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Journal Articles Mortality Year : 2019

Embalming and materiality of death (France, nineteenth century)


At the end of the 1830s, embalming became fashionable in France. Unlike traditional embalming reserved to the elites since the Middle Ages, the new, private form of embalming concerned ordinary people who could not bear seeing their passed beloved ones decompose and return to ashes. This rise went hand in hand with the multiplication of timeless plots allocation within cemeteries created by the decree of 1804, on which families could build tombs destined to shelter their dead. Embalming hence belonged to the ‘funeral transition’ between the eighteenth and the nineteenth century as described by R, Bertrand: the concern for the dead was not characterised by the concern for their soul but rather for the material remains. The cult of the dead focused on the grave in the nineteenth century: embalming was perhaps a necessary step within this materialisation: during a limited period of time, the certainty of having a fully preserved body under the grave was necessary in order to function as a place of memory and as a cornerstone of the cult of the dead.
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hal-02528520 , version 1 (22-04-2020)



Anne Carol. Embalming and materiality of death (France, nineteenth century). Mortality, 2019, 24 (2), pp.183-192. ⟨10.1080/13576275.2019.1585784⟩. ⟨hal-02528520⟩
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