

The cremation occurs in a 'crematorium' consisting of one or more cremator furnaces or cremation 'retorts' for the ashes.

A cremator is an industrial furnace capable of generating 870-980 °C (1600-1800 °F) to ensure disintegration of the corpse.

 A crematorium may be part of chapel or a funeral home, or part of an independent facility or a service offered by a cemetery.

The body burns in the cremator.The body burns in the cremator.

Modern cremator fuels include natural gas and propane. However, coal or coke were used until the early 1960s.

Modern cremators have adjustable control systems that monitor the furnace during cremation.

A cremation furnace is not designed to cremate more than one body at a time, which is illegal in many countries including the USA.

The chamber where the body is placed is called the retort. It is lined with refractory brick that retains heat. The bricks are typically replaced every five years due to heat stress.

Modern cremators are computer-controlled to ensure legal and safe use, e.g. the door cannot be opened until the cremator has reached operating temperature. The coffin is inserted (charged) into the retort as quickly as possible to avoid heat loss through the top-opening door. The coffin may be on a charger (motorised trolley) that can quickly insert the coffin, or one that can tilt and tip the coffin into the cremator.

Some crematoria allow relatives to view the charging. This is sometimes done for religious reasons, such as traditional Hindu funerals.

Most cremators are a standard size. Typically, larger cities have access to an oversize cremator that can handle deceased in the 200+ kg range (441 pounds). However, the obese cannot always be accommodated and must be buried instead. Most large crematoriums have a small cremator installed for the disposal of fetal remains, babies and infants.

Body container

The remains are then sifted through to make sure the fragments are small enough.The remains are then sifted through to make sure the fragments are small enough.

A body ready to be cremated is first placed in a container for cremation, which can be a simple corrugated cardboard box or a wooden casket.

Most casket manufacturers provide a line of caskets specially built for cremation. Another option is a cardboard box that fits inside a wooden shell designed to look like a traditional casket.

After the funeral service the interior box is removed from the shell before cremation, permitting the shell to be reused.

Funeral homes may also offer rental caskets, which are traditional caskets used only for the duration of the services, after which the body is transferred to another container for cremation.

Rental caskets are sometimes designed with removable beds and liners, replaced after each use.

In the UK, the body is not removed from the coffin, and is not placed into a container as described above. The body is cremated with the coffin, which is why all UK coffins that are to be used for cremation must be made of combustible material.

 The Code Of Cremation Practice forbids the opening of the coffin once it has arrived at the crematorium, and rules stipulate it must be cremated on the same day as the funeral service. Therefore, if a corpse is to be cremated in the UK, it will be done so in the same coffin as it is placed in at the funeral parlour. Jewellery is strongly advised to be removed before the coffin is sealed, as the coffin cannot be opened once it has been received at the crematorium.

After the cremation process has been completed, the remains are passed through a magnetic field to remove any bits of metal, which will be interred elsewhere in the crematorium grounds.

In Australia, the deceased are cremated in a coffin supplied by the undertaker. Reusable or cardboard coffins are unknown. If cost is an issue, a plain, particle-board coffin known in the trade as a 'chippie' will be offered. Handles (if fitted) are plastic and approved for use in a cremator. Coffins vary from unfinished particle board (covered with a velvet pall if there is a service) to solid timber. Most are veneered particle board.

Cremations can be 'delivery only' with no preceding chapel service at the crematorium (although a church service may have been held) or preceded by a service in one of the crematorium chapels. Delivery-only allows crematoriums to schedule cremations to make best use of the cremators, perhaps by holding the body overnight in a refrigerator. As a result a lower fee is applicable. Delivery-only may be referred to by industry jargon such as 'west chapel service'.

Burning and ashes collection

Remains with large pieces are put into a machine, the 'cremulator', that grinds them down to finer bone fragments somewhat resembling wood-ash in appearance, but of greater density.Remains with large pieces are put into a machine, the 'cremulator', that grinds them down to finer bone fragments somewhat resembling wood-ash in appearance, but of greater density.

The box containing the body is placed in the retort and incinerated at a temperature of 760 to 1150 °C (1400 to 2100 °F). During the cremation process, a large part of the body (especially the organs) and other soft tissue are vaporized and oxidized due to the heat, and the gases are discharged through the exhaust system. The entire process usually takes about two hours.

