How do We Bury Our Dead?: ethical, aesthetical and social change in the Estonian cemetery tradition, by Tiina Tuulik

Ethical issues dominate over aesthetic issues where cemeteries are concerned. How and where we burry our dead influences the location, size and design of the cemeteries.

Most Estonian Christian cemeteries have been established since the last quarter of the 18th century. More than half of the cemeteries we are using today date back to the 18th to the beginning of the 20th century. Ethical questions arise related to re-using the graves and redesigning whole areas of cemeteries for new burial places.

A cemetery is a place, where the dead are buried and commemorated according to their religious, cultural and ethnic customs. Quite often people talk about what kind of a funeral they would like to have. Some people even enjoy talking about it. They choose a place to be buried (or not buried at all); this way they influence the future of cemeteries. If there are mainly cremated urn burials, the design of landscape will change radically.

In some countries, including Estonia, it is believed that if the dead is denied a burial according to the wishes of the deceased, the soul cannot rest in peace and it will return as a ghost and make the life unpleasant for the relatives.

As dead body gets an interment in a grave, cremated human ashes might not get a burial at all. Distributing ashes somewhere else, for example on the seaside, is also a burial. But what about the cremated husband whose ashes are kept in the living room or the child whose ashes are made into a diamond?

Aesthetical changes are related to design of cemeteries. Cremation burials, which started tospread in the end of the 1990s in Estonia, brought along changes in secular and ecclesiastical burial culture as well as in cemetery structure.

Areas are designed for urn burials, so that these would match the existing landscape and planning. In addition places for the scattering of the ash, nameless burial places etc.

In my paper, I will present several case studies illustrating how the wishes of the deceased and the beliefs of their relatives have influenced the specific design of the cemeteries.

Tiina Tuulik, Estonian Academy of Arts, ET

Harvard Citation Guide: Tuulik, T. (2012) How do We Bury Our Dead?: ethical, aesthetical and social change in the Estonian cemetery tradition, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 20 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s