Located in the eastern portion of the cemetery campus, the Angels of God Cremation Garden is the third section designated specifically and only for cremated remains, or cremains, according to Joy Pierce, Holy Sepulchre’s marketing director. Angels of God offers 784 niches in the garden’s three columbaria as well as 373 spaces where cremains may be buried, Pierce said.
Statues of the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael keep watch over the garden, and a pair of benches provide opportunities for visitors to linger and remember their deceased loved ones. The cremation garden is in a wooded area of the cemetery and overlooks the small lake on Holy Sepulchre’s grounds, Pierce noted.
“It’s so natural and pristine,” she said.
For this most recent development, leaders at Holy Sepulchre, which regularly strives to create more spaces and provide more options for the families it serves, chose to focus on cremation rather than expanding traditional burials because cremation has been on the rise for the past few years, Pierce said.
“Historically speaking, cremation tended to be about 20 to 30 percent of burials, but now in 2020 it’s creeping up closer to 40 to 50 percent,” she remarked.
The Catholic Church frowned upon cremation until 1963, when the Vatican pronounced cremation permissible so long as it was not chosen as an expression of disbelief in church teachings about the Resurrection and the sacredness of the body. This change was incorporated into the 1983 revision of the Code of Canon Law, and in 2016 the Vatican issued an instruction regarding the burial of the deceased and the conservation of ashes in the case of cremation.
According to this instruction, titled Ad resurgendum cum Christo (“To Rise With Christ”), the deceased’s ashes are to be treated with respect and laid to rest in a consecrated place, and are not to be scattered, divided or kept in a private residence.
Along with the church’s relatively recent acceptance of cremation, another factor contributing to its rise in popularity is the fact that families these days tend to be more spread out geographically than they were several decades ago, Pierce said.
“Unfortunately when there is a death in the family, traditional burial is more of an immediate need. Cremation gives families the option to take a little bit longer to decide what they’d like to do with the cremated remains,” Pierce explained.
Cost often is another factor that contributes to a family’s decision to choose cremation rather than traditional burial, she added. The choice of traditional in-ground burial involves the purchase not only of a casket and cemetery plot, but also of a vault, Pierce said.
“That’s required in New York state and is something that the casket actually lies within,” Pierce said.
The cost of purchasing a site for in-ground burial — either of a casket or an urn — does not include a stone, except in cemetery’s sections for green burials and those for infants and children, so families choosing to bury loved ones have the added expense of purchasing headstones or markers through a local monument dealer, she said.
The price of traditional burial varies considerably depending upon which options a family chooses. Although the choice of options also affects the cost of inurnment, she noted the overall cost of cremation can be significantly less than that of traditional burial.
“With cremation, if you (choose to place the cremains) in-ground, a stone would be something that may be required, but there are also a number of other options, such as a columbarium and a niche. That would reduce your cost because you’re not required to purchase a vault and a stone,” Pierce said. “Oftentimes it can save families quite a bit of funds because there are less requirements.”