All that remains after cremation are dry bone fragments (mostly calcium phosphates and minor minerals). These represent roughly 3.5% of the body's original mass (2.5% in children, but these figures vary greatly due to body composition). Because the weight of dry bone fragments is so closely connected to skeletal mass, their weight varies greatly from person to person, with the mean weight in a Florida, U.S. sample being 5.3 lb (approx. 2.4 kg) for adults (range 2 to 8 lb/900 g to 3.6 kg). This is distributed bimodally, with the mean being 6 lb (2.7 kg) for men (range 4 to 8 lb/1.8 kg to 3.6 kg) and 4 lb (1.8 kg) for women (range 2 to 6 lb/900 g to 2.7 kg). In this sample, generally all adult cremated remains over 6 lb (2.7 kg) were from males, and those under 4 lb (1.8 kg) were from females.

Jewelry, such as wristwatches and rings, are ordinarily removed and returned to the family. The only non-natural item required to be removed is a pacemaker, as a pacemaker could explode and damage the cremator. In the United Kingdom, and possibly other countries, the undertaker is required to remove pacemakers prior to delivering the body to the crematorium, and sign a declaration stating that any pacemaker has been removed.

After the incineration is completed, the bone fragments are swept out of the retort, and the operator uses a pulverizer called a cremulator (also known informally as a crembola) to process them into what are known as cremains which exhibit the appearance of grains of sand (note that this varies with the efficiency of the cremulator used, and recognizable chips of very dry bone may be seen in some final product cremated remains, depending on origin and facility). Cremulators usually use some kind of rotating or grinding mechanism to powder the bones, such as the heavy metal bearings on older models.

In Japan and Taiwan, the bones are not pulverized unless requested beforehand, and are collected by the family.

This is one of the reasons cremated remains are called ashes although a technical term sometimes used is "cremains" (a portmanteau of "cremated" and "remains"). The ashes are placed in a container, which can be anything from a simple cardboard box to a fancy urn. An unavoidable consequence of cremation is that a tiny residue of bodily remains is left in the chamber after cremation and mixes with subsequent cremations.

Not all that remains is bone. There will be melted metal lumps from missed jewellery, casket furniture, and dental fillings, and surgical implants such as hip replacements. Large items such as titanium hip replacements are usually removed before grinding, as they may damage the grinder. After grinding, smaller bits of metal are sieved out and later interred in common, consecrated ground in a remote area of the cemetery.

The pyre alternative

An alternative method used in some cultures, such as Hinduism, is burning the corpse on a pyre. A pyre is a pile of wood upon or within which the deceased's body is placed. The mound is lit on fire, the fire consumes the wood and the deceased. This method was used in antiquity, as in the Iliad. This method is not commonly found in the western world where crematorium furnaces are used, and is forbidden by law in some countries.

Methods of keeping or disposing of the cremated remains

Cremated remains are boxed with a plastic liner for the family to do as they wish, or placed in an urn and sealed shut.Cremated remains are boxed with a plastic liner for the family to do as they wish, or placed in an urn and sealed shut.

Cremated remains are returned to the next of kin in a rectangular plastic container, contained within a further cardboard box or velvet sack, or in an urn if the family had already purchased one.

An official certificate of cremation prepared under the authority of the crematorium accompanies the remains and if required by law the permit for disposition of human remains, which must remain with the cremains.

Cremated remains can be kept in an urn, sprinkled on a special field, mountain, in the sea, or buried in the ground. In addition, there are several services which will scatter the cremated remains in a variety of ways and locations.

Some examples are via a helium balloon, through fireworks, shot from shotgun shells or scattered from a plane. One service will send the remains into space and another will have them turned into a diamond in an artificial diamond manufacturing machine, as the ashes are mainly carbon based. They can also be incorporated, with urn and cement, into part of an artificial reef, or they can also be mixed into paint and made into a portrait of the deceased. Cremated remains can be scattered in national parks in the US, with a special permit. They can also be scattered on private property, with the owner's permission. A portion of the cremated remains may be retained in a specially designed locket known as a keepsake pendant. The final disposition depends on the personal wishes of the deceased as well as their religious beliefs. Some religions will permit the cremated remains to be sprinkled or kept at home. Some religions, such as Roman Catholicism, insist on either burying or entombing the remains.

Hinduism obliges the closest male relative (son, father, husband, etc.) of the deceased to immerse the cremated remains in the holy river Ganges, preferably at the holy city of Haridwar, India. The cremated remains may also be entombed.

