When the subject turns to death, there is a gloom all around.
How should we understand the relation between death and human life Is death meaningful or is it the representative of a meaningless destruction Does death in reality render life as absurd These are some of the frequently asked questions by people gathered to pay their respect for a departed1. In The Human Province by Elias Canetti (Winner of the Noble Prize for Literature in 1981), he confessed that he found more adversaries to the question of death:
‘People always ask you what you mean when you rail against death. They want the cheap hopes from you that are droned about in religion and nauseam. But I know nothing. I have nothing to say about it. My character, my pride consists in my never having flattered death. Like everyone else, I have sometimes, very seldom, wished for it, but no man has ever heard me praising death, no one can say that I have bowed to it. I have acknowledged or whitewashed death. I find it as useless and as ever as ever, the basic ill of all existence the unresolved and the incomprehensible, the knot in which everything has always been tied and caught and that no one has ever dared to chop up2
When man is alive, he does not feel the pain of death because he is not experiencing death. When a man dies, he does not feel the pain of death because he is dead and, since death is annihilation, he feels nothing.3
In Antiquity the idea of death was contemplated by many philosophers whose opinion was widely diverging. The nihilist Epicurus thought that death was the ultimate end of all things. In contrary, Plato believed in life after death. Seneca, the stoics was of the opinion that death has to be practised by people still alive: Meditare mortem.
With Christianity a fundamental change in the perception of death took part. The religion gave new answers to questions regarding death and life after death.
People in the medieval times were confronted with death in many aspects of life: the average life expectancy was low (less than 30 years), the child death rate was high-only few children reached adult years. A large part of the populations was extinguished due to frequent epidemics. During the 14th century the European population was decimated by one third due to the plague (The Black Death).
The cemeteries surrounding the churches were not only places for the dead, but also for the living. They were also used for celebrations, court agendas, and public congregations. In medieval times the body of the deceased was more or less sacrosanct.
During the following 16th-17th centuries this changed dramatically. Due to anatomical autopsies the sacrosanct view of the corpse diminished.
In the 18th century the state or the government had major influence on the rituals of burial and funerals. Burial within the church was prohibited and the cemeteries were dislocated from the central part of the cities to more peripheral locations. This led to a decrease of the presence of death in everyday life.
During the 19th century the secularisation of death progressed further. The burial rites did not celebrate the deceased, but demonstrated the power and importance of the family of the dead. This is evident, also today, in many cemeteries with abundance of monuments from this time. At the same