(The old cemetery of Vesoul, France, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vesoul_Ancien_cimeti%C3%A8re.jpg)
Various ancient burial rites are known to have as origins the prehistoric, ancient and Gallic times. In the Middle Ages, the man seems relatively consenting to death but around the fourteenth century, the progressive individualization of human life made him fear his own death, Purgatory becoming the centerpiece of the “religion of fear” of this time. Burial ceremonies then develop as preparation for death (with the deceased is quickly concealed from view, face hidden under the shroud body and quickly placed in the coffin).
After the Revolution, public funerals of personalities (sovereign mourning, protesters mourning, etc.) give rise to forms of politicization by ceremonies (preparations, eulogy, funeral procession, mobilizing crowds and emotions).
An anticlericalism and promoting of secularism and freedoms lead to laws of November 14, 1881 and April 5, 1884 that abolish the confessional character of the cemetery, and the Act of November 15, 1887 on freedom funeral allowing the deceased to decide the place and manner of his burial (burial or cremation, other modes are either prohibited or derogatory or obsolete).
Then the funeral rituals change only slightly until the twentieth century, still framed by a “funeral legislation” which dates from the First Empire (Decree of 23 Prairial An XII) (imposing cemeteries to be built off-the city, and a multi-denominational cemetery “in municipalities where they profess several religions, each religion should have a place of particular burial, and in case there would be only one cemetery, it will be divised with walls, hedges or ditches into as many parts as there are different religions, with particular input for each, and proportioning the space to population of each worship“), but in reality, the Catholic church and/or Protestant worship almost everywhere had the monopoly of the organization of burials, before that in 1806 the Jewish community is authorized by decree to maintain ownership of private cemeteries built before 1804 and create spaces in Jewish faith municipal cemeteries. Later (November 14, 1881), the law requires “neutrality of cemeteries” reinforced by the law of December 9, 1905 (there should not be any difference in treatment between beliefs and cults). However, to meet the wishes of certain religious communities, the Ministry of the Interior has tolerated or encouraged the creation, when space was available, of denominational areas (although without legal status).
The nineteenth and twentieth century will also see the rise of the funeral industry and tombstones, as well as increasing sanitizing modern funeral rituals.
The law was amended in 1993 and 2008 to integrate the opening to competition of communal monopoly on funeral and clarify the status of funeral operators and the status and fate of funeral ashes.
The funeral law is broken out in the general code of local authorities, the code of public health, the town planning code, the code of construction and housing, as well as insurance. Indeed, another novelty of the twentieth century is the development of an “insurance” plan (life insurance policies and whole life insurance in this case, integrating more and more often a “funeral service agreement” or “funeral agreement”). The funeral contract quickly became binding but Parliament intended in 2004 that each subscriber can freely modify its choice concerning his funeral, and also to choose a new funeral operator when he wants.
The mayor has a special police authority on cemeteries and funerals (It must ensure the “maintenance of order and decency in cemeteries, burials and exhumations, without being allowed to establish distinctions or special requirements due to creed or religion of the deceased or the circumstances that accompanied her death“). French preference still goes to burial in a tomb acquired in burial plot (occupancy agreements in the public domain, nor theoretically precarious or revoked, except trade, but sent out estate distribution perpetually undivided between the heirs; the legacy and/or the right to donation being framed by case law). The town may establish temporary concessions for fifteen years at most, thirty, fifty years and ever (until 1959, municipalities were also authorized to issue centenarian concessions), renewable by law assigns, while an abandoned concession can be adopted by the town hall (with then transfer the remains to the ossuary, or cremation).
It is the family that must maintain or delegate to maintain the concession.
A “common ground” (former “indigent square”) hosts free burial pits and for at least 5 years of people entitled to burial in the common (homeless, single people died in hospital). According to case law, linking or reducing the body to gather the remains of ome (reduction) or dead (meeting) into a concession, in reliquaries in order to make room for new burials is similar – a point procedural order – to an exhumation, which involves monitoring by the town hall during the operation, and prior agreement of the next of kin of the deceased (and not a single joint heir).
There are still many private cemeteries (abbeys and Jewish communities, for example). They are legally recognized but can not enlarge.
It is also possible to be buried on private property, but with authorization of the Prefect and provided that private property is quite far from the nearest city limits and compliance with legal hygiene.
Embalming has grown significantly in France, but poses problems for the deceased with certain infectious diseases or treatments (radiation, heavy chemical treatments).
At the turn of the century, more than 500 000 deaths per year are registered.