Funeral Pyres and Funeral Homes

By: Schilling Funeral Home & Cremation
Monday, April 17, 2023

You might have seen a movie or a TV show in which people burn the body of a loved one after they die and have a service at a funeral home in Fulton, IL. This is a funeral pyre.

Sometimes called open-air cremations, funeral pyres are simply a pile of wood on the ground or on a stone base on which a body is burned. Though funeral pyres have a long history and are integral parts of some cultures, they are not common or even legal in most of the modern Western world. However, their history is fascinating!   

Throughout history, funeral pyres have been used all over the world to cremate bodies. Thanks to the work of anthropologists and sociologists, we know the history of funeral pyres in some parts of the world, such as:  

  • Ireland – During the Bronze Age, about 600 years ago, people living in what is now Ireland would use funeral pyres to cremate their dead. We know this because a cremation site with a funeral pyre and remnants of burned ash, oak, and fruitwood trees was found near Templenoe.  
  • India, Nepal, and Other Hindu Countries – Funeral pyres are an essential part of a Hindu funeral, which is why they are still used today in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. In the Hindu religion, cremation on a funeral pyre is part of the sacred ceremony called, "antyesti," which translates to "last sacrifice." They believe the body is build form the five elements (water, fire, air, water, and earth), so burning the body releases the elements back into the earth. Once the ashes are cooled, they are placed in the nearest body of water.  
  • Italy – In ancient Rome, the deceased were burned in funeral pyres outside of the city. Once burned, the remains were buried in a special tomb called a "bustum". Other bereaved would keep some of the remains in ornamental containers, not unlike modern cremation urns. In ancient Rome, funeral pyres were considered a sign of wealth, so poor people would often be burned on someone else's pyre.  
  • Norway, Sweden, and Other Nordic Countries – The Vikings are well known for using funeral pyres to burn their dead. In fact, most people think of Viking funerals when thinking of pyres. However, contrary to popular belief, dead Vikings were not burnt in their longboats out at sea. Scholars do believe that a respected Viking warrior could have his cremated remains buried inside his longboat, but the pyres are thought to have been completed on land. 
  • Poland – Polish people used funeral pyres to cremate their dead in the Bronze and Iron Ages. Modern scientists have discovered these ancient Polish people built their pyres from local wood, meaning the specific type of wood was most likely not significant but rather convenient. 

While open-air cremation or burning a body on a funeral pyre is not legal in the United States, you can find excellent services at Fulton, IL funeral homes with us. To learn more about your options, give us a call or pay us a visit today.  


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