While my mom was visiting, we took her to a cemetery. Located in a tiny coastal village, it was quite small. But the Portuguese are very good at maximizing the space in their cemeteries.
I’m guessing that an actual burial plot is an expensive option, because by far most of the deceased are housed in one of these: essentially a slot for a coffin, stacked four high, with an alcove in the front for memorabilia and decorations.
The alcoves usually hold photographs, candles, flowers, and small items of special family significance. Surprisingly, the flowers are often real — this alcove holds a bottle of water for replenishing the vases. Portuguese graves are usually well tended.
As you can see, the plots aboveground far outnumber the traditional ones below ground. And even in the burial plots, economy of space is practiced. When the father of a friend passed away recently, her grandfather was exhumed from his grave and cremated. The ashes were put into an urn, which was then put into the hands of her father, and both grandfather and father were then buried in the same grave. You see this reflected on the grave markers, which rarely hold just one name.
The least common structures in the cemetery, and probably the most expensive, are the mausoleums. Lined with marble, these usually house four coffins, stacked two each on opposite walls, with the door in the third wall and the open space of the fourth wall piled with flowers, candles on tall holders, photographs, and other memorabilia. The coffins are often draped with fine lace cloths, and the whole interior takes on the appearance of a family shrine. Again, the flowers inside are frequently real.
Mom was knocked out by this little cemetery. As a genealogist, she’s been in quite a few cemeteries back home, but she’d never seen anything like this. “Is this typical?” she asked. Yes, I told her.
“The dead are honored here,” she said.
What a wonderful way of putting it.