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Making an ash of myself…


Statistics depend upon their source, but it’s clear that cremation has grown steadily in popularity during the 20th century. On-line cost estimates for traditional funerals vary widely–from $6,000 to as much as $15,000–when all the incidentals are tallied. Nearly thirty years ago when my dad died, it was about $7K because we already owned a cemetery plot. Cremation offers a cheaper alternative now and, frankly, one that seems much less grim than the open casket type my family preferred.

Agincourt has three cemeteries: St Ahab’s for Roman Catholics, “The Shades” for Protestant and non-sectarian burial, and the Hebrew Burial Ground for Jews. The recent influx of Muslims will probably be accommodated at “The Shades.” As I mentioned a few entries ago, they’ve been situated (clustered together near the east edge of town) but not designed. The idea of the cemeteries intimidates me, not for their purpose (they are romantic places I enjoy visiting) but because I know so little about landscape architecture; I can speak about the history of cemeteries but remain clueless about the mechanics of laying one out. Ignorance hasn’t stopped me before, but this seems different somehow.

A Columbarium

Trees and terrain may intimidate, but buildings prime my creative juices. I just can’t help it.

So I spent the last few days investigating columbaria as an historic building type, one that dates from ancient Rome and has parallels in other cultures (like the Japanese nokotsudo). The name columbarium comes from a Latin term for dovecote or pigeon house–a curious thread connecting birds, guano and human remains. Once begun, I turn pit bull, unsatisfied until I’ve gathered so many examples that no one can dominate my thinking. In this early stage, however, there are three that will be difficult to ignore.

The great California architect Julia Morgan designed “The Chapel of the Chimes” in Oakland, founded in 1908 but Morgan’s contribution dates from the mid-20s. [I need to know more about Miss Morgan.] There is also an astounding columbarium at Chicago’s Bohemian National Cemetery, a place I’ve never seen despite growing up less then twenty miles away.


Interior of the Oakland Columbarium by Julia Morgan.

The third great example is, predictably, at Père-Lachaise in Paris, perhaps the most colorful and highly visited burial ground in Europe, if not the world.


Père-Lachaise columbarium, Paris.

With these as inspiration, how can I fail?

1 Comment

  1. […] 2011 November 21: And just before, in late November, there was a piece on cremation as an alternative to burial. […]

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