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Background and history of cremation

A death in the family focuses the feelings of relatives towards the deceased. Throughout history, the bereaved have always wished to honour the departure of a loved one and pay their last respects to the deceased. This need is expressed in funeral rites all over the world.

Cremation - an ancient tradition

Cremation was introduced as a funeral rite very early on. Cremation and burial have existed concurrently throughout history, although the customs relating to them have varied in different cultures and religions.

The Etruscans cremated their dead long before the birth of the Roman Empire and placed the bones in ceramic urns shaped like a house. The Vikings introduced cremation in the Nordic countries, while in India cremation has long been a tradition.

Grave findings show that people were cremated in the area that is now Finland as long ago as the Stone Age. Cremation became more widely adopted in the Bronze Age, when ceramic urns were used.

Cremation in Europe

Poor conditions for burial in Europe in the 19th century gave a strong impetus to the practice of cremation on the continent. Louis Pasteur's discovery of infection mechanisms was a powerful argument in favour of cremation.

The first cremation in a chamber specially built for the purpose took place in Italy in 1876. Over time, chambers were improved to meet the necessary ethical, environmental and financial requirements.

Today cremation is a very common practice in Western Europe. In 2011, cremation was used in 77% of funerals in Sweden, 78% in Denmark, 74% in Great Britain, 43% in Germany and 28% in France. The corresponding figure for Japan is 99%.

Cremation in Finland

An association for promoting cremation was founded in Finland in 1889, although it took until 1926 for the first Finnish crematorium to start operating in Hietaniemi, Helsinki. The Hietaniemi crematorium is both the oldest and the largest crematorium in Finland. It is maintained by The Finnish Cremation Foundation (Krematoriosäätiö r.s.), a non-profit organization and a direct descendent of the original association. Currently there are 22 crematoriums in Finland. The practice of cremation has become more widespread and in Helsinki accounts for about 80% of all funerals, making it the most popular form of funeral in the city. Since there are no crematoriums yet in many parts of Finland, the figure for the whole country is only 42,7%, but this is rising steadily.

Cremation, a fitting funeral ceremony

Today cremation is a touching and ethical funeral service that in Finland is performed with piety and with respect for both the deceased and the bereaved. It also preserves resources as it needs much less valuable cemetery space and is less costly than burial. Cremation protects the living from the hazards of infection. In this sense, cremation is much like a cleansing breeze.