How we deal with the physical shell that is our body post-mortem does vary from culture to culture and time to time. When I was a child it was almost unheard of for someone to be cremated after death. Bodies were embalmed, put on display for friends and family, placed in expensive coffins and buried.
Times have changed, and now I think cremation may be the norm, very often before the funeral. There is an urn containing ashes at the front of the church or chapel, not an open casket. Full-size plots in some of the more desirable cemeteries are expensive. My maternal grandparents are, if I remember rightly, buried in Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Graves there start at $11,169.50 – and that’s without a marker or monument. A cremation grave starts at $2,440. No wonder cremation has become increasingly popular; no-one can afford to have their body buried. There are cheaper cemeteries than Mount Pleasant, but the math is similar – cremation is the economical alternative to a traditional burial plot.
The church I attend is relatively new. It was built in stages; none of it is 40 years old yet. There are no graves in it like I have seen on so many churches I have visited in Europe. There weren’t any graves in the previous church building either. It was constructed in the 1920s. I don’t know when churches stopped doing the practice of burials in their building. Maybe some still allow it.
Older European churches all seem to have markers and monuments dedicated to prominent people who are buried in the church walls or floors. St. Peter’s, in Rome, of course, is the resting place for the popes. When I visited Westminster Abbey in London for the first time, in 1981, I was struck by how many of those memorialized were people whose names I recognized. I guess you have to be famous to be buried there.
In York Minster there are a lot of monuments. A few of the names seemed vaguely familiar, but that was about it, though I suspect that just shows my ignorance of British history. There was however a richness to the monuments that drew me in, even though I didn’t know the people being memorialized. These are not just grave markers with a name, a birthdate and a date of death. Some of them are elaborate sculpture, designed I presume to say something about the people they represent. That being the case, I thought we would wrap up our look at York Minster Cathedral with pictures of some of these monuments. I think I probably could say a lot more about the church, but five posts is probably enough at this time.
While I appreciate the craftsmanship and skills that went into the creation of these works of art, I do not expect nor want to be memorialized in such a fashion. I will be happy if I live on in the hearts and minds of my family and friends, that I be remembered with love. I could ask for no greater legacy.