Friday, 4 May 2012

Dealings with the Dead - 1856

Project Gutenburg
A few more words on the subject of burying the dead under churches, and in the midst of a dense population. If men would adopt the language of the prologue to Addison’s Cato—“dare to have sense yourselves”—the folly and madness of this practice would be sufficiently apparent. Upon some simple subjects, one grain of common sense is better, than any quantity of the uncommon kind. But it is hard to make men think so.They prefer walking by faith—they must consult the savans—the doctors. Now I think very well of a good, old-fashioned doctor—one doctor I mean—but, when they get to be gregarious, my observation tells me, no good can possibly come of it. At post mortems, and upon other occasions, I have, in my vocation, seen them assembled, by half dozens and dozens, and I have come to the conclusion, that no body of men ever look half so wise, or feel half so foolish.
Some of the faculty were consulted, in this city, about thirty years ago, upon the question of burying under churches; and, on the strength of the opinion given, a large church, not then finished, was provided with tombs, and the dead have been buried therein, ever since. Now I think the public good would have been advanced, had those doctors set their faces against the selfish proposition. That it is a nuisance, I entertain not the slightest doubt. The practice of burying in their own houses, among the ancients, gave place to burying without the city, or to cremation. The unhealthiness, consequent upon such congregations of the dead, was experienced at Rome. The inconvenience was so severely felt, in a certain quarter, that Augustus gave a large part of one of the cemeteries to Mæcenas, who so completely purified it, and changed its character, that it became one of the healthiest sites in Rome, and there he built a splendid villa, to which Augustus frequently resorted, for fresh air and repose. Horace alludes to this transformation, Sat. 8, lib. 1, v. 10, and the passage reminds one of the change, which occurred in Philadelphia, when the Potter’s field was beautifully planted, and transformed into
Washington Square
Hoc miseræ plebi stabat commune sepulchrum,
Pantolabo scurræ; Nomentanoque nepoti.
Mille pedes in fronte, trecentos cippus in agrum
Hic dabat, heredes monumentum ne sequeretur.
Nunc licet Esquiliis habitare salubribus, atque
Aggere in apprico spatiari, quâ modo tristes
Albis informem spectabant ossibus agrum.
Millingen, in his work on Medical jurisprudence, page 54, remarks—“From time immemorial medical men have pointed out to municipal authorities the dangers, that arise from burying the dead, within the precincts of cities, or populous towns.”

Aristocratic burials within Churches
© Godric Godricson
The early Christians buried their martyrs, and afterwards eminent citizens, in their temples. Theodosius, in his celebrated code, forbade the practice, because of the infectious diseases.
Theodolphus, the Bishop of Orleans, complained to Charlemagne, that vanity and the love of lucre had turned churches into charnel houses, disgraceful to the church, and dangerous to man.
Cuthbert, Archbishop of Canterbury, first sanctioned the use of churches, for charnel houses, in 758—though Augustine had previously forbidden the practice. As Sterne said, in another connection, “they manage these matters much better, in France;” there Maret, in 1773, and Vicq d’Azyr, in 1778, pointed out the terrible consequences, so effectually, that none, but dignitaries, were suffered to be buried in churches. In 1804, inhumation, in the cities of France, was wholly forbidden, without any exception. The arguments produced, at that time, are not uninteresting, at this, or any other. In Saulien, about 140 miles from Paris, in the year 1773, the corpse of a corpulent person was buried, March 3, under the church of St Saturnin. April 20, following, a woman was buried near it. Both had died of a prevailing fever, which had nearly passed away. At the last interment a foul odor filled the church, and out of 170 persons present, 149 were attacked with the disease. In 1774 at Nantes, several coffins were removed, to make room for a person of note; and fifteen of the bystanders died of the emanation, shortly after. In the same year, one third of the inhabitants of Lectouse died of malignant fever, which appeared, immediately after the removal of the dead from a burial-ground, to give place to a public structure.

Family Vaults within a Church
© Godric Godricson

The public mind is getting to be deeply impressed, upon this subject. Cities, and the larger towns are, in many instances, building homes for the dead, beyond the busy haunts of the living. The city of London has, until within a few years, been backward, in this sanatory movement. At present, however, there are six public cemeteries, in the suburbs of that city, of no inconsiderable area: the Kensall Green Cemetery, established by act 2 and 3 of William IV., in 1832, containing 53 acres—the South Metropolitan, by act 6 and 7 William IV., 1836, containing 40 acres—the Highgate and Kentish Town, by act 7 and 8 William IV., containing 22 acres—the Abney Park, at Stoke Newington, containing 30 acres, 1840—the Westminster, at Earlscourt, Kensington road, 1840—and the Nunhead, containing 40 acres, 1840. Paris has its beautiful Père La Chaise, covering the site of the house and extensive grounds, once belonging to the Jesuit of that name, the confessor of Louis XIV., who died in 1709. New York has its Greenwood; Philadelphia its Laurel Hill; Albany its Rural Cemetery; Baltimore its Green Mount; Rochester its Mount Hope; we our Mount Auburn; and our neighboring city of Roxbury has already selected—and well selected—a local habitation for the dead, and wants nothing but a name, which will not long be wanting, nor a graceful arrangement of the grounds, from the hands of one, to whom Mount Auburn is indebted, for so much of all that is admirable there. I shall rejoice, if the governors of this cemetery should decree, that no tomb should ever be erected therein—but that the dead should be laid in their graves.

Rev. William Frederick Kimm [1]
Husband of Maria Kimm
Died 16 May 1912
© Godric Godricson
My experience has supplied me with good and sufficient reasons—one thousand and one—against the employment of tombs, some of which reasons I may hereafter produce, though the honor of our craft may constrain me to keep silence, in regard to others. Some very bitter family squabbles have arisen, about tombs. Two deacons, who were half brothers, had a serious and lasting dispute, respecting a family tomb. They became almost furious; one of them solemnly protesting, that he would never consent to be buried there, while he had his reason, and the other declaring, that he would never be put into that tomb, while God spared his life. This, however, is not one of those one thousand and one reasons, against tombs.

Project Gutenburg : Dealings with the Dead, Volume I (of 2)

Author: A Sexton of the Old School Boston 1856

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