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Netherlands nuns convert former battlefield to “natural burial” cemetery

Natuurbegraafplaats Koningsakker
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Natural burials are a return to the old-world way, which avoids chemicals and resource waste.

In a gorgeous plot of land that was once the site of the Battle of Arnhem in World War II, the Trappistine Sisters of the Abbey of Koningsoord in the Netherlands have opened a new cemetery where they will be providing natural burials.

“Natural burial” is a term that describes the burial practices of humankind for the majority of history. The process avoids embalming chemicals, as well as steel or cement vaults that are placed underground to protect the coffin from the natural course of decomposition.

These natural burials are becoming more popular today, as they are substantially more eco-friendly than the modern burial. According to Order of the Good Death, a website that supports the return to natural burial, modern burial practices can take a hefty toll on the environment, and squander valuable non-renewable and non-biodegradable resources. They write:

“American funerals are responsible each year for the felling of 30 million board feet of casket wood … 90,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of concrete for burial vaults, and 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid. Even cremation is an environmental horror story, with the incineration process emitting many a noxious substance, including dioxin, hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, and climate-changing carbon dioxide.”

At the Trappistines’ new cemetery, known as Koningsakker — King’s Field — the nuns are trying to remedy these ecosystem compromising factors by returning to the old methods of burial. Hettie van der Ven of Crux news reports that bodies there are not encased within a casket, but rather wrapped in a burial shroud made from linen, jute, hemp and wool that will biodegrade much faster. This avoids wasting natural resources and burying forever materials that would have impeded the decomposition process.

The sisters told Katholiek Nieuwsblad Foundation, a Dutch Catholic news organization, that they were inspired to open the cemetery by their American sister-house, The Trappistine Sisters of the Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Cross, in Virginia, who opened their own natural burial cemetery several years ago. The cemetery will provide the sisters with funds to sustain them, along with a book bindery and a restoration workshop.

While originally intended to serve as a Catholic cemetery, Koningsakker is now a public cemetery and the nuns welcome people of all faiths and walks of life, even those who come from foreign lands. The nuns feel that this was the right way to go, as it gives their graveyard an opportunity to impact a much wider range of the community. Riny Bergervoet, the cemetery’s location manager, said:

“Natural burials are a perfect fit for this day and age. At the end of their lives, people are looking for connection with the ground they came from and on which they are living … Choosing this as a resting place is a testimony to one’s identity. People know that we are praying for them on a daily basis, which they find very uplifting.”

CruxNews reports that Koningsakker currently only has four people buried on their property, but dozens have already reserved a plot. It’s only a matter of time before this “natural cemetery” will be full of people visiting their beloved lost.

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