No construction or destruction, no waste or degradation but a respectful public space with high aesthetic value, natural therapeutic effect, authenticity and high level of participation - these are the characteristics of the first wood-based natural cemetery in Slovakia, which we set up in 2021. The funeral ceremonies take place under the trees and the ashes are buried to their roots. We brought the concept of natural burials to Slovakia and we are still the only ones who cultivate this topic.
Funebra is the first natural burial movement initiative in Slovakia, working under the organization ŽIVICA. We have set up and now take care of two natural burial grounds - The Garden of Memories in Zvolen (in 2017) and The Wood of Memories in Košice (in 2021). We fully respect the need of every family to say goodbye in a unique way and we are ready to support them in order to fulfill their needs and to establish a new funeral culture, based on respect for nature as well as rthe people. We also co-create meaningful funerals at other places, e.g. in nature, at cabins or by a river. We help other cities establish their own natural cemeteries and we encourage a healthy relationship with death through public talks and workshops for the general public
The Wood of Memories in Košice is our new project - a natural burial ground situated nearby Košice´s crematorium. It brings a new approach to funerals, which are held under the trees, following the wishes of the families and friends of the deceased. We bury people´s ashes to the roots of the trees in ecological urns or directly to the ground and for now, it is the most ecological type of burial in Slovakia. There are no gravestones, just simple markers installed on the trees. The place is naturally-managed, people are not allowed to bring any decoration, artificial flowers or candles. Everything we use, such as the urns or beeswax candles are hand made by Slovak craftsmen, as aesthetics is also a very valuable part of the project.
Please highlight how the project can be exemplary in this context
Objective 1: To create and keep natural burial ground where nature will play a crucial role and will be protected.
The Wood of Memories was set up in an existing forest of mature trees nearby a conventional cemetery with no need of construction or destruction of the natural habitat. Nature is respected and protected here.
Objective 2: To become a zero-waste cemetery.
- To produce no waste by visitors and by management of the place
As no decorations are allowed here, the cemetery produces no waste. The leftovers of packaging-free candles are recycled for new candles.
Objective 3: To use biodegradable products with low ecological footprint.
The ashes or ecological urns are placed in the soil without concrete lining, so they can decompose quite easily and become part of nature again.
Biodegradable urns are hand made either by Slovak craftsmen we cooperate with, or are made by the bereaved family and friends.
The Wood of Memories also has its ceremonial space with a stone art piece with a water surface for the candles. Wooden benches in the forest are made by regional craftsmen, as well as the stone piece.
The graves are marked only by small, minimalistic markers from steel Cor-Ten made in Slovakia, installed on the trees.
Objective 4: To be a cemetery with natural management.
The forest, which serves as the setting of the burial place, is left to its natural development. The deadwood, branches or fallen leaves are left here, to respect the natural cycles.
We believe that ecology and sustainability should be a part of life, as well as death and funerals. In everything we do, we honor our ecological values - we create cemeteries respecting people as well as nature.
Please highlight how the project can be exemplary in this context
Objective1: To create ecological, ethical, economical, and also aesthetical cemetery.
We see the connection between ecological, ethical, economical and aesthetical principles, as all of them are significant parts of the natural burial movement. Aesthetic values of funeral services and products are missing in Slovakia for a long time. We recognize beauty as a very important part of funerals and cemeteries and we feel inspired by it. We can see the healing potential of beauty for the bereaved during ceremonies, but also for the visitors during the whole year. Beauty can have a transformative potential in the process of grieving and we draw mainly from the beauty of the surrounding nature.
Objective 2 - To honor minimalism.
We see the importance of minimalism, which plays a significant role in The Wood of Memories. We use very simple and natural materials mainly in earthy colors in tune with the forest environment. One of the basic principles is letting nature do its own job, to create space for it also in cemeteries and allow people to be part of the beauty of nature itself. We support this also by decorating the space by local flowers and other plants from the surrounding. We use these wild natural decorations during funerals, for urn spots or the ceremony grounds.
Objective 3: To to use funeral products with high aesthetic value.
Urns are made by artists and craftsmen from paper-mâché and clay. We also encourage people to draw and write on the urn or create one by themselves, as a part of the creative and healing process. Beeswax candles made by local beekeepers also have a high aesthetic value, as they are very minimalistic, without any packaging.
We offer our products also through our eshop and funeral services in Zvolen offer them too. We would like to inspire other craftsmen to focus on funeral products production and try to increase their aesthetic value also in the conventional funeral services.
Please highlight how the project can be exemplary in this context
Objective 1: To make funerals personalized and authentic.
