Death and the University

No, not another piece about the death of the University, but rather a few quirky aspects of burials around the University.

All our universities commemorate former members. For the ancient universities, who for centuries had a staff consisting of men who weren’t allowed to have families and therefore outside lives, there is plenty of evidence of former members in their funeral monuments (see Knoll 2003 for some proper scholarship on this).


Monument to Sir Thomas Bodley in Merton College Chapel

The growth of the universities in the 19th century brought problems as the population grew and traditional grave sites were full.  In Oxford new cemeteries were opened, and provision was made for the Colleges.  Balliol, for example, had plots for members in St Sepulchre’s cemetery.  College masters Benjamin Jowett and Edward Caird lie near philosopher TH Green, but, as a public cemetery, there are also students and servants of the college.


Younger universities also have nearby cemeteries – the campus at the University of Leeds has been built up around a cemetery, now known as St George’s Fields and offering a quiet green space.  The University of Winchester’s main campus is approached from the city via the West Hill cemetery next door.  In each of these cases, a privately owned cemetery found itself next to a university.

The cemetery next to Iowa State is actually provided by the university, which notes that it is ‘a testament to their dedication to the university that so many staff have chosen to be near it in death’.   Although they seem to have been flexible in the past, there are currently eligibility rules – tenure is now required for a place in the graveyard.

Perhaps if you’re not eligible for the university cemetery, there’s an unofficial way of linking yourself in eternity to your alma mater.  You can get a university casket.  oklahoma_university_casket_red__27514-1382115148-300-300

That’s merchandise that no UK Alumni office is offering (although the affinity through the university sports teams is probably more of a motivator here).   Not all of these are official, the holder of the official licence for Oklahoma complained that a casket maker was selling unofficial coffins.

Although few of us will end up in a university cemetery or a university coffin, they do act as a reminder that universities have been the kind of places that people have devoted a life-time to; something special, something enduring.



Ref Knoll, S 2003 Collective Identity: Funeral Monuments to Academics in Northern Europe, in History of Universities Vol XVIII/1





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s