Church-Yard, a piece of ground adjoining a church, set apart for the interment of the dead. During the first three centuries of our aera the Christians followed the law of pagan Rome, according to which every one could select his burying-place outside of the towns. The Christians generally preferred to be buried near the graves of the martyrs, and thus they early obtained common burying, or, as they called them, sleeping-places (cameteria, dormitoria), which were sometimes above the ground (area), and sometimes in subterranean caves. SEE CATACOMBS. When the persecution of Christianity ceased, and the relics of the martyrs were transferred to the churches within the towns, the places around the churches, or the vestibules of the churches, were commonly selected for burying the dead; for a burial in the church itself was strictly forbidden, and only granted as a special distinction to bishops, princes, and other persons of high ecclesiastical or political position. Thus gradually the churchyards became an established institution in connection with the church. In large cities every particular church had its church-yard, and not until the 14th century are the church-yards to be found without the town. Gradually it became general to close the church-yards in the towns, and to remove them out of the towns, until ultimately the governments of most of the states enforced this rule from sanitary reasons.
In the Church of Rome, church-yards are consecrated with great solemnity. If a church-yard which has been thus consecrated shall afterwards be polluted by any indecent action, or profaned by the burial of an infidel, a heretic, an excommunicated or unbaptized person, it must be reconciled; and the ceremony of the reconciliation is performed with the same solemnity as that of the consecration! (Buck). SEE CONSECRATION.
In the Protestant churches of Germany and other countries, church-yards were set apart by praying and reading of the Scriptures; in England and Sweden a formal consecration is still in use.
In England the church-yard is the freehold of the parson; but it is the common burial-place of the dead, and for that reason it is to be fenced at the- charge of the parishioners, unless there is a custom to the contrary, or for a particular person to do it, in respect of his lands adjoining to the church-yards; and that must be tried at common law (Hook). SEE BURIAL; SEE CEMETERY.
The control of the church-yards has given rise to many conflicts between Church and State. The Church of Rome forbids the burial of heretics, suicides, excommunicated persons, and unbaptized children upon the Roman Catholic cemetery; while the state governments, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, regarding the cemetery as public and not ecclesiastical property, have frequently endeavored to compel the burying of all dead without distinction in the same cemetery. In the United States the government does not meddle with the places and modes of burial, and religious bodies, as well as single congregations and individuals, can make any provisions they please for the burial of their dead. — Wetzer u. Welte, Kirchen-Lex. 6:201; Herzog, Real-Encyklop. 7:706.