The section of folk traditions from Latvian Cultural Canon says: “Cemeteries are one of the visible expressions of Latvian cultural heritage where the living memory of the deceased is maintained with great respect.”
Our attitude towards the afterworld and human life is formed by our national mentality, religious views and unique individuality of each person.
Cemeteries reflect the history of the people in our region through dates, inscriptions, shapes of monuments and crosses, drawings and even photos. It is a part of history, memory of the deceased that enriches our life today and, possibly, forms our virtues and values to be passed onto future generations.
Beliefs, traditions and behavioural pattern of our past generations forms the basis for the Latvian cemetery culture today, which is something very special and sometimes difficult for foreigners to understand. Such cemetery culture is very rare elsewhere in Europe. In Latvia gravesites are cultivated and groomed as gardens, even the landscape architects recognize that Latvian cemeteries may be considered parks of sorts that are almost non-existent elswhere in the world. People sometimes choose naturally shaped boulders for memorial stones, but there are also specