Man, stone and eternity

12 Dec
2009

“All that we call history is largely dependent on stone. This is true for earth, natural and world history in the broadest possible sense; thus it holds true also for the creation of the planet, the arrival of plants and animals and of Man, from his primeval and prehistory all the way to the present day.

Just as we can only learn of the earth’s early history through fossils, so we know incomparably more about lost cultures that built with stone than about those that built with wood. Stone temples, stone graves and stone law tablets.

It is not the material per se that creates a historic culture but rather the time consciousness connected with that people, people who chose stone not randomly to eternalize themselves with and in. This consciousness has documentary power; it plants fixed points like obelisks, by which the past can be measured very far back.”

Ernst Jünger, Steine (my translation)

Ancient Buddhist graves hewn into the stone
Ancient Buddhist graves hewn into the stone

This simple yet penetrating insight from this exceptional German author (1895-1997) captures far better than I could the relevance of returning to the use of stone in any new cemetery that aspires to perpetuity, that wants to go beyond time. And why conversely in our newest cemeteries the fragile materials of cement, steel and glass predominate.

The development towards ephemeral or even non-existent cemeteries is part of the global development towards ephemerality. We are now reaching the apex of a movement to ephemeralize all aspects of life, including culture and personal memory. We focus only on the present and the near future – our buildings, even our largest ones, are built of glass, steel and synthetics, and are intended to last a few decades at most. Our arts have “progressed” over the millenia from painting on stone cave walls and carving in stone, thus preserving memories and meanings from many thousands of years for us today, all the way to our virtual age, where most art exists only as non-concrete electromagnetic information that might last from a few seconds to a few years. Even paper photos are old-fashioned – our images, our memories now reside precariously in hard drives and other digital storage and viewing devices.

Ancient Corsican memorials - memories in solid rock
Ancient Corsican memorials – memories in solid rock

As that aspect of life most intimately connected with the passing of time, Death and the ways we deal with it in funeral rituals and cemetery practices have remained more immune to the surrounding ephemeralization of life. But even the supposedly timeless realm of the dead can no longer resist the change. Continental Europeans now get grave plots for just 20 or 30 years, North Americans and the British are moving towards burials with anonymous tree markers which might last a century, and in the most “advanced” parts of our world tangible markers are now disappearing into the ultimately fleeting realm of virtuality – centralized electronic displays of the deceased’s information at the cemetery or online markers. As Jünger says, this is a reflection of the time-consciousness of the culture, in our case one fixated on the present only, concerned only with acceleration and change.

Ancient Etruscan family tomb - in stone
Ancient Etruscan family tomb – in stone

But things are changing. Or rather, our sense of reality is improving, and we are beginning to see beyond the dead-end road our shortsighted “now-mentality” has led us down. In fact, this dead-end road will end, for our cultures and for each of us, in the same place it has since mankind has existed – in the grave, in the earth. When we begin again to realize our mortality, not theoretically, but palpably, directly in front of us, as aging individuals and cultures, then we will once again understand the ancient impulse to transcend time through leaving enduring memories.

In this connection, as contrary to current trends as it may appear, stone is the way of our future. The monopoly of NOW has come to a head, after which the pendulum will swing back towards a re-evaluation of time, memory, experience, and history – and we should add, of the long term future. At that point, closer than we may think, Perpetua’s Garden will be there as a place to create lasting memories of our culture and ourselves – memories hewn into, and with, the stone of our mother earth.

Learn how we can guarantee that Perpetua’s Garden cemetery will be truly perpetual.

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