Burial Traditions

Photo: Eva Larsson

Graves are the most lasting traces of past cultures: the megalith graves of the Stone Age, the Bronze Age’s cairns and the mounds of the Iron Age. Christianity brought graves near to churches, often adorned with simple wooden crosses. Prominent people had mausoleums, stone slabs inside the church or plots close to the church.

“The City of the Dead”

Stockholm’s Northern Cemetery became popular in the late 19th century when the city’s burghers began erecting sizeable tombstones. Social status was on display at “the hill of vanity” as August Strindberg called the Lindhagens Kulle section. Mausoleums, tombs and crypts, often with expensive art work, were common.

When the Southern Cemetery at Sandsborg opened in 1895, grave decorations were discouraged. This reflected social progress towards the democratic ideal.

The Woodland Cemetery

In their proposal, the architects suggested a mixture of grave types, avoiding a hierarchy. The graves were to be dignified, not monumental. This was controversial and a public debate attracted many views, often heated, but the idea later came to be appreciated by both the public and institutions.

Grave sections were set aside for families, individuals, children and those whose burials were paid from public funds. Wooden crosses were planted until customised gravestones could be erected. Hillock graves were common, covered with grass in summer and fir branches in winter. But taking care of the hillocks was demanding and they were ultimately flattened, leaving the lawns we see today.

“Advice and rules for public instruction for supervision of burials” In 1924, a brochure was printed to help choose a funeral ceremony and grave: ‘Cheap but Faultless’ (SEK 120:50). ‘Superior Quality’ (SEK 202:50). ‘Best but Restrained’ (SEK 1,122) for a family grave for five coffins.

Remembrance Garden and Burial Plots for Ashes

Graves have adapted to changing needs. Gravestones are more individual and inspired by different cultural traditions. The 1950s brought a surge in cremations, necessitating many more urn graves than originally planned.

In 1961 a Remembrance Garden designed by Sigurd Lewerentz was opened. About 1,400 ashes are interred here anonymously every year. By 2020 there were more than 77,000 ashes.

Ash graves — individual plots for ashes without urns - are increasingly common. From 2018, new ash graves are sited inside the wall immediately east of the main entrance. In 2014 the Sandsborg Cemetery opened a Remembrance Garden for Ashes, also allowing the spreading of ashes in water.

The Woodland Cemetery currently has about 105,000 graves, a total of almost 500,000 people buried, making it one of the largest cemeteries in northern Europe.

The Woodland Cemetery 100 years

Skogskyrkogården, The Woodland Cemetery, celebrates its 100th anniversary with a new outdoor exhibition. September 19—November 1, 2020. Free admission.

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