Religious Buildings (12) After death – Special memorials, with no identified dead persons

Last modified 30.10.2022 | Published 30.12.2013World abstracts

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What happens to a person after death? For some there are special memorials, with no identified dead persons.

Military and political authorities have had a need to create what is usually known as a “Tomb of the unknown soldier”. There is no identified soldier buried here but we dedicate these memorial sites to all soldiers who have died in wars. If you like, you may consult a Wikipedia article about this subject.

The famous ones

This is a rather new tradition dating back to WWI, but it has spread throughout the world not only to Christian countries. The first pictures are from one of the world’s most famous, in Moscow.

Russia - Moscow - Outside the Kremlin
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, outside the Kremlin, Moscow

Wars do not only have military casualties. Civilians have died as well, not least in modern warfare. In Japan we find one of the most important memorials. It commemorates the explosion of the first atomic bomb on 6 August 1945. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome) is a World Heritage Site.

Japan - Hiroshima - A-bomb Dome
The steel skeleton not only marks that this building was the only remaining after the destruction, or that the bomb exploded 300 metres directly above this place, but also that the building shall remind us of the terrible effect of nuclear weapons.

Another UNESCO site is found in Poland and is called the Auschwitz Birkenau – German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945). Up to 1.5 million people were killed here. Among my visits I might have included the camp at Buchenwald as well, but the horrors of pure extermination is far more telling at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Poland – Auschwitz – Birkenau Concentration Camp

There are many mass graves out there. One in particular I would like to mention here, are the mass graves on the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, outside Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Thousands of corpses have been excavated, thousands more have been left as they are.

Video from Choeung Ek outside Phnom Penh. 

Memorials of a special kind

The catacombs date back almost two thousand years. The catacombs of Rome, where the early Christians would hide from Roman soldiers, are the originals but there are others around the world as well. Here at Via Appia we find the Catacombs of San Callisto with arcades stretching for 20 km.

Italy - Roma (Rome) - Via Appia
Italy – Roma (Rome) – Via Appia

Most visitors will probably view the grave chapel in Evora, Portugal as very odd. I wrote this about it: Inside a chapel off the São Francisco church there is a large room filled with human remains; skulls, ribs, thigh bones and so on. 5000 humans are stacked on all four walls. The sign on the doorway into the chapel reads: “We, the bones that are here, await yours.”

Portugal - É?vora - Capela dos Ossos
Capela dos Ossos in É?vora, Portugal

At last, a very special case

Do you know the story behind the song?

England - Liverpool - Eleanor Rigby's grave
Eleanor Rigby’s grave, of Beatles fame. Liverpool, UK

Further reading

This is the last chapter in this series about Religious Buildings. Check out the rest.

(1) Introduction

I, Places of worship (chapters 2-6) Read the first

II, Monasteries and educational institutions (chapter 7) Read

III, Housing for the deity itself or its premier representatives (chapter 8) Read

IV, After death (this part)

(9) After death – Cemeteries as final resting places

(10) After death – Burial sites as World Heritage Sites

(11) After death – Taking care of human remains

(12) After death – Special memorials, with no identified dead persons

The picture gallery below include all pictures tagged as “grave” meaning it has something to do with taking care of the dead.