Alappuzha church opts for eco-friendly burial

Since bodies buried in caskets take years to decompose, church now inters the dead wrapped in cloth

September 05, 2022 07:17 pm | Updated 07:26 pm IST - ALAPPUZHA

Steel caskets bought for funeral service St. George Church, Arthunkal. After the funeral service, the body wrapped in cloth will be removed from the coffin and interred in the ground.

Steel caskets bought for funeral service St. George Church, Arthunkal. After the funeral service, the body wrapped in cloth will be removed from the coffin and interred in the ground.

Jesus Christ was buried in a shroud and a Latin Catholic church in Alappuzha has decided that the custom is worth following. Realising the advantages of 'green' interments, it has opted for shroud burials while completely doing away with the age-old tradition of disposing of the dead in wooden coffins.

The 150-year-old St. George Church, Arthunkal, near Cherthala, which introduced the new practice earlier this month, has witnessed shroud burials of three parishioners. As per the new custom, the body would be wrapped in a burial cloth made of cotton and placed in the grave.

Very close to sea

Located in a coastal area, the church changed the burial customs after noticing that bodies placed in coffins are not decomposing for years. “The church cemetery is only 400 metres away from the sea. As such, the soil salinity is very high. Both the caskets and bodies in it are not decaying fast enough for burial pits to be reused.

St. George Church, Arthunkal, where  the body would be wrapped in a burial cloth made of cotton and placed in the grave.

St. George Church, Arthunkal, where  the body would be wrapped in a burial cloth made of cotton and placed in the grave.

Some bodies in wooden coffins have been found to be intact five years after burial. Shroud burials without coffins will help decompose bodies much faster. There is also the issue of the high amount of plastic in caskets. The management of non-biodegradable waste removed from burial spaces for the purpose of reusing pits has turned out to be a huge problem. As per the new practice, all kinds of non-biodegradable materials including plastic have been abandoned while disposing of bodies,” says Fr. Johnson Thaundayil, priest, St. George Church, Arthunkal.

The decision to do away with coffins was taken following a wide range of discussions among the 949 families of the parish. The church has bought three steel coffins for the funeral service. Upon the death of a parishioner, the church committee will dispatch a steel coffin along with a cotton shroud to the home of the dead person. The body will be placed in the coffin. After the funeral service, the body wrapped in the cloth will be removed from the coffin and interred in the ground. The burial space will be decorated with flowers.

In 18 months

According to Tomy Alasheril, convener, St. George Church Central Committee, the new measure benefits the environment, addresses the issue of space constraint and ensures equal treatment of the dead without fancy caskets. "Along with the body, only an enveloping cloth and flowers will go into the ground. Shroud burial will decompose a body in 18 months," says Mr. Alasheril who is also Health Standing Committee chairman of Cherthala South grama panchayat. St. George Church, Arthunkal, comes under the Cochin diocese.

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