Funeral services lack a personal approach and don't respond to needs and wishes of the bereaved people. We offer an alternative for those who want to take their own path in creating a funeral for a loved one. We encourage the family to participate in planning and preparations of the ceremony. We noticed that giving the bereaved family an option to make funerals more personal makes it a meaningful experience again for them. We give people opportunities from creating their own ecological urns and making decorations of the ceremonial space to bringing their favorite food and drinks or musicians. We motivate the bereaved to join the preparation process and the funeral itself as much as they want to.
Objective 2: To make funerals economically available.
Natural cemeteries, including The Wood of Memories, are interesting for people also from the economical perspective.They don't need to buy an expensive gravestone, ashes or urns are placed directly into the ground. Moreover they don't need to be afraid of cancelling the grave site, because the ashes are already part of nature. Once the bereaved make a funeral here, they don't need to take care of the burial spot, as nature takes care of it itself. People don't feel the need to decorate the graves and this could save them money, too.
Objective 3: To create and use cemetery as a public space.
Our bereaved community, family and friends, also meet in The Wood of Memories during public ceremonies - The Day of Hope - remembrance day for deceased children (in August) and at The Day of the Dead (in November).
Visitors can come and relax or contemplate in the forest during the whole year.
Natural burial grounds like ours can inspire other cities to make economically accessible cemeteries connected with nature, and design them as green public spaces which can be used for visits, relaxation or cultural events during the whole year.
Please highlight how this approach can be exemplary
Ecological principles, aesthetics and inclusion go hand in hand in The Wood of Memories and everything we do in the natural burial movement meets these principles too.
We consider it a huge advantage to use the existing forest place as the burial ground so it's not necessary to take up another space, cut the trees or destroy any other piece of land to create something new. We just work with what already exists in a respectful way, and give this place additional function and meaning.
As it was mentioned, we try to apply these values also in the products we use (urns, candles), forms of funerals and management of the place.
We are managing the burial ground not only for today, but also with respect for future generations.
Nature plays a key role in this approach and it is our greatest teacher and inspiration. It shows us that everything is interconnected, and when we respect natural cycles, rhythm and our space, we can do the best for us and our surroundings as well. Natural burial movement calls us back to the roots also metaphorically - going back to the roots of the lost rites.
For us, a funeral is not a product to be purchased by bereaved families, but a creative process navigated by the last wishes of the deceased person or by visions of the bereaved. A healthy relationship with death is an important premise for living a full life. The natural environment of our cemeteries also helps to see death as a part of life.
A cemetery as a burial place is part of almost every municipality in Slovakia but since the communist era they became considerably disconnected from nature. They are full of huge gravestones, plastic flowers and candles and produce a lot of waste. Moreover, as they are becoming crowded, municipalities are forced to create new burial plots. That is a big opportunity for the natural burial movement to come to the scene. Natural sites can be used as a cemetery without the necessity to transform or rebuild the area dramatically. Using existing natural sites in urban areas for burying while preserving them can give them an added value and also potential for a better protection of these sites in the future. The Wood of Memories is an example of what cemeteries can look like, how we can participate with nature and increase urban biodiversity as well. Using existing forest as a burial ground is a zero-waste and climate neutral way of running a cemetery. The Wood of Memories is open to the surrounding nature so there is no barrier for the animals. It is very well replicable in other cities in Slovakia, if it follows the principles of natural burial movement. ľ
We are trying to involve nature in the grieving process, as we believe it has a healing and therapeutic potential. Nature can help the bereaved ones, to support them in experiencing and processing different feelings and emotions. To see its natural cycles full of birth and death can be healing. That is why we are making ceremonies outside, under the treetops, and not only during funerals. During Solstice, The Wood of Memories will host Solstice Day annually, as we are used to from our other natural cemetery. It is the memorial event for all the people who want to come and undertake the ceremony in the forest together. We will invite our celebrant and musician to the forest to make a special atmosphere. People can memorialize their passed ancestors as a community.
Please also explain the benefits that derived from their involvement.
The Wood of Memories in Košice opened in November 2021 is actually a "younger brother" of the similar cemetery in Prague, Czech Republic, which opened in 2015. Monika Suchánska is the manager of the project, founder of both of these cemeteries and keeper of the Slovak one in Košice. This cemetery was created in cooperation with the local municipality.
By setting up The Wood of Memories we were also fulfilling the public demand for burial sites like these. We have been part of the natural burial movement in Slovakia since 2017 and we heard about this desire from people during our workshops, talks or presentations.
