Crossroads burials – The resting place for suicides

Suicide used to be regarded as shocking and blasphemous, and a coroner’s verdict of  “felo de se” – literally crime against oneself – usually resulted in the body being buried at a crossroads, with a stake through the heart, and with no religious ceremony. The suicide’s property could also be confiscated.Historians and archaeologists have long speculated on the reason for crossroads burials. Perhaps it was the nearest resting place the deceased get to any sort of religious symbol. It may also nave been because execution grounds were commonly at crossroads – eg Tyburn in London – and suicide was a crime. Superstition may also have come into it: a crossroads might confuse the ghost of the deceased. Archaeological evidence suggests that crossroads burials of executed individuals have been going on since Anglo-Saxon times.

Crossroads burials ended with the increasing understanding of mental illness and depression, particularly after the suicide of Lord Castlereagh in 1822. Many Londoners were also shocked in 1823 at the crossroads burial of Abel Griffiths – a disturbed young man who killed his father – at the junction of Eaton Street, Grosvenor Place and the King’s Road.

Lord Castlereagh’s death

Crossroads burials were abolished by an act of parliament the same year. Few objected, although one argument against abolition was that the disgrace of crossroads burial was a “deterrent” to suicide.


author Eugene Byrne

Other related articles you might like...

One Response to Crossroads burials – The resting place for suicides

  1. Isaac Chavez says:

    I think you should reconsider your analysis of why suicides were stopped. By saying they were stopped because of an increased awareness of mental illness, is simply a subjective opinion which obviously has a bias for modern psychological beliefs, against ancient morality and beliefs. I would argue, just as subjectively, that the reason suicides are no longer considered a terrible crime and act, is because people simply do not value life as much as they once did. It is no coincidence, that with our “psychological” excuses, has also come abortion, euthanasia, and the abolition of death penalties. I know you may be asking how abolishing a death penalty shows a lack of value for life, to which I would add that it was because they understood that life was so valuable that the ultimate criminal had to suffer the ultimate loss.

    The ancients were much wiser than us to condemn suicide rather than trying to make excuses for it. As Chesterton spoke about, the man who commits suicide destroys the whole world. Suicide is an affront to all life. The theif compliments the owner of the things he steals by showing that these things are worth stealing; but the suicide says that there is nothing worth stealing, nay there is nothing worth living for. The ancients, because they valued life and believed in the soul, knew this reality and therefore condemned suicide harshly. I would agree possibly too harshly. But I would take too harsh over weakness of our time which thinks someone who kills themselves simply made a valid decision that he was free to make, but was altogether a good person anyway. A person who kills himself was not a good person by definition. For a good person is one who fights for life and who brings life to others. But a suicide is one who would take life away from everything, for in destroying himself he declares nothing worth dying for. If you want to be historical you would not read your biases into your analysis, and you would give an equal voice to the ancients as you do to the modern progressives.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *