Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A New Decree shortens Cemetery Leases in the Walloon Region

A few years ago, we presented an article in Belgian Laces (BL102) that dealt with the preservation of funeral patrimony. At the time (2005), Xavier Deflorennes, Mr. Cemetery was documenting these Walloon Region cemeteries.

To the horror of many American researchers, used to visiting cemeteries to find information about their departed loved ones, in Belgium, graveyards are not enduring as they are here.
Granted there are many graves here that can no longer be deciphered due the weather but the sexton usually has a record of everyone buried in the cemetery, even where there are no stones.

That is the case for our family's Adeline Cattin who is said to have taught French to Cole Porter, a Peru (IN) native. After taking photographs of every tombstone in the cemetery where she is buried I still never found her and so I contacted the cemetery's office and sure enough, they knew exactly where she was. This gives our family the option to either repair or replace the stone over the grave.

In Belgium, due to lack of space - not lack of heart - graves are leased not purchased.
If, or rather when, the lease expires, the graves are reused.
This can be very disheartening, even disturbing, to the descendants of emigrants who may travel to Belgium hoping to find their ancestors' grave.
Leases can be renewed but when the family leaves the area, they may not have any idea that the lease is due for renewal... And thus, without wanting to sound calloused, new 'occupants' soon fill these graves.

Up until yesterday the lease was up to 50 years. The new rule sets a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of 30. However, should the grave fall into disrepair or show signs of being abandoned, the local administration has the right to advise the families that their loved ones have a year before being 'evicted'. These warnings would go out on All Saints Day, providing a whole year before taking any action. As Xavier Deflorennes remarked when interviewed on the matter, before WWII, people visited cemeteries daily and maintained their loved ones' graves. But times have changed and most graves are only visited once a year on November 1st, All Saints Day. Posting the notices at that time will ensure that the occasional grave site visitor will find the notice and take action. Notices would only go out however if a site has not be maintained for a period of 10 years and is declared 'abandoned'.

The purpose of this decree is to enable towns to better manage their cemeteries, whether it be past (Preservation of funeral patrimony), present (space management) or future (expanding cemetery and crematory sites), while taking into account the needs of the living.

Preservation work will continue: graves dating to before 1945 will be better protected by putting in place a procedure to determine the historic value of a particular monument (former mayors, architectural features, local artists...)

In an effort to help parents grieve the loss of a child during pregnancy (between the 106th and 180th day), the decree gives them the option to bury the foetus.
A special section is also to be dedicated for the burial of infants.
Part of this decree will also address the need for the indigent to have a decent burial (no cost) and for all recognized religious beliefs to be honored, regardless of origins or status.

3,500 cemeteries in the Walloon Region are affected by this decree, of which 5% of these are in bad shape. The decree also fosters the development of ossuaries.

Many people have dedicated their time to helping preserve the special grave sites in Belgium:
My favorite one is Lescimetieres.com (not limited to Belgium)

After you click on "Entrez" you will see the option to -
look at the "Les Photos"
That section gives you access to different types of pictures, including two tours, one of which is the Simenon Tour (Parcours Simenon) that takes you to the grave sites of people who were part of famous author Georges Simenon's life

At the top in the middle however, you will see "Paris", "Nice" and "Ailleurs", which means "Other places", where you will have 4 choices:
- France
- Belgium
- Europe
- the rest of the world

Obviously this site is far from complete but it really contains some beautiful pictures of beautiful graves.

You can also read the History of different cemeteries. The Belgian ones are in:
Robermont, Laeken, Sainte-Walburge, Aubel, Neuville-en-Condroz and Bruxelles

My grandmother's ashes were scattered in a lawn at the Robermont Cemetery.
I am grateful that Joseph Beaujean took the time to take a picture of that lawn.
I had not known until I saw the picture how powerful an effect it would have on me, but it did.

It is interesting to note that between 1979 and 2008, the number of cremation in Belgium has risen from 5,287 to 48,418 according to a statistics study
I guess I won't have to worry about my grandmother's remains being moved.

Another site with funeral monuments is on a Blog "Images de Belgique"

Food for thought anyway...