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Átökin um útförina. Skiptar skoðanir um heimagrafreiti á Íslandi á nítjándu og tuttugustu öld

Hjalti Hugason
Birtist í
Saga: Tímarit Sögufélags 2020 LVIII:II
Frá því um 1880 og fram yfir miðja tuttugustu öld gætti útbreiddra óska meðal bænda hér á landi um upptöku heimagrafreita í stað þess að hvíla í sameiginlegum kirkjugörðum eins og tíðkast hafði frá öndverðri kristni í landinu. Svo rammt kvað að þessu að heimagrafreitir urðu fleiri hér en meðal margfalt fjölmennari þjóða. Forystumenn kirkjunnar andæfðu þessum sið frá upphafi og á tímabilum af hörku en afstaða veraldlegra stjórnvalda var breytileg. Hér stóðu því átök um útförina. Í þessari grein verður fjallað um þessi átök og rýnt í orsakir þeirra og samhengi.
THE BATTLE OVER BURIALS: DISPUTES ABOUT HOME BURIAL PLOTS IN NINETEENTH AND TWENTIETH CENTURY ICELAND. The article discusses changes in burial practices among Icelandic farmers between around 1880 until after 1960. When Iceland became a Christian nation, the international Christian practice of burials taking place in communal parish churchyards was implemented. Aside from rare emergencies, the only exceptions to this rule were people who were buried on unhallowed grounds because they had passed away while in dispute with the church or had been executed for severe crimes. In 1878, in District Officer of Borgarfjörður filed for permission to establish a home burial plot on his own land. The application was considered odd but ecclesiastical and legislative authorities saw no reason to intercede and the Ministri of Icelandic Affairs in Copenhagen granted permission for the burial plot. After this, the ministry, and later the Office of the Minister of ecclesiasti affairs, granted many more such permissions on the basis of a special authorisation provision. In 1932, the minister's authority to issue such permission was legally sanctioned, after which home burials increased exponentially until said authority was repealed in 1963, at which point there were more home burial plots in Iceland than in Norway, for example, despite much lower population numbers. It is therefore evident that this was a widespread and popular practice in Iceland, more so than in other countries. Initially, people were so determined to establish home burial plots that they conducted burial rites for deceased relatives without official permits and some times even without involving a priest. Along with the sheer number of home burial plots, this shows just how passionate many farmers were about their right to home burials. Church representatives were generally opposed to this new practice. This was especially the case with Bishop Jón Helgason during the first half of the twentieth century and Bishop Sigurbjörn Einarsson during the second half of the century. They argued that establishing a home burial plot meant turning your back on time-honoured church practices. They also feared that home burial plots would fall into disrepair if the family vacated or sold the land and churchyards. As such, home burials undermined the integrity of traditional burial practices. Aside from a brief period in 1920, when conservative policies attributed to Jón Helgason were in vogue, the Icelandic government generally granted applications for home burials plots. You could say that there was a battle being fought over burials rites during the period when demand for home burial plots was at its highest and the church took a vehement stance against the practice. Eventually, the Althing repealed the legal provision for home burials due to pressure from the national church. Thus it seems that the church won the battle. However, this was not a total victory as burials have been conducted in existing home burial plots up to recent times. The enthusiasm for home burial plots is linked to the powerful push for progress among Icelandic farmers, which can be seen both in technological advances in farming as well as the social- and cultural awakening of the Icelandic farmer. This coincided with a certain disinterest in the national church, its rites and ceremonies, and served to undermine the tradition of church burials.