Cemetery Design

The way cemeteries and monuments are designed says a lot about how societies feel about death and the relationships between people. Think of the difference between an unmarked pauper’s grave and the elaborate tombs of the wealthy. Or the difference between an intimate churchyard cemetery and the large, expansive cemeteries of today. Why has the design of cemeteries and monuments changed over time?

Langley Lawn Cemetery.
Photograph by Ron Bryson

In early Christian and Medieval times, royalty, nobility, and high-ranking clerics were buried in elaborate tombs at cathedrals while commoners were buried in unmarked graves in parish churchyards.

When urban populations grew in the late 18th century, large, landscaped cemeteries were developed outside city limits. These new park-like cemeteries became places for education, reflection, and recreation where families might picnic or socialize while visiting the graves of their deceased relatives.

In largely rural North America, people continued to bury their dead in churchyards or cemeteries near the local churches. Many of these cemeteries were fenced to keep out wandering livestock and had tended lawns. Langley's two early municipal burial grounds, Fort Langley Cemetery and Murrayville Cemetery, are examples of this type of cemetery.

Murrayville Cemetery
Veteran’s Monument.
Photograph by Ron Bryson

After experiencing the horrors of World War I, attitudes toward death changed. Previously, the Victorians had viewed death as a natural part of the lifecycle. But after World War I, many people were uncomfortable with the idea of death as they had endured so much loss in a short period of time. As a result, cemeteries were designed to be less obvious and emotional. They represented efficiency where burial numbers were maximized and maintenance costs minimized. These cemeteries were called lawn cemeteries and were typified by large expanses of lawn, limited paths, and carefully clipped shrubs. The stones are generally placed flat in the ground, to facilitate mowing. Langley Lawn is an example of this cemetery style.

Columbaria at
Langley Lawn Cemetery.
Photograph by Ron Bryson

After the First World War, it became common to designate a section in a cemetery for the burial of veterans, or a "field of honour". A veterans section was established in the Fort Langley Cemetery some time before 1924, and the same was also created in the Murrayville Cemetery.

Today, most modern cemeteries are lawn cemeteries. However, in response to the increasing popularity of cremation, many are also offering scattering gardens and/or columbaria, a room or building used for holding cremated remains.

More Information

Langley Centennial Museum
604.532.3536
museum@tol.ca