The implementation of the project and its operation is very flexible, mainly the form of the funeral ceremonies. Funerals are very individualized and personalized, according to the wishes of bereaved family and friends. The role of the people is very important during the whole process.
That is the way, as the funeral culture is changing thanks to people themselves. We, as celebrants and nature as the best "ceremony hall" are trying to support and hold them in finding the best way to say goodbye. This seems to be one of the best ways to make meaningful and natural funerals.
We also offer an option of planning one's own funeral in advance in order to create a handbook for our future bereaved relatives. Our organization also shares the principles of the natural burial movement through collaboration with municipalities, workshops and articles.
Natural burial movement is spiritually open to all ways of life and religions, so we enable people to have a ceremony with priest or with civil celebrant according to their wishes.
Our project is dealing with some of the Global Issues (according to the United Nations):
The Wood of Memories contributes thanks to its natural habitat and way of management to healthy environment and has a positive impact on local microclimate. The forest also maintains natural water management, as nothing is built or destroyed here and deadwood and fallen leaves are left on the ground.
The global population is constantly rising and together with the population growth, there will be a higher demand for new cemeteries. The Wood of Memories shows how we can cooperate with nature to create new burial grounds without the necessity of destroying natural sites.
The number of elderly people has increased substantially in recent years in most countries and regions, and it will rise in the coming decades. Municipalities will have to create more space for cemeteries. The Wood of Memories is an example of how to easily use existing natural sites as burial grounds.
As we mentioned, our natural cemetery can have a positive effect mainly on the mental health of its visitors. It was already proved by the scientists that nature and greenery especially, can improve our health just by spending some time in a natural environment. Moreover, personal and authentic funeral ceremonies under the trees have healing potential for the bereaved people.
There are a lot of problems worldwide associated with inadequate water supply or water pollution. Today it is not such a big issue in Slovakia, but it can be in the future. Natural cemeteries like The Wood of Memories can ensure natural water management on the site. As we use eco-friendly products and produce no waste, no chemicals are released to the ground. Water cycle can work naturally in the forest which contains deadwood and fallen leaves as well.
Respect towards nature
Current conventional cemeteries and funeral services in Slovakia are not sustainable. Products that are used - including urns, coffins, gravestones, as well as artificial decoration, are not biodegradable and are imported from across the globe. The ecological footprint of Slovak cemeteries rises mainly during The Day of the Dead. During those days people bring thousands of kilos of plastic flowers and artificial or LED candles to the graves each year .
Conventional cemeteries can contribute to climate change that begins usually on a local, microclimate scale. Heavy and big gravestones, often in dark colors raise the temperature and heat the sites mainly during sunny days. Water regime is disrupted, as the water cannot penetrate into the soil directly and gathers only in a few places of the areas. Lack of vegetation contributes to the microclimate changes as well.
Natural cemeteries, like The Wood of Memories are managed with very strict emphasis on ecology and circularity as they are not producing waste at all. It is not allowed to bring any decoration here, except for cut flowers during the funeral. People can light only floating and packaging free beeswax candles, which can be lit on the water in the stone place of ceremony. These candles are made by beekeepers with a family business nearby Košice. As we are trying to be zero-waste, the residue of the candles are gathered and reused for the new ones.
Respect towards people
Natural burial movement also reacts to the impersonal and patterned funeral ceremonies with no need for making them more individual, with the respect to the wishes of bereaved ones, as well as of descendants, if these are known.
In The Wood of Memories we honor the principle of the wishes of the family, so we plan a funeral in cooperation with them in a way they want to. We believe that bereaved people know what works best for them so we are trying to support them to follow their needs.
Please provide clear documentation, communication of methodology and principles in this context.
Our project Funebra and the organization Živica is trying to spread the natural burial movement and its principles in Slovakia, to other places and also among the general public, so The Wood of the Memories is just one of the stepping stones and examples of how it can work.
We already cooperate with other municipalities, mainly in the western part of Slovakia in order to help them set up natural cemeteries. We have an authorized landscape architect in our team, so we can provide project documentation as a service according to their preferences. Nowadays, we work with 2 cities and we communicate with some more.
Our offer for the municipalities includes project documentation for:
- new natural cemetery
- revitalisation of an existing cemetery
- combined cemetery - mainstream and natural burial spots in one cemetery with environmentally friendly management.
As a service for the public we offer:
- on-line or phone consultations regarding funerals
- on-line or phone planning of a funeral
- funeral ceremony at other places than our cemeteries
- we can be celebrants also at other places.