A History of Cremation: Its Origins and Importance Today
The practice of cremation has existed for millennia. The earliest signs of the practice of cremation that archeologists have discovered date as far back as 17,000 years ago. The preferred method of disposition of the deceased, whether cremation, burial or exposure, has changed throughout time, cultures and religions. In the Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh religions, open air funeral pyres are traditional funeral rituals and still practiced today. The ancient Egyptians prohibited cremation, while Romans practiced both burial and cremation. When Christianity first began, and up until relatively recently, burial was the only accepted method of disposition, or the manner in which human remains are finally handled. It was then that cremation began to decline throughout Europe, and was even outlawed during the Middle Ages because they believed it was a paganistic ritual.
A movement to popularize cremation began in the mid-1800s. People in Europe had been introduced to eastern cultures that practiced cremation and the technology they used for it, and many people advocating for it believed that cremation would help reduce the “bad air” that caused diseases. A western cremation furnace was invented, and this method of disposition began to gain popularity, with the first western crematorium opening in Milan in 1876. The first crematorium in the United States was built in 1876. It’s founder, Francis Julius LeMoyne, also believed that cremating a body would prevent the spread of disease. (We now know that people who have died of causes other than a contagious disease do not pose a health risk.)
As cremation began to be received more favorably in Europe, it was slow to do so in America. Embalming had become more widely accepted and utilized in the late 19th century with the advent of the Civil War and the bodies of soldiers sent home to be buried by their families after fighting hundreds of miles away. It wasn’t until 1966 that the Catholic church reversed its ban on cremation, on the condition that the cremated remains be buried or interred rather than scattered. In 2016, cremation surpassed burial as the most common method of disposition in the United States.
There are many factors as to why cremation is now the preferred method of handling a loved one’s body after they’ve died.
As we mentioned above, different religions have different rules regarding disposition. Followers of Hindu believe a person’s body is tied to earthly temptations, and require cremation. Islam forbids cremation, and even the witnessing of a cremation. Catholicism and some denominations of Judaism strongly encourage that a body be buried intact, but accept cremation as long as the remains are buried. Today’s rise in the number of cremations may be associated with a rise in atheism and the preference for secular funerals.
Direct cremation is often a less expensive choice than burial. The price of cremation varies across cremation companies and funeral homes, though, and the cost of a funeral or memorial service (or lack of one) to a family ultimately depends on how simple or elaborate a service and/or merchandise they choose. At Cremation Society of Colorado, we offer transportation and cremation service only, and include everything in one price that includes all service and fees. We believe families should know exactly what they will be paying upfront.
A burial and traditional funeral must take place within a few days after a person has passed. Families who choose cremation are given more time to plan a memorial service and more time to ensure that out-of-state family and friends have adequate time to make travel plans. Families are also given time to rest, rather than rush to attend to the details of a funeral, during what can be an emotionally exhausting period.
Cremation can make things simpler for a family. With cremation, there is no need for embalming, a casket, or the process of a burial. If a family wants to transport remains to be interred or scattered in another state, it’s much less expensive and a lot less complicated of a process to travel with cremated remains than to ship a loved one’s body. With cremation, multiple family members can choose to keep or scatter their loved one’s remains wherever they choose.
Our cremation professionals at both our Centennial and Thornton locations are always happy to answer any questions you may have about cremation or the services we provide at Cremation Society of Colorado. Reach out at any time at 303-797-6888.