The Cinerarium Gallery and the Ara Crematoria

For a number of years, the subject of cremation of bodies shook Italians’ souls, and the medical-legal and ethical-religious conflicts made it particularly lively and intriguing. There was a real revolution in customs, moral principles and consolidated convictions. Hygienist doctors firmly supported cremation as a choice, considering it indispensible to prevent the pollution caused by decomposition of bodies in the grounds and waters of cemeteries located too close to town centres. They always countered the legal objections of those fearing cremation could become a means of exempting from criminal justice the discovery and investigation of deaths by murder, by demonstrating that even in ashes it is possible to discover traces of lead, copper, zinc and arsenic residues.

In 1888, the possibility for citizens to choose cremation was finalised for the first time in the legislative corpus enacted by Francesco Crispi on the insistent prompting of Agostino Bertani, a hygienist doctor and man of the progressive left. According to law, the authorisation for cremation had to be issued by provincial doctors, while the Cities were obliged to grant areas for the construction of crematoriums and columbariums for urns. The ethical-religious objections still had to be fought. The Church considered burning bodies a barbaric tradition, while Christianity had taught people the cult of bodies, a cult strengthened with burial which was thought to be more appropriate to the religious concept of death and respect for the human body. Cremation was in fact seen as a dangerous modernisation of customs and the reform of a usual Christian “custom”. Burial ritual was another debated question and well aware of this were the advocates of cremation, who in addition to researching “modern” methods of cremation respectful of bodies of the deceased, took pains to conduct the deposition of ashes in cemeteries without spectacularity but with reverent rituals for remembrance of the deceased that respected private grief.

Cremation spread in the final decade of the 19th century and cremation societies appeared in various Italian cities, including Bologna. The arguments that drove the promoters of the pro-cremation campaign in the city were no different from those debated nationally: cremation was presented as a civilising element, it built on health and hygiene assumptions but also on affirmations of declared secularism. It was supported by doctors, scientists, lawyers, politicians with radical and socialist tendencies, and ordinary citizens received from 1884 in the cremation society, which immediately set in motion the procedures for planning permission to build the crematorium temple and cinerarium in Certosa. In 1888 it was decided that the Temple must be built outside the cemetery boundary wall, to the south of the Jewish burial ground and next to the Protestant cemetery. On 5 July 1889 the Bolognese Ara Crematoria was solemnly inaugurated. 662 cremations took place in Bologna from 1889 to 1914.
However, the City was more defaulting concerning its commitment to build the cinerarium. Even in 1894, cremation urns were crammed into the Certosa Hall of Mercy while setup work dragged on at the Temple, chosen to be the final resting place for urns.
The cinerarium was inaugurated on 10 November 1895 with a solemn event that was rendered poignant by the parade of relatives in procession, carrying the urns to their final destination.
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