In Japan and Taiwan, the remaining bone fragments are given to the family and are used in a burial ritual before final interment

Reasons for choosing cremation

Cremation allows for very economical use of cemetery space

Cremation allows for very economical use of cemetery space

Some people find they prefer cremation for personal reasons. For some people it is because they are not attracted to traditional burial. The thought of a long, slow decomposition process is unappealing to some; some people find that they prefer cremation because it disposes of the body immediately.

Other people view cremation as a way of simplifying their funeral process. These people view a traditional burial as an unneeded complication of their funeral process, and thus choose cremation to make their services as simple as possible.

The cost factor tends to make cremation attractive. Generally speaking, cremation costs less than traditional burial services, especially if direct cremation is chosen, in which the body is cremated as soon as legally possible without any sort of services. However, there is wide variation in the cost of cremation services, having mainly to do with the amount of service desired by the deceased or the family. A cremation can take place after a full traditional funeral service, which adds cost. The type of container used also influences cost.

Cremated remains can be scattered or buried. Cremation plots or columbarium niches usually cost less than a burial plot or mausoleum crypt, and require less space. However, some religions, such as Roman Catholicism, require the burial or entombment of cremated remains.

Environmental benefits

To some, cremation might be preferable for environmental reasons. Burial is a known source of certain environmental contaminants. Embalming fluids, for example, are known to contaminate groundwater with mercury, arsenic and formaldehyde. The coffins themselves are another known source of contamination. Another concern is contamination from radioisotopes that entered the body before death or burial (from, among other things, radiation therapy); it is possible that the decay of such corpses could cause environmental pollution.

Yet another environmental concern, of sorts, is that traditional burial takes up a great deal of space. In a traditional burial the body is buried in a casket made from a variety of materials. In America the casket is often placed inside a concrete vault or liner before burial in the ground. While individually this may not take much room, combined with other burials it can over time cause serious space concerns. Many cemeteries, particularly in Japan and Europe as well as those in larger cities, are starting to run out of space. In Tokyo, for example, traditional burial plots are extremely scarce and expensive, and in London, a space crisis led Harriet Harman to propose re-opening old graves for "double-decker" burials.

Environmental concerns

There is a growing body of research that indicates cremation has a significant impact on the environment:

The major emissions from crematories are: nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, mercury, hydrogen fluoride (HF), hydrogen chloride (HCl), NMVOCs, and other heavy metals, in addition to Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP).

According to the United Nations Environment Programme report on POP Emission Inventory Guidebook, emissions from crematoria, although comparatively small on an international scale, are still statistically significant. The POP inventory indicates that crematoria contribute 0.2% of the global emission of dioxins and furans.

Religious views on cremation

Indian religions

Crematorium in Bangkok, ThailandCrematorium in Bangkok, Thailand

The Indian religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, mandate cremation. In these religions the body is seen as an instrument to carry the soul. As an example the Bhagavad Gita quotes "Just as old clothes are cast off and new ones taken, the soul leaves the body after the death to take a new one". Hence the dead body is not considered sacred since the soul has left the body. Hence, the cremation is regarded as ethical by the Eastern religions. In Sikhism, burial is not prohibited, although cremation is the preferred option for cultural reasons rather than religious.

According to Hindu traditions, the reasons for preference of destroying the corpse by fire over burying it into ground, is to induce a feeling of detachment into the freshly-disembodied spirit, which will be helpful to encourage it into passing to 'the other world' (the ultimate destination of the dead). This also explains the ground-burial of holy men (whose spirit is already 'detached' enough due to lifelong ascetic practices) and young children (the spirit has not lived long enough to grow attachments to this world). Hindu holy men are buried in lotus position and not in horizontal position as in other religions. Cremation is referred to as antim-samskara, literally meaning "the last rites". At the time of the cremation or "last rites" a "Puja" is performed. A "Puja" is a Hindu prayer to assist the spirit to transcend into the after life.


Columbarium niches built into the side of St. Joseph's Chapel Mausoleum at the Catholic Mount Olivet Cemetery, Key West (rural Dubuque), Iowa.Columbarium niches built into the side of St. Joseph's Chapel Mausoleum at the Catholic Mount Olivet Cemetery, Key West (rural Dubuque), Iowa.

