Cremation or incineration appears in cultures across the world, and in the Nordic region dates back to the Iron Age. But Christianity brought with it the concept of the physical body’s resurrection on the Last Day and cremation was regarded as heathen. In 785 CE Charlemagne succeeded in banning it in large parts of Western Europe.
The First Crematoriums
In the 19th century, the Romantics began to see body and soul as separate. The idea arose that fire would free the soul from the body. The soul could journey on or reappear in a new shape. This vision challenged the Christian view.
Population growth brought overfull and unsanitary town graveyards. Technology, industrialisation and medical progress made cremation an alternative.
Europe’s first modern crematorium was in Milan in 1876, and more were built in Europe towards the end of that century. The crematorium built in Gotha, Germany, in 1878 was the closest to Sweden and a handful of Swedes were cremated there. The Swedish Lutheran Church was long opposed but in 1930 the first parish-owned crematorium opened in Luleå.
The Swedish Cremation Association
In 1882 a group of idealists, technicians and hygiene-conscious doctors in Stockholm founded Likbränningsföreningen. The association’s purpose was “promoting decent funerary operations through hygienic and space-saving incineration of the deceased”.
In 1888 cremation was permitted by law. By then, the first cremation had already been performed at the Northern Cemetery. The ashes of the first cremations were interred in the association’s common grave. The name of the organisation since 1993 is the Swedish Federation of Cemeteries and Crematoria (SKKF).
Crematoriums in Stockholm
In 1887, the Likbränningsföreningen association leased a plot at Hagalund beside the Northern Cemetery for a provisional crematorium. Magnus Isaeus designed a simple building not adapted for ceremonies. Between 1887 and 1909, 1,006 people were cremated at the Hagalund Crematorium.
In 1909 the new Stockholm Crematorium (Norra kapellet) designed by Gustaf Lindgren was ready. The Hagalund crematorium was pulled down at the same time. The Norra kapellet crematorium closed down in 1989 after nearly 94,000 cremations.
When the southern chapel at Sandborg was opened in 1895 plans were made for a crematorium. It was finished in 1931 and in use until the Woodland Crematorium was completed in 1940. When cremations increased exponentially in the 1950s, the crematorium at Sandsborg was back-up, but never needed.
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.