Britain’s first crematorium, Woking
The cremation culture and equipment used in the UK is not the only way to dispose of human remains, although cremation in the rest of Europe is similar – driven as it is by a commonality of environmental regulation. The cremators used, and the legislation which controls their use are mostly (but not all) the same, but funeral practices do differ.
The most common cremator type in Germany has a different construction. It is called the ‘Ėtage’ or ‘Durchfall’ oven, and the chambers of the cremator are stacked vertically. The coffin is charged into the top chamber. When partly burned, the remains fall into the next lower chamber, and then finally into the third or ‘ashing’ chamber from which the completed cremated remains are retrieved. This type of cremator tends to be more energy-efficient (after coming up to normal working conditions), and is very suitable for continuous operation.
Differences in practice centre on the relationship of when the cremation takes place as opposed to when the farewell ceremonies take place, and this influences a number of details of practice.
Some countries (for example Scandinavia and German-speaking countries) have farewell ceremonies soon after death but the coffin is stored for cremation at a later date – sometimes several weeks after the farewell ceremony. Consequently, the cremation is almost a ‘production line’ operation, carried out separately from family participation. This enables the actual cremation process to be planned in an orderly manner and it also enables extended periods of operation to be used (even 24 hour operation), with more efficient use of energy and facilities.
It is not uncommon for a single cremator to carry out as many as 5,000 cremations in a year (for example in Moscow) compared to an average a few hundred per cremator per year in the UK – in the same make of cremator! There are tantalising savings of energy and greatly reduced wear of the cremator construction – there being no repeated start-up and shutdown of the unit each day. The crematorium is still operated in a most dignified and tasteful way and cremated remains are returned to families.
The remainder of Europe tends to carry out cremations as in the UK, and the family is present at the farewell ceremony at the crematorium, with cremation immediately thereafter or within the same day. There is one noticeable difference in that is common for the whole process to include family meals or refreshments in elegant and purpose-designed facilities, (whilst the cremation is taking place in the crematorium building), finishing with the presentation of the cremated remains to the family to be taken away. A solemn, dignified and effective way, which is held to assist and promote closure for the family.
There are a wider range of practices used throughout Asia with big differences according to the ethnicity of the populations. Environmental protection is an ever-growing need in Asia and modern crematoria are moving towards close regulation, with advanced cremators and emission abatement systems.
The practice in Japan is quite different, and there are more than 1,200 crematoria throughout the country. The cremator is constructed differently, and the base is removable, so it can be moved in and out of the cremator on wheels. Coffins are inserted into the cremator on ‘chariots’ on which they burn. After the completion of cremation the remains, still on the vehicle, are removed, allowed to cool and then placed in a room set aside for families who then select pieces of bone of the deceased for retention.