Cremation has been in practice since prehistoric times. In fact, archaeologists have found evidence that people cremated bodies in China as early as 8000 B.C. Cremation became popular in areas of Buddhist influence under certain dynasties in China and Korea until about A.D. 1300.
While cremation was practiced in European locales throughout history, the rise of Christianity caused its disappearance for the most part in Europe by the fifth century A.D., except in unusual cases such as epidemics or war.
It was during the French Revolution, when groups such as the Freemasons, revolutionaries and anarchists actively promoted cremation as a way of reducing the church's role in the end-of-life practices of commoners. Partly because of this association, the Roman Catholic Church opposed the use of cremation until the 20th century.
It is well documented that what we call “modern cremation” began in the late 1800s with the invention of a practical cremation chamber by Professor Brunetti, who presented it at the 1873 Vienna Exposition. Championed by Queen Victoria's surgeon, Sir Henry Thompson, and driven by public concern for hygiene and health and clerical desires to reform burial practices, crematories slowly began opening in Europe and abroad. The first modern crematory in America was established in Pennsylvania in 1876.
Today, cremation is practiced to varying degrees in at least 31 countries around the world. To learn more about the rising popularity of cremation, click here.