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Resting Places to Hidden Secrets: Unconventional Uses of Cemeteries Part 1


middle ages structure

In the heart of the Middle Ages, a transformative shift in burial practices marked the emergence of organized cemeteries, forever altering the landscape of death and remembrance. During this period, societies evolved from haphazard and decentralized burial grounds or communal burial mounds, to carefully planned and structured cemeteries, reflecting a profound transformation in cultural attitudes towards mortality and the afterlife. Cemeteries are places of eternal rest for the dead and serve as crucial fixtures in human history. They have historically and contemporarily reflected the community, its wealth and attitudes, its societal mores, and its sense of self in the history of its surroundings; and sometimes they go beyond their designated purposes. Cemeteries have been entangled in intriguing tales of smugglers, secret societies, and unexpected uses from times gone by to the present day –here we will take a look at “Resting Places to Hidden Secrets: Unconventional Uses of Cemeteries” that go beyond mere burial grounds.


Concealed Contraband

Cemeteries, with their quiet and secluded nature, have served as the perfect hiding places for smugglers seeking to conceal their illicit activities from prying eyes. In the dead of night, smugglers would navigate through the tombstones, their footsteps masked by the eerie silence that surrounds these sacred grounds. Utilizing the large crypts and mausoleums as hiding spots, they would stash their contraband away from the reach of law enforcement. From prohibited goods to valuable treasures, cemeteries became secret repositories for smuggled items. Historical tales from coastal villages tell stories of smugglers' operations that used cemetery crypts and hideaway gravesites to conceal contraband goods and to trade under the cover of darkness. Cemeteries also provided clandestine storage spaces for bootlegged alcohol during the prohibition era, in America creating hair-raising tales that capture the audacity and resourcefulness of those who turned cemeteries into their own covert hideouts.


Macabre Business

During the 18th and 19th centuries, a dark era of body snatching emerged, as resurrectionists surreptitiously stole corpses from graves to supply the burgeoning demand for anatomical research and medical education as very few cadavers were available each year for anatomical research. This macabre practice cast a sinister shadow over the sanctity of burial grounds, instilling fear and paranoia in communities across Europe and the United States. The Anatomy Act of 1832 stands as a pivotal moment in this ghoulish saga, seeking to address the grave-robbing epidemic. Body snatching was a lucrative business, paying as much as several months’ worth of a workman’s wages per body, but it could also be difficult and dangerous. Body snatchers needed to remove the body and deliver it before it was too badly decomposed, no easy task in the days before bodies were embalmed. With the legal provision for anatomists to obtain unclaimed bodies from workhouses, the Act aimed to mitigate the demand for stolen corpses. Nevertheless, the impact of this legislation was complex and controversial, as it continued to fuel the unethical procurement of bodies. Infamous cases of bodies snatching from cemeteries abound, revealing a disturbing underbelly of human history, where the quest for knowledge collided with the desecration of the dead. These tales of illicit body trade not only reflect the callous exploitation of the deceased but also serve as a poignant reminder of the precarious boundaries between scientific pursuit and moral responsibility. The legacy of the resurrectionists and their grim activities lingered, prompting further scrutiny of medical ethics and the imperative to safeguard the dignity of the deceased in the pursuit of knowledge.


Unconventional Uses of Cemeteries: Clandestine Activities in Cemeteries


Throughout the annals of history, secret societies have thrived, counting illustrious figures such as Founding Fathers and royals among their ranks. These exclusive groups, often dominated by men, encompass enigmatic organizations like The Knights Templar, the Freemasons, the Bavarian Illuminati, Skull and Bones, and Bilderberg. Of particular note is the indelible connection between cemeteries and the Masonic tradition. Freemasonry, a fraternal order rooted in the 16th and 17th centuries, delves deep into symbolism and ritual, drawing inspiration from architectural and masonic themes. Within cemeteries, these mysterious brethren found sacred spaces to engage in Masonic rites, honoring their departed brethren and engaging in rituals veiled in secrecy. Beyond the Free Masons other secret societies, elusive groups, and even lovers have met veiled in the darkness amongst the dead who hide their secrets and hold their confidential activities.


Hubs of Unity and Joy


Leaving the darkness behind cemeteries also serve as community hubs and a source of joy in open spaces during the day. In many South American countries and countries where the indigenous practices have melded with Christianity like the Philippines, the notion of cemeteries as mere resting places for the deceased takes on an entirely different dimension. Here, communal cemeteries have become vibrant spaces where life and death intertwine in a unique and captivating manner. In these extraordinary burial grounds, people gather not only to pay their respects to their departed loved ones but also to eat, sleep, and partake in joyous festivities.


The roots of this tradition can be traced back to the influence of indigenous beliefs, which emphasize the interconnectedness of life and death. Rather than shunning cemeteries as somber, isolated spaces, they are embraced as communal grounds that bridge the gap between the living and the departed. Families often construct elaborate mausoleums and tombstones, not only as memorials but also as welcoming spaces for both the living and the dead. During special occasions like All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, these communal cemeteries come alive with vibrant colors, as families adorn graves with flowers, candles, and offerings. For many, the cemetery becomes an extension of their homes, where they find comfort in the company of their ancestors.


Happy Go (New) Lucky


In Ahmadabad, India, an extraordinary Indian restaurant has embraced an unconventional ambiance, offering its patrons the chance to dine among the deceased. Situated atop an ancient Muslim cemetery, The New Lucky Restaurant preserves the real coffins scattered amidst its tables, dating back to the graves upon which the café was built. The owner, Krishan Kutti, shunned the idea of displacing the graves to make way for his business, opting instead to maintain them as they were. Surprisingly, the eerie interior has not deterred customers; in fact, the presence of the graves is believed to bring good luck, leading to the flourishing success of the establishment. Though the identity of the buried remains remains a mystery, locals speculate they belong to followers of a 16th-century Sufi saint whose tomb lies nearby. Each morning, the waiters pay their respects, adorning the gravestones with fresh flowers, acknowledging the importance of honoring the dead. Despite the ghoulish surroundings, customers flock to savor the delightful tea and butter rolls, seemingly unperturbed by the proximity of the departed.


Remember to be respectful during all your visits to cemeteries they are sacred places that deserve reverence for the memory of those who rest there and for the loved ones grieving their loss. Take the opportunity to reflect on the transience of life, the virtues of remembrance, and the beauty of the human connection that transcends time.


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