I make up these puns myself: honest!

Having commented on deathscapes in the northern Dutch town of Groningen earlier this year in a series of blog posts, I recently got the opportunity to visit the crematorium and cemetery of Rhijnhof, serving the city and district of Leiden in South Holland. In short, this is my second-ever visit to a Dutch crematorium and cemetery.

rhijnhofThe site has an incongruous setting, but one that reveals so much about how death is framed in the modern world. It is situated close to the river Rhijn on the western outskirts of the city (separated from the river only be a series of luxury houses). It is immediately adjacent to the A44 motorway and its McDonald’s services to the crematorium and cemetery’s west, the Leiden Holiday Inn to the east, and sports fields to the south.

It is a new and well-designed landscape with curvilinear paths with lawns for ash-scattering, columbaria and burial plots for cremation graves and inhumation graves, as well as a children’s burial ground. One notable absence (seen at Groningen) was a woodland cemetery area.

The plots are interspersed with dykes and two lakes to keep the site well-drained, but also facilitate ash-scattering and other interactions with the natural environment for mourners.

One enters through a striking pair of modern sculptures – metal meshes filled with glass stones. At the entrance there is a shop and cafe, as well as offices. Behind is a car park, as well as ample space to park one’s bicycles (this is the Netherlands remember, where cycling is widespread, unlike in the UK).IMG_1445

Down a path from the entrance and ca park, the crematoria has multiple chapels to facilitate multiple funerals.


This watery and arboreal landscape of death holds many similarities in terms of the design and memorials to the crematorium at Groningen, but it is by far a larger enterprise in scale and character.

The weather of my visit couldn’t have been more contrasting too. Instead of the crisp and sunny spring morning when I visited Groningen, I visited on the wettest afternoon I’ve ever attempted to explore in detail a modern mortuary landscape. This explains the quality of some of my photographs.

I also saw a first, although obviously I kept my distance: a funeral in torrential rain!

In subsequent blog posts I want to review the memorials and grave plots I witnessed. In doing so, where names inscribed on memorials are visible, I’ve pixellated the out to preserve the anonymity of the dead in this digital context.

However, I wish to start here by reflecting on two prominent dimensions of the cemetery.

First, I noticed not only the detailed care and organisation of the entire space, but also the fabulous arrangements of the tools and water supplies to allow graves to be tended by mourners. This level of organisation reflects what I’ve seen in Sweden, but is in stark contrast to the more rudimentary provisions available in many British municipal cemeteries.

Second, I encountered sections yet to be utilised: a large area planned out as part of the overall cemetery organisation, and awaiting future graves. Such ‘heritage futures’ to cemeteries are a palpable and uncanny dimension: landscapes awaiting the future-dead.

Then again, realising how short the leases on graves are, many of the graves I did witness are also part of the spaces awaiting the future dead too…