Memorial Movement

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Time Period
1780
Description
The memorial movement traces to 18th century New England, where Puritans erected gravestones in community burial grounds. Gravestones included carved portraits of the deceased, soul effigies, skeletons, and the temple veil. Epitaphs included "Here lyeth the body of" and "In memory of." Many contained scripture.

In the 19th century, Protestants popularized neoclassical gravestones and rural cemeteries, but these practices declined after the Civil War. During this same time, Catholics immigrated and established cemeteries in major cities, carving gravestones with crosses, crucifixes, and angels.

Memorial cemeteries gained popularity in the 20th century, sprawling over acres of manicured lawns and sparsely dotted with trees and statuary. Here, people of many faiths erected small, flat, grave markers as memorials.

With the advent of social media websites in the 21st century, many continue the legacy of the memorial movement through virtual Facebook memorials. Loved ones post images, texts, songs, videos, and links to or about the deceased.
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Social Movements and Religion in American History
Narrative
The memorial movement describes how Americans commemorate the dead in visual and material forms. From the 1780s to 2010s, Americans erected gravestones, monuments, cemeteries and Facebook accounts as memorials. The type of memorial produced depended on mourning customs and the social location of the deceased and their families.

Puritan Beginnings

The memorial movement traces to 18th-century New England where Puritans erected gravestones in community burial grounds. Gravestones included carved portraits of the deceased, soul effigies, skeletons and the temple veil. Epitaphs included "Here lyeth the body of" and "In memory of." Longer texts referred to the deceased’s pious life, Adam’s sin and Christ’s resurrection. Images and texts memorialized the dead as Christian saints. Advice literature instructed Puritans to examine gravestones as visual aids for the self-examination of their souls.

Middle-class Christians of the American Republic erected memorials similar to, albeit less intricate than, Puritan gravestones. Mourning customs dictated that Christians visit memorials and cemeteries to contemplate heaven. Protestants raised neoclassical gravestones in church graveyards and family plots. These stones displayed the words "Sacred to the Memory of" and celebrated the deceased’s piety. They also included carved urns, weeping willows and laurel wreaths. Catholics established cemeteries in major cities from the mid-19th century onward. They carved gravestones with crosses, crucifixes and angels.

In the 1840s, urban Protestants popularized rural cemeteries, like Laurel Hill. Rural cemeteries provided alternatives to crowded church graveyards. Protestants bought plots in these cemeteries and erected elaborate monuments carved with obelisks, angels, crosses and urns. These Christian spaces memorialized the dead among nature’s beauties -- trees, flowers and hills -- and enabled the living to commune with the dead. White Christians increasingly segregated burial grounds in the 1800s. Free and enslaved blacks were often buried in forests and fields, sometimes in African burial grounds and rarely with whites. Nevertheless, African Americans erected memorials that ranged from elaborate stone carvings to unmarked stones, rocks and shells.

Neoclassical gravestones and rural cemeteries fell from popularity with the Civil War. Many families could not transport dead soldiers home for Christian burials. The dead remained unburied or buried in mass graves on battlefields. State and federal governments funded Confederate and National cemeteries to memorialize fallen soldiers. Rows and columns of identical grave markers created depersonalized memorials and less intimate mourning spaces. They also stirred feelings of nationhood linked to personal sacrifice. War cemeteries inspired the design of national military cemeteries and memorial cemeteries.

Twentieth Century to the Present

Memorial cemeteries gained popularity in the 20th century. They sprawled over acres of manicured lawns sparsely dotted with trees and statuary. Here, people of many faiths erect small, flat, grave markers as memorials. Markers showed little personalization beyond the deceased’s name and birth and death dates. They also showed few references to Christianity.

Some turn to virtual memorials, like Facebook memorials, in the 21st century. Virtual memorials are often created and maintained alongside physical memorials. They offer less expensive and more personalized forms for remembering the dead. Family and friends post images, texts, songs, videos and links to or about the deceased. Virtual memorials provide ample digital space for referencing heaven and Christ’s resurrection.

Photographs

Gravestones- Flickr- photo by mmatins (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Laurel Hill Cemetery- Flickr- photo by D Smith (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Arlington National Cemetery- Flickr- US Government photo

Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery- Wikimedia Commons- photo by EVula (CC BY 3.0)

Calvary Cemetery, Queens NY- photo by Plowboylifestyle at English Wikipedia
Book/Journal Source(s)
Kurian, George Thomas, and Mark Lamport (Eds.), 2016. The Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Web Source(s)
https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781442244320/The-Encyclopedia-of-Christianity-in-the-United-States-5-Volumes
If you enjoyed reading this entry, please buy the Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States at the link above.
Web Page Contributor
Jamie L. Brummitt

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