It is painful enough watching as a loved one is buried following their death, but in Greece bereaved families are now facing the agony of seeing friends and relatives dug back up.
It is a result of cemeteries becoming encircled by expanding towns and cities, and with nowhere else to dig, burial plots are now being rented for short periods of time.
The average lease runs for three years, but beyond that there are exorbitant costs to purchase further time. The high cost is intended to deter people from retaining a plot.
It is illegal to keep human remains outside of a cemetery in Greece leaving two options when bodies are exhumed, and money is still a major factor.
Families can either rent space inside an ossuary, where bones are stored in boxes, or the body can be thrown into a mass grave known coldly as a “digestive pit”, which too are becoming full.
Maria Tsikaloudaki, of the Attiko General Hospital, spoke to the BBC of the dilemma families face.
It’s incredibly painful for families who cannot pay for the funeral of their loved one especially because burial is considered something holy here in Greece.Advertisement
But we have reached a point in the crisis where families do not even try to hide their economic hardship any more.”
Now the obvious solution would appear to be cremation, but that is prohibited by the Greek Orthodox Church as they believe resurrection is not possible from ashes.
Archbishop Anthimos of Thessaloniki refuses to give way on that belief, and the church’s stance has prevented the building of a single crematorium, despite the law allowing it since 2006.
The Orthodox Church cannot accept cremation. Are we going to deny the teachings of the gospel after 2,000 years?”
He also denies the regularity of exhumation, adding:
I’ve been repeatedly to the main cemetery and I have never seen an exhumation.”
It is a heartbreaking dilemma financially crippling citizens already brought to their knees by the Greek economy.