Burial or cremation

The ceremony of bidding a final farewell to the deceased is one of the oldest activities of human culture. The first traces of funeral ceremonies date back 300,000 years before our era, and based on the recovered remains, palaeontologists have concluded that the deceased were covered with flowers in ancient history, which confirms their belief in the afterlife.

Over time, funeral ceremonies have been followed by rites or religious rituals during which the gathered celebrate, dedicate or remember the person that died. Funeral customs differ among each other with their content, but the main part of each of them is the act of burying the deceased, which can be arranged in two different ways – as a BURIAL or CREMATION.

The BURIAL or INHUMATION is now common in Europe, America and Asia. It is the act of burying the body of the deceased, who is in the casket, into a grave at the cemetery. Most burials consist of burials in individual graves and family tombs, while the members of certain communities are sometimes buried in common graves. The caskets of high church officials and members of nobility were once deposited in crypts, while the people who took their own lives were buried in special places, without a church ritual. This practice was fortunately abandoned a long time ago.

Although cremation and incineration ceremonies were carried out in ancient Greece, with the Romans, Germans and Slavs, until the 19th century the Christian world used to considered INHUMATION the only correct way of burying a deceased, based on the tradition of placing the body of the deceased into the soil, which is in itself based on the burial on Jesus Christ, who was laid down in the grave himself.

While it used to be common practice to bury the deceased depending on the tradition and wishes of the family members who could choose between burial or cremation ceremony, in recent history religious communities have clearly determined the type of funeral which is suitable for their members.

CREMATION or INCINERATION began to be used in Europe in the mid-19th century when due to the overcrowding of cities and first hygienic-health regulations, the dead were incinerated in a clearly defined procedure. Since 1985 in Croatia, there has been one crematorium, at Zagreb’s Mirogoj cemetery, and the number of incineration ceremonies is increasing rapidly mostly due to the lower costs of the organisation of the ceremony and care of the grave where the urn is placed.

The entire procedure at Zagreb crematorium lasts for three days and it begins with a final farewell ceremony after which the casket, made out of soft wood and without any metal parts, is coated and placed in a cooling chamber. The process of cremation is carried out on the second day and it lasts for almost 3 hours during which the body is burned at a temperature between 800 and 100 degrees Celsius. The third day is reserved for placing the urn.

Croatian law does not allow for the free disposal of the urn with ashes, which means that such bodily remains must either be dug inside a grave or scattered in the Garden of roses on Sunčana staza (the Solar path). In order to scatter the ashes elsewhere, it is necessary to obtain a special permit.

The choice between burial and cremation is left up to each individual, but certain religious communities have stated their points of view regarding one or another form of burial a long time ago. In 1963, the Catholic Church has approved cremation by declaring it equivalent to burial in the grave, but only if the bodily remains are taken to the Holy Land after that, provided that the liturgical rite is performed before or after cremation, or during the placement of the urn.

Protestants are also prone to cremation while incineration is forbidden by the Jewish, Muslim and Orthodox religious communities, with the exception of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which tolerates this type of burial ever more often.

Cremation is still a predominant practice among Buddhists and Hindus. While Buddhists are allowed to choose between a burial and cremation, the Hindus burn their dead only so that their souls could easily leave the body. These are special ceremonies during which large bonfires are prepared for the dead, and on the following day their ashes are collected into an urn which is taken to a river.