Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Sarcophagi Through the Ages


Sarcophagi = mummified remains within
 
Or is that what most of us assume when we hear that term? Intrigued by the variation in the sarcophagi in the Louvre Museum, I found that the use of these elaborate coffins and similar objects have existed for some time and in various civilizations.

The housing of the soul and body for its journey to the next life (or afterlife) as it leaves this plane of existence is a part of many cultures. Over time, methods of dealing with our deceased have evolved as societies change and the world becomes more crowded.

In Egypt, the bodies of royalty and noble persons were prepared and placed in a sarcophagus, a funeral container for a corpse. Usually, the outer layers of the box were carved in stone and displayed above ground. They were sometimes buried as well, in royal tombs.



Sarcophagi, Louvre Museum, Paris by DG Hudson


In ancient Egypt, a sarcophagus formed the outer protection for a mummy, usually of royal status.  There could be several layered coffins within, nested for further protection.  Outer and inner layers were decorated with painted or carved representations of the deceased. The intricacy of detail depended on the subject's status and the amount of wealth used in the preparation.



Sarcophagi at the Louvre, Paris by DG Hudson



In Ancient Roman times, metal, plaster or limestone were popular for use in creating sarcophagi.  They were elaborately carved. This existed until the early Christian burial preference for interment underground, which led to the demise of these elaborate coffins. There are many early Christian Sacophagi from the 3rd and 4th centuries which continued the practice with a few changes. See links below.




Carved Sarcophagi at the Louvre, Paris, by DG Hudson



Lack of space in modern times, whether in churches, family burial monuments or in cemeteries, made sarcophagi impractical. However, chest tombs or 'false sarcophagi' became popular in the 18th and 19th centuries in Great Britain. These were empty and bottomless cases placed over an underground burial in outside locations like cemeteries and churchyards. They were not decorated as elaborately as original sarcophagi, but the extra cost of a 'false sarcophagus' as well as the headstone indicated one's social status.

In America during the last part of the 19th century, 'false sarcophagi' made a comeback in cemeteries. This may have been a result of travelers seeing similar objects in Europe. They continued to be popular until the 1950s when easier-to-care-for flat memorials made them obsolete.


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Have you ever seen any sarcophagi, in a museum or otherwise? What do you think of elaborate burial coffins? Do they fascinate you, as they do me? 

Please leave a comment to let me know you stopped by, and I'll reply.  I'm trying to visit other blogs when I can while I juggle life on the side. 

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REFERENCES

Definition:
sarcophagus (plural, sarcophagi; sarcophaguses) is a box-like funeral receptacle for a corpse

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarcophagus

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_Christian_sarcophagi

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Roman_sarcophagi

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12 comments:

  1. I'm sure I saw them in the Louvre and Niagara Falls Museum. I guess the raised tombs in Westminster Abbey would probably count too.

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    1. I would think the raised tombs in Westminster Abbey do count, JoJo. Especially since they were popular in Britain in earlier times. Interesting that Niagara Falls has a museum. I've not been there. . .

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  2. Sarcophagi make for interesting historical study I suppose but those as well as regular coffins seem like a waste of resources that should be left for the living in my opinion.

    I've let it be known that when I die my preference is to leave my body for research or to be cremated in order to save money that can be used for better things. Why do I really need to waste land and material resources to bury my dead body in a place that few will probably visit in years to come. To me this is an outdated concept.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

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    1. I totally agree with you, Lee, and it's in my will. In fact both our MIL and FIL decided to be cremated before their demise as well. My Mother's ashes were spread in one of the southern rivers at her request. In the future, those bones may be taken out of old cemeteries like they were when the Catacombs of Paris were formed. . .

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  3. I am fascinated by this. I wonder why there aren't more cemeteries. it seems like the world should be covered in headstones by now.

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    1. Cremation is another option these days, and property values for cemeteries is quite high in most large cities. Even so, there are a lot of cemeteries, but living people need that bit of land more . . .I'm fascinated by large old cemeteries, like the ones in Paris.

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  4. Our museum has some and I always love looking them over (well, from behind glass), but more than anything, I'm just fascinated by the fact that I knew the word sarcophagus, but never that the plural was sarcophagi... but I guess that makes more sense than 'sarcophaguses'.

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    1. I like the term sarcophagi, too. It just sounds better. . .I'm impressed that you visit your local museum. I have always been drawn to those places whether they feature antiquities, reptiles, artifacts from other times or airplanes. Even space artifacts, as NASA has.

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  5. I'll never forget seeing the actual sarcophagi of King Tut, the gold layer at the Los Angeles Musuem of Art in '70's, it was breathtaking. And I don't believe it has been out of Egypt since.

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    1. Lucky you getting to see to see something so interesting. When we had our Expo 86 in Vancouver, I loved the Egyptian exhibits, too, but no TUT was there, alas. Nice to see you here!

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  6. I've seen Egyptian sarcophagi, but had no idea about there being similar elsewhere. Our museum in Denver has one on permanent display under glass.

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    1. I was surprised to learn about the other cultures that used them, too, Shannon. The ones in the Louvre that weren't stone were also under glass.

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