European Mennonites in their earlier history experienced considerable difficulty in obtaining burial privileges in the public cemeteries. In time, however, these restrictions were removed. For example, a statement from the Department for Internal Affairs of the Kingdom of Bavaria declared on 12 October 1847, "The general wording of this law leaves no doubt that the common use of the cemetery is also for private denominations such as the Mennonites."
In the Palatinate, West Prussia, and Russia the Mennonites according to the customs of those areas buried their dead in the churchyards or in near-by burial lots. The historic Danzig Mennonite Church, for example, had its cemetery in an adjacent plot. In Russia the cemeteries were generally located either adjacent to the public school or on the lot which was reserved by the village for the school or close to but outside the village. The cemeteries were often lined with large poplar trees.
The location of Mennonite cemeteries in North America varies. The oldest Mennonite church in North America, at Germantown in Philadelphia, has gravestones near the front door and along several sides of the building. Many of the older Mennonite cemeteries in Pennsylvania, Ontario, and Ohio are in the churchyards or in adjacent lots. In some of the younger western churches, however, the cemeteries are often located some distance from the churches. Amish congregations frequently use family cemeteries located on the farms of leading families in the community, and one congregation might use several such cemeteries. As cemeteries were often started before churches were built in Amish Mennonite communities, their cemeteries and churches were sometimes separated by a distance of a fraction of a mile or more. Each colony of the Hutterian Brethren owns its cemetery, which is always a short distance from the colony village. Members only are buried there and the graves are marked by homemade gravestones.
Various methods of Mennonite cemetery control are used. Usually the cemetery is owned by the church and is under the control of church or special cemetery trustees who appoint a caretaker. In other places, cemetery associations are formed to guarantee the proper care and financing of the grounds. Such, for example, is the Zion Mennonite Cemetery Association at Donnellson, Iowa. The Oak Grove congregation in Champaign County, Ohio, established an endowment fund to finance the care of its cemetery.
Although Mennonite church cemeteries are used primarily by members of the congregation, other groups are not barred; thus they often serve as community burial grounds. The bodies of deceased relatives who have moved away or have left the faith are sometimes interred in the home congregation burial ground. Some congregations, on the other hand, have no cemeteries but instead use municipal or public burial sites.
In general, Mennonite cemeteries, as is true of church premises, are well lawned and properly cared for. With their emphasis upon simplicity, up to the 1950s Mennonites seldom used large tombstones or monuments. The Amish regulate the maximum size that may be used in their cemeteries. The result is that the typical Mennonite burial site expresses the equality of the brethren and their opposition to costly display. Although family burial plots are almost uniformly customary in Mennonite cemeteries, several groups have the practice of burying the dead in rows according to the time of their death. Such is the custom in certain Church of God in Christ, Mennonite communities, in some Old Order Amish communities, as at Arthur, Illinois, among many of the Manitoba Mennonites, and among the Old Colony Mennonites of Mexico. The conservative Mennonites of Manitoba, Mexico, and Paraguay have no tombstones on the graves.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 539-540. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Gingerich, Melvin. "Cemeteries." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 19 June 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/C458852.html.
APA style: Gingerich, Melvin. (1953). Cemeteries. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 June 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/C458852.html.