Most archaeologists believe that cremation was invented during the stone age, about 3000 BCE. 1 It was most likely first used in Europe or the Near East. It became the most common method of disposing of bodies by 800 BCE in Greece, and by 600 BCE in Rome. However, other societies had other methods:
|In ancient Israel, sepulchers (tombs or vaults) were used for burial; cremation was shunned. The body was exposed to the air of the tomb and simply decomposed over time, leaving only bones which were transferred to a bone box.|
|The early Christian church also rejected cremation, partly because of its association with Pagan societies of Greece and Rome. Christians buried their dead in graves or in catacombs (underground vaults).|
|in ancient Egypt, bodies were embalmed so that they would be preserved for the afterlife.|
|in ancient China, they were buried.|
When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, and the followers and leaders of other religions were either exiled or exterminated, burial became the only permitted method of disposing of bodies throughout much of Europe.
An Italian, Professor Brunetti, developed the first modern cremation chamber in the 1870’s. This triggered a movement towards cremation in Europe and North America, which has continued to the present day. In 1886, the Roman Catholic Church officially banned cremations. Church members as recently as World War II were excommunicated for arranging them. The Eastern Orthodox ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople stated in 1961 that:
“There is no formal Orthodox rule against cremation, but there is a heavy weight of custom and sentiment in favor of Christian burial.” 2
Conflicting with this statement are the Pastoral Guidelines by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America which state:
“Because the Orthodox Faith affirms the fundamental goodness of creation, it understands the body to be an integral part of the human person and the temple of the Holy Spirit, and expects the resurrection of the dead. The Church considers cremation to be the deliberate desecration and destruction of what God has made and ordained for us. The Church instead insists that the body be buried so that the natural physical process of decomposition may take place. The Church does not grant funerals, either in the sanctuary, or at the funeral home, or at any other place, to persons who have chosen to be cremated. Additionally, memorial services with kolyva (boiled wheat) are not allowed in such instances, inasmuch as the similarity between the “kernel of wheat” and the “body” has been intentionally destroyed.”
There are currently about 1,100 crematories and over a half million cremations per year in North America.