Your Guide to Funeral Planning | 01.05.2023

Difference Between Cemetery And Graveyard

Difference Between Cemetery And Graveyard

Reviewed By: William Prout

Cross Checked By: Scott Ginsberg

Most people nowadays tend to use the words graveyard and cemetery interchangeably. Both terms refer to places where we bury the mortal remains of our loved ones, but they differ with respect to space, location, religion, and headstone requirements. 

It is essential to know the exact difference between a graveyard and a cemetery, especially when you are planning a funeral well in advance. By learning about the critical differences between both, you can leave exact instructions to your next of kin, thus avoiding any confusion about where you wish to be laid to rest.

What Is A Cemetery?

Basically, a cemetery is where the mortal remains of deceased people are buried. Given the fact that a cemetery is generally not associated with a church, they tend to be larger in size, as there is no obligation for them to be located in the vicinity of the church premises. When it comes to a cemetery, both followers of the religion, as well as non-followers can be buried there.

Dating back to the 14th Century, the word cemetery is derived from the French word ‘cimetiere’, which is in turn derived from the Latin word ‘cemeterium’. When literally translated, it refers to ‘a place that is specifically set aside for the burial of the dead’. 

In today’s day and age, when planning a funeral in advance, people often pre-book a cemetery plot and even buy additional space for their spouse and other family members.

What Is A Graveyard?

Just like a cemetery, a graveyard also refers to a place where people’s mortal remains are buried after they pass away. However, unlike the former, graveyards are often associated with churches and are thus always located on church grounds. Owing to land limitations, graveyards tend to be smaller in size, and are, therefore, more challenging to secure. In most cases, graveyards only allow members of the same religion, and more specifically, the same church, to be buried on their premises. 

The term ‘grave’ is believed to have been derived from the proto-Germanic word ‘graban’, which means ‘to dig’.

Key Differences Between A Cemetery And A Graveyard

Wondering what the difference between a graveyard and a cemetery is? We have listed some key differences below:

  • Location: As discussed above, when we refer to a cemetery, we refer to a burial ground that is not associated with a church. A graveyard, on the other hand, refers to a burial ground that is located on the church premises and thus often tends to be much smaller than a cemetery.
  • Religious Requirements: Given the fact that graveyards are always located within the church premises, they have strict regulations about who can be buried there. In most cases, graveyards only allow members of the same religion, and more specifically, the same church, to be buried on their premises. 
  • Space Requirements: From approximately the 7th Century onwards, churches had a complete monopoly over burials. Thus, owing to this, almost all burials took place only in graveyards located on the church’s premises. However, as time went by and the population grew rapidly, these graveyards ran out of space, thus giving rise to the popularity of burial in a cemetery.
  • Headstone Requirements: Given that graveyards are located within the church premises, they tend to have stringent rules regarding the burial ceremonies and processes, including the headstone used. Generally, as a requirement, the headstone is meant to be made either of natural stone or granite and should ideally be uncolored or unpolished. In addition, churches often discourage intricate and over-the-top headstones and ensure that the inscriptions live up to Christian values and traditions. 
In contrast to graveyards, if you opt for burial in a cemetery, you will not have to adhere to such strict regulations.