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July 2015

Unclaimed Remains in the District of Columbia

The Washington Post has an interesting story about the disposition of unclaimed remains in the District of Columbia.  Also includes references to the law in Maryland:

After attempting to contact relatives and waiting three days for them to come forward, Maryland donates its unclaimed remains to medical research, declaring on a graveyard monument its “deep appreciation for those who gave unselfishly of themselves to advance medical education.”

“Maryland has always had a system,” said Ronn Wade, an official with the state Anatomy Board, which handles unclaimed remains.

Wade said the number of unclaimed bodies in the state has risen steadily in recent decades. In 1973, the state buried 60 unclaimed bodies — but last year, it handled 729. This surge, Wade said, isn’t just about population growth or poverty. Rather, life spans have lengthened and families have grown smaller, more spread out and less close-knit.

Tanya Marsh


Visiting Kaisergruft in Vienna, Austria

The Kaisergruft (or Imperial Crypt) is the last resting place of 146 members of the Hapsburg family, plus urns containing the hearts or cremains of four others.  There are 107 visible sarcophagi that range in style from plain to very ornate. 

Until far in the 18th century, the most common material for a sarcophagus here was a bronze-like alloy of tin, coated with shellac. The splendid tombs of the baroque and rococo eras are made of true bronze, a nobler and therefore more expensive material. Reforming Emperor Joseph II decreed simplified burial customs for the people, and introduced the use of lighter and cheaper copper into the Imperial Crypt, where it was then used into the 19th century. In the later 19th century a mixture of cast brass and bronze as well as silver-bronzed copper was adopted. Other metals were used only rarely, except for silver and gold plating on decorations.

Within the outer case lies a wooden coffin that is wrapped in silk (black with gold trim for rulers, red with silver trim for others). The coffin usually has two locks, the key to one is kept by the Capuchin Guardian of the crypt, the other is kept in the Schatzkammer of the Hofburg palace in Vienna.

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Visiting the Hill of Slane in County Meath, Ireland

The Hill of Slane in the Boyne Valley is within sight of the Hill of Tara.  Rumored to be a spot where St. Patrick lit a Pascal fire in 433 A.D., the Hill of Slane currently has the ruins of a friary church, including a 62-foot high early gothic tower.  The friary was abandoned in 1723 but the adjoining churchyard contains new burials.

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Tanya Marsh


Visiting Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin

I had the opportunity visit Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland last week.  The Cathedral was founded around 1028, improved for centuries, and extensively renovated in the late 1800s.  Like other medieval European churches, burials can be found throughout the building and grounds.

The nave of the Church contains the tomb of Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, better known as "Strongbow," an English lord who participated in the Norman invasion of England.  Strongbow died in 1176.

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There are also remains underneath the floors;

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and in the walls;

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and in the crypt.

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Tanya Marsh