Top 10 answers to questions about cemeteries

It’s pretty rare to be comfortable with death, and that’s why we find cemeteries creepy and creepy. Death scares us and, frankly, it is little understood. No wonder we are not here to teach you about what happens after death. On the other hand, we can answer the questions you ask yourself about cemeteries, places that end up being more reassuring than scary.

1. How much does a concession cost? What happens if we stop paying?

The price of a plot varies greatly depending on where the person wants to be buried. In a city like Lyon, a 2 m² concession costs 1,300 euros for 30 years, while in Lille it costs only 400 euros. In Paris, on the other hand, it is necessary to count almost 3000€.

One can choose to pay the concession for 10, 30, 50 years, or even indefinitely, but when the term expires, the family must renew the purchase. If all family members agree to waive the concession, the remains of the deceased may be recovered, cremated, reburied elsewhere, or placed in a communal crypt.

2. Are there specifically secular or religious cemeteries?

Since the late 19th century, cemeteries have become neutral places: they must respect everyone’s religion without imposing it. Therefore, it is forbidden to install religious signs in the common areas of cemeteries; although there are still crucifixes that could have remained if they were considered monuments.

We sometimes speak of “confessional square” to refer to the perimeter of a cemetery where people of the same faith are buried according to their wishes. This is allowed due to the numerous requests of believers, but it is forbidden to delimit these “squares” with a wall or even a sign; it’s just a grouping.

3. What is a real will-o’-the-wisp?

For a long time it was believed that the will-o’-the-wisps, these fires that look like flames, were a manifestation of suffering souls wandering the Earth. In truth, the explanation is much less poetic. In oxygen-deficient soil, the presence of methane and phosphorus can create an emission of phosphorescent gas called will-o’-the-wisp. We see this phenomenon especially in swamps and cemeteries, because it occurs due to the decomposition of plants and corpses, whether they are animals or people.

Photo credits (public domain): The author cannot be identified automatically. Supposed to be: Tuohirulla (subject to copyright notice).

4. Is the job of a cemetery caretaker well paid?

A cemetery caretaker usually starts by being paid the minimum wage, but over time his salary may change. Contrary to some beliefs, the cemetery is not guarded at night. It opens and closes the premises, provides security and oversees the good condition of the cemetery and the management of the concessions. He is also present during funeral ceremonies. Sometimes guards occupy a house next to a cemetery to avoid intrusions.

5. Are there animal cemeteries?

In France, it is forbidden to bury animal carcasses closer than 35 meters from dwellings, wells or water sources. Therefore, it is officially forbidden to bury a hamster in the garden (we learn about this every day). Most owners of deceased dogs or cats choose cremation, but there are animal cemeteries all over France. There are even famous dog graves in the pet cemetery of Asnières-sur-Seine, such as that of Rintintin.

6. What is desecration?

The legal term “desecration” emerged in the 1990s and goes far beyond mere desecration of a grave. Defilement is an attack on respect for a saint, so it is a degrading act towards the deceased, his relatives or his community. Funeral affairs are now strictly regulated by law: opening a burial site without permission is tantamount to desecration and is punishable by two years in prison and a €15,000 fine.

7. Can you engrave anything you want on your epitaph?

The name of the deceased, the dates of his birth and death, as well as the number of the location must be written on the grave. Of course, a personal message can be added, and some people choose a funny epitaph message. No matter what, you can’t bet everything you want; The General Code of Local Self-Government Bodies states that the consent of the mayor is required to place an inscription.

I wish my grave had the same message that Phoebe had on Friends: “buried alive.”

8. Is it possible to bury two people in one coffin?

In France, two people cannot be buried in the same coffin. This prohibition is connected with the law of bodily integrity; the integrity of the corpse cannot be undermined, and the burial of two bodies will cause mixing during decomposition. There are only two exceptions to this rule: you can bury twins who are stillborn or dead immediately after birth, and a mother and her child if both died during or immediately after birth. It’s strange, but it’s the law.

9. Do I need to know that you were buried at Pere Lachaise?

Officially, any Parisian can be buried among the stars of Père Lachaise, as it is a public cemetery, like all cemeteries in France; you just need to live in Paris and die there or have a place in the family crypt. The problem is that the cemetery is overcrowded, so we can no longer book a place. Buying a Concession is possible only at the time of death and there is no queue, so you need to die immediately when the Concession becomes available. Or become part of a wealthy family that has been paying for storage for a very, very long time.

10. Why is there enough space for everyone?

In fact, there is no room for everyone. Cremation is already becoming increasingly preferred: according to the BVA, in 2016, 36% of funerals were cremations, and 59% of French people said they wanted cremation after death. On top of that, most concessions are not paid in perpetuity, and leftovers are kept to make room for the next ones.


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