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Basic Information

From the Greek koimĂȘtĂȘrion or "resting place" a cemetery is an area of land designated for legal human burial but which is not attached to a specific place of worship (if it is attached to a place of worship then it is normally called a graveyard).

The character of a cemetery will depend a lot on the culture that it serves and what sort of use it sees - some cultures will fill their cemeteries with sculpture, burial vaults and all kinds of monuments, others will erect little except simple grave markers. The ur-example of a cemetry is probably the "potter's fields", operated by many communities to bury outcasts and strangers who didn't qualify for burial in a graveyard - one step up from burial at a crossroads perhaps, but still not much of a send off. Location may also be a factor - in places like New Orleans the dead tend to be buried above ground because the water table is high and coffins would float out of a standard burial. This can lead to some impressive funerary architecture.

Other structures found in a cemetry may include a memorial chapel, a columbarium (for the storage of funeary urns - assuming the host culture also practices cremation), a mausoleum or a bell tower. A garden of remembrance may also be included for the commemoration of those whose bodies were lost - or those who were cremated and their ashes scattered. Where graves are re-used there may also be an ossuary.

Maintenance is another issue - a cemetry that is used, maintained and visited, even if only for an annual Day of the Dead, will have a very different character from one that is overgrown and abandoned.

In some circumstances, a cemetery may also contain a mass grave.

The cultural element can be used as a basis for some very wierd cemeteries indeed - winding alleys full of niche tombs cut into the rock, necropoli of burial vaults that resemble a town from a distance and even small forests in a culture that plants a tree on every grave…

If the whole place is underground then it becomes a catacomb instead.

Where grave goods are an issue, security may be somewhat more important to prevent grave robbery.


Famous Jewish cemetery in Prague

1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Being seperate from places of worship these are increasingly often unsanctified ground - which may make magical meddling with the dead a lot easier.
    • Note, however, that in a pantheistic setting, graveyards may all, by definition, be considered the territory of the god of the dead or some similar character and/or the commons of venerated ancestors - either of whom may object at least as violently to anyone meddling in them as might the god of an attached temple.
  • They are also quite often distant from any kind of housing, again, letting those with malign intent work in peace.
  • A graveyard, by contrast, will share in the sanctity of it's associated place of worship … although there are always possibilities for subversion - for example, the dead congregation of a place of worship rising against those who have desecrated it.
  • There are also legends of battles between rival undead over funerary territory - for example, people pursued by pagan draugr fleeing to a graveyard where the Christian dead rose up to protect them.
    • This could be a serious problem in a "multicultural" burial ground.
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