Today, cremation is an increasingly popular form of disposition of the deceased. This is true even in the Christian world, which for many years was opposed to cremation, but has come to a greater acceptance of cremation over the past century.

In Christian countries, cremation fell out of favour due to the Christian belief in the physical resurrection of the body, and as a mark of difference from the Iron Age European pre-Christian Pagan religions, which usually cremated their dead.

Beginning in the Middle Ages, rationalists and classicists began to advocate cremation. In Medieval Europe, cremation was practised only on special occasions when there were many corpses to be disposed of simultaneously after a battle, after an epidemic or during famine, and there was an imminent danger of disease spread. Much later, Sir Henry Thompson, Surgeon to Queen Victoria, was the first to recommend the practice for health reasons after seeing the cremation apparatus of Professor Brunetti of Padua, Italy at the Vienna Exposition in 1873. In 1874, Thompson founded The Cremation Society of England. The society met opposition from the Church, which would not allow cremation on consecrated ground, and from the government, who believed the practice to be illegal.

Cremation was forced into British law when a Welsh doctor, William Price burned his infant son, named Jesus Christ, in a Pagan ritual shortly before 1883 in the historic town of Llantrisant. The doctor was a well known eccentric whose cremation ceremony was initially stopped by people coming home from church. The police returned the partially burnt body of his son on condition that it would neither be buried nor burned. Later that year, Dr. Price reneged on his promise and burned his son's remains. The townsfolk, unhappy with this sacrilege, went in an angry mob to burn out Dr. Price, but were turned back when they discovered only his wife armed with pistols. Dr. Price had already left the building. Dr. Price was arrested and tried in an 1884 court case which resulted in an amendment to legalize cremation in February of that year. An Act of Parliament for the Regulation of burning of human remains, and to enable burial authorities to established crematoria was passed in 1902.

The Roman Catholic Church

For most of its history, the Roman Catholic Church had a ban against cremation. It was seen as the most sacrilegious act towards Christians and their God, not simply blaspheming, but physically declaring a disbelief in the resurrection of the body. In 1963, the Pope lifted the ban on cremation, and in 1966 allowed Catholic priests to officiate at cremation ceremonies. The Church still officially prefers the traditional internment of the deceased. Despite this preference, cremation is now permitted as long as it is not done to express a refusal to believe in the resurrection of the body.  Until 1997, Church regulations used to stipulate that cremation has to take place after a funeral service. Such funeral services are conducted in the same manner as traditional burials up to the point of committal, where the body is taken to the crematorium instead of being buried. A burial service is performed after the cremation is completed.

In 1997, the funeral rite was modified so that church funerals can take place when the body has already been cremated before the ashes are brought to the church. In such cases, the ashes are placed in an urn or another worthy vessel, brought into the church and placed on a stand near the Easter candle. During the church service, and during the committal rite, prayers that make reference to the body are modified. Any prayers that refer to the "Body" of the deceased are replaced with "Earthly Remains."

Since the lifting of the ban, even with the official preference for burial, the Church has become more and more open to the idea of cremation. Many Catholic cemeteries now provide columbarium niches for housing cremated remains as well as providing special sections for the burial of cremated remains. Columbarium niches have even been made a part of church buildings. The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, California has a number of niches in the crypt mausoleum. However, church officials still tend to discourage this practice because of concerns over what would happen to the niches if such a parish closes or decides to replace the current building.

The Church requires reverent disposition of the ashes which means that the ashes are to be buried or entombed in an appropriate container, such as an urn. The Church does not permit the scattering of ashes or keeping them at home, though some Catholics have done so despite the ban.

Traditional Catholics have objected to the practice of allowing cremation, which sedevacantists believe to be one of the many reasons why the post-Vatican II church is no longer the true Catholic Church.

Protestant Churches

The Protestant Churches approved cremation earlier than the Catholic Church with the rationale being "God can resurrect a bowl of ashes just as conveniently as He can resurrect a bowl of dust." The development of modern crematoriums also helped to differentiate Christian cremations from Pagan rites of burning the body on pyre. The first crematorium in Stockholm, Sweden was built 1874; in Finland, the Helsinki Lutheran Parish Union built its first modern crematorium in 1926 which is still in use. Nowadays in Lutheran Scandinavia, approximately 50 to 70 percent of the dead are cremated, and in large towns up to 90 percent.

In Scandinavian Lutheran doctrine, the ashes are to be dealt with the same dignity as any earthly remains. They are either to be interred in an urn or sprinkled on consecrated ground, "dust returning to dust," and not stored at home or disposed of in an undignified way. Most large parishes do have crematoriums as part of their chapels, and urns are buried in the cemetery in the usual manner, or sprinkled on special consecrated grounds. Some seashore parishes also have consecrated sea areas where the ashes can be scattered.

The rise in popularity of cremation has resulted in the resurgence of the old Lutheran tradition of family graves in Scandinavia. As urns require less space than caskets, the family grave in the cemetery can now contain the earthly remains of the family members in many generations.

Protestant churches were much more welcoming of the use of cremation and at a much earlier date than the Catholic Church; pro-cremation sentiment was not unanimous among Protestants, however. The first crematoria in the Protestant countries were built in 1870s, and in 1908 the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey, one of the most famous Anglican churches, required that remains be cremated for burial in the abbey's precincts. Scattering, or "strewing," is an acceptable practice in many Protestant denominations, and some churches have their own "garden of remembrance" on their grounds in which remains can be scattered. Other Christian groups also support cremation. These include the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Eastern Orthodox and others who forbid cremation

On the other hand, some branches of Christianity still oppose cremation, including some minority Protestant groups. The Eastern Orthodox Church forbids cremation. Exceptions are made for circumstances where it may not be avoided as in when civil authority demands it, during epidemics or other similar necessary cases. When a cremation is willfully chosen for no good cause by the one who is deceased, he or she is not permitted a funeral in the church and may also be permanently excluded from liturgical prayers for the departed. In Orthodoxy, cremation is a rejection of the dogma of the general resurrection, and as such is viewed harshly.


Leaders of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have typically declared that cremation is strongly discouraged. This is based on the LDS belief that the body is holy, and that the body and soul will eventually be reunited. Prominent LDS leader Bruce R. McConkie wrote that "only under the most extraordinary and unusual circumstances" would cremation be consistent with LDS teachings.


Judaism has traditionally disapproved of cremation (which was the traditional means of disposing the dead in the neighboring Bronze Age cultures). Traditionally, it has also disapproved of preservation of the dead by means of embalming and mummifying, a practice of the ancient Egyptians. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, as the Jewish cemeteries in many European towns had become crowded and were running out of space, cremation became an approved means of corpse disposal amongst the Liberal Jews. Current liberal movements like Reform Judaism still support cremation, although burial remains the preferred option.[

The Orthodox Jews have maintained a stricter line on cremation, and disapprove of it as Halakha (Jewish law) forbids it. This halakhic concern is grounded in the upholding of bodily resurrection as a core belief of "mainstream" Judaism, as opposed to other ancient trends such as the Sadduccees, who denied it. Also, the memory of the Holocaust, where millions of Jews were murdered and their bodies disposed by burning them either in crematoria or burning pits, has given cremation extremely negative connotations for Orthodox Jews. Conservative Jewish groups also oppose cremation.


Traditionally, Zoroastrianism disavows cremation or burial to preclude pollution of fire or earth. The traditional method of corpse disposal is through ritual exposure in a "Towers of Silence," but both burial and cremation are increasingly popular alternatives. Some contemporary figures of the faith have opted for cremation. Parsi-Zoroastrian singer Freddie Mercury of the group Queen was cremated after his death.


According to Feminist interpretations of the archaeological record, cremation is the usual means of corpse disposal in Patriarchal religions, the rising smoke symbolizing the deceased's spirit ascending to the domain of the Father deities in the heavens, while Matriarchal religions are speculated to have favoured interment of the corpse, often in a fetal position, representing the return of the body to Mother Earth in the tomb which represents the uterus. Of modern Neo-Pagan religions, Ásatrú favours cremation, as do forms of Celtic Paganism.

Other religions that permit cremation

Ásatrú, Buddhism, Christianity (containing Church of Ireland, Church in Wales, United Church of Canada, Jehovah's Witnesses, Lutheranism, Methodism, Moravian Church, Salvation Army, Scottish Episcopal Church), Christian Science, Church of Scientology, Hinduism (mandatory except for sanyasis, eunuchs and children under five), Jainism, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Sikhs, Society of Friends (Quakers), and Unitarian Universalism all permit cremation.

Other religions that forbid cremation

Islam and Zoroastrianism forbid cremation. Neo-Confucianism under Zhu Xi strongly discourages cremation of one's parents' corpses as unfilial. In Egyptian Reconstructionism it is believed the Ka will be killed with cremation but it is not forbidden and during ancient times, was a practice of desposing of criminals who were executed in order for them to be deprived of an afterlife.



Cremation dates to at least 26,000 years ago in the archaeological record with the Mungo Lake cremation.

Alternative death rituals emphasizing one method of disposal of a body, inhumation (burial, cremation, and exposure), have gone through periods of preference throughout history.

In the Middle East and Europe both burial and cremation are evident in the archaeological record in the Neolithic. Cultural groups had their own preference and prohibitions. The ancient Egyptians developed an intricate transmigration of soul theology, which prohibited cremation, and this was adopted widely among other Semitic peoples. The Babylonians, according to Herodotus, embalmed their dead. Early Persians practiced cremation but this became prohibited during the Zoroastrian Period. Phoenicians practiced both cremation and burial. Ancient Greeks and Romans practiced both with cremation generally associated with military honours.

In Europe, there are traces of cremation dating to the Early Bronze Age (ca. 2000 BC) in the Pannonian Plain and along the middle Danube. The custom becomes dominant throughout Bronze Age Europe with the Urnfield culture (from ca. 1300 BC). In the Iron Age, inhumation becomes again more common, but cremation persisted in the Villanovan culture and elsewhere. Homer's account of Patroclus' burial describes cremation with subsequent burial in a tumulus similar to Urnfield burials, qualifying as the earliest description of cremation rites. This is mostly an anachronism, as during Mycenaean times burial was generally preferred, and Homer may have been reflecting more common use of cremation in the period in which the Iliad was written centuries later.

Criticism of burial rites is a common aspersion in competing religions and cultures and one is the association of cremation with fire sacrifice or human sacrifice.

Hinduism is notable for not only allowing but prescribing cremation. Cremation in India is first attested in the Cemetery H culture (from ca. 1900 BC), considered the formative stage of Vedic civilization. The Rigveda contains a reference to the emerging practice, in RV 10.15.14, where the forefathers "both cremated (agnidagdhá-) and uncremated (ánagnidagdha-)" are invoked.

Cremation remained common, but not universal, in both Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. According to Cicero, in Rome inhumation was considered the more archaic rite, while the most honoured citizens were most typically cremated, especially upper classes and members of imperial families.

Christianity frowned upon cremation, both influenced by the tenets of Judaism, and in an attempt to abolish Graeco-Roman pagan rituals. By the 5th century, the practice of cremation had practically disappeared from Europe.

In the Middle Ages

Throughout parts of Europe, cremation was forbidden by law, and even punishable by death if combined with heathen rites. Cremation was sometimes used by authorities as part of punishment for heretics, and this did not only include burning at the stake. For example, the body of John Wycliff was exhumed years after his death and cremated, with the ashes thrown in a river,. explicitly as a posthumous punishment for his denial of the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. On the other hand, mass cremations were often performed because of necessity, when there was a danger of contagious diseases, such as after a battle, pestilence or famine. Retributory cremation continued into modern times. For example, after World War II, the bodies of the 12 men convicted of crimes against humanity at the Nuremburg trials were not returned to their families, but were instead cremated, then disposed of at a secret location, as a specific part of a legal process intended to deny their use as a location for any sort of memorial.  In Japan, however, a memorial building for many executed war criminals, who were also cremated, was allowed to be erected for their remains. Many Communist countries used similar obliteration as an aggravated capital punishment: the bodies of the executed were cremated and the ashes ignominiously disposed, thus humiliating the families even further.

Even today, cremation bears the stigma of "human waste disposal" in many ex-Socialist countries and is considered ignominious or shameful.

The modern era

In 1873, Paduan Professor Brunetti presented a cremation chamber at the Vienna Exposition. In Britain, the movement found the support of Queen Victoria's surgeon, Sir Henry Thompson, who together with colleagues founded the Cremation Society of England in 1874. The first crematoria in Europe were built in 1878 in Woking, England and Gotha, Germany, the first in North America in 1876 by Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne in Washington, Pennsylvania. The second cremation in the United States was that of Charles F. Winslow in Salt Lake City, Utah on July 31, 1877. The first cremation in Britain took place on 26th March 1886 at Woking.

Cremation was declared as legal in England and Wales when Dr William Price was prosecuted for cremating his son;  formal legislation followed later with the passing of the Cremation Act 1902, (this Act did not extend to Ireland) which imposed procedural requirements before a cremation could occur and restricted the practice to authorised places. Some of the various Protestant churches came to accept cremation, with the rationale being, "God can resurrect a bowl of ashes just as conveniently as he can resurrect a bowl of dust". The 1908 Catholic Encyclopedia was critical about these efforts, referring to them as a "sinister movement" and associating them with Freemasonry, although it said that "there is nothing directly opposed to any dogma of the Church in the practice of cremation". In 1963, Pope Paul VI lifted the ban on cremation, and in 1966 allowed Catholic priests to officiate at cremation ceremonies.

Australia also started to establish modern cremation movements and societies. Australians had their first purpose-built modern crematorium and chapel in the West Terrace Cemetery in the South Australian capital Adelaide in 1901. This small building, resembling the buildings at Woking, remained largely unchanged from its 19th century style and in full operation until the late 1950s. The oldest operating Crematorium in Australia is at Rookwood in Sydney. It opened in 1925.

In the Netherlands, the foundation of the Association for Optional Cremation in 1874 ushered in a long debate about the merits and demerits of cremation. Laws against cremation were challenged and invalidated in 1915 (two years after the construction of the first crematorium in the Netherlands), though cremation did not become legally recognised until 1955.

Negative recent history experiences with cremation

World War II

During the Holocaust, massive crematoria were constructed and operated by the Nazis within their concentration camps and extermination camps to dispose of the bodies of thousands of Jews, Gypsies, and other prisoners who were killed or died in the camps daily. In addition to the atrocity of mass murder, the remains of Jews were thus disposed of in a manner deeply offensive to Orthodox Judaism because Halakha, the Jewish law, forbids cremation and holds that the soul of a cremated person cannot find its final repose. Since then, cremation has carried an extremely negative connotation for many Jews.

The Tri-State Crematory incident

A recent controversial event involved the failure to cremate, known as the Tri-State Crematory Incident. In the state of Georgia in the United States in early 2002, three hundred thirty-four corpses that were supposed to have been cremated in the previous few years at the Tri-State Crematory were found intact and decaying on the crematorium's grounds, having been dumped there by the crematorium's proprietor. Many of the corpses were beyond identification. In many cases the "ashes" that were returned to the family were not human remains - they were made of wood and concrete dust.

Eventually Ray Brent Marsh—who was the operator at the time the bodies were discovered—had 787 criminal charges filed against him. On November 19, 2004 Marsh pleaded guilty to all charges. Marsh was sentenced to two 12-year prison sentences from both Georgia and Tennessee which he is serving concurrently. Afterwards he will be on probation for 75 years.

Civil suits were filed against the Marsh family as well as a number of funeral homes who shipped bodies to Tri-State. These suits were ultimately settled. The property of the Marsh family has been sold, but collection of the full $80 million judgment remains doubtful. Families have expressed the desire to return the former Tri-State crematory to a natural, park like setting.

The Indian Ocean tsunamis

The magnitude 9.0-9.3 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake triggered a series of lethal tsunamis on December 26, 2004 that killed almost 300,000 people, making them the deadliest tsunamis in recorded history. The tsunamis killed people over an area ranging from the immediate vicinity of the quake in Indonesia, Thailand, and the north-western coast of Malaysia, to thousands of kilometres away in Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and even as far as Somalia, Kenya, and Tanzania in eastern Africa.

Authorities had difficulties dealing with the large numbers of bodies, and as a result thousands of bodies were of necessity cremated together. Many of these bodies were not identified or viewed by relatives prior to cremation. A particular point of objection was that the bodies of Westerners were kept separate from those of Asian descent, who were mostly locals. This meant that the bodies of tourists from other Asian nations, such as Japan and Korea, were mass cremated rather than being returned to their country of origin for funeral rites.


The state of California has a law that forbids scattering human ashes on privately-owned land, including that of the decedant, although it does allow scattering at sea. Carl Djerassi found this to be a problem after the suicide of his daughter, Pamela. As he states in the chapter "A Scattering of Ashes" in his autobiography 'The Pill, Pigmy Chimps, and Degas' Horse, he solved the problem by scattering Pamela's ashes into a creek on the family estate that was a tributary to San Francisquito Creek, which eventually runs to the San Francisco Bay.

See also
William Price (doctor)
Loch Lomond Heritage

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