Funerary Culture, Secularity and Symbolised Violence in Nineteenth-Century Belgium

Research output: Contribution to specialist/vulgarizing publicationArticleSpecialist


In 19th-century Belgium, death was by no means a private matter. The modernisation of graveyard regulation at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century had deeply modified the traditional Catholic frames of funerary culture, mostly by the new powers claimed by public authority. Religious minorieties obtained their proper funerary facilities, but the growing group of seculars (liberals, freemasons, freethinkers, socialists) were far less well treated. Secular ways of dying and inhumating were met with divers forms of symbolised violence, in order to intimidate and isolate the infidels. To stand firm against this offensive, the latter organised and developed a proper subculture strongly based on a secular frame for death. This article analyses the euphemised violence around death-outside-religion at different stages of the process of dying, burying and mourning, from its earliest forms at the beginning of the 19th century until the relative pacification of the so-caled ‘graveyard issue’ –largely based on a victory of the secular model of cemetery policy– around World War One. In this conflict between hegemonic Catholicism and a divers set of dissidents, political, social and symbolical resources were mobilised that profoundly affected the role of persons (notably the clergy), modified the access to funerary objects, affected the spatial organisation of mourning and transformed the ritual frame of death.
Original languageEnglish
Specialist publicationPakistan Journal of Historical Studies
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • civil burial
  • secularity
  • Belgium
  • 19th century history

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