Anatomy of a Cemetery

Did you know that early graves were seldom in the neat rows that we are used to seeing? Burials were haphazard. Families didn’t own plots and burial spaces were often reused. In many burial grounds graves face all four points on the compass. Sometimes a hilly site will have stones facing all four directions.

The north side of the cemetery was considered less desirable and was often the last part of the burying ground to be used. It was frequently set aside for slaves, servants, suicides, ‘Jane Does’ etc.

In cemeteries around the world, the vast majority of graves are oriented so that bodies lie with their heads to the West and their feet to the East. This very old custom appears to originate with the Pagan sun worshippers, but is also attributed to Christians who believe that the final summons to Judgment will come from the East. With their feet pointing toward the east the dead will be ready to rise up and be reborn.

In many Christian traditions, ordained clergy are traditionally buried in the opposite orientation, and their coffins carried likewise, so that at the General Resurrection they may rise facing, and ready to minister to the people.

Montmartre, Paris, France
Montmartre, Paris, France
Holy Cross. Colma, CA, USA
Holy Cross. Colma, CA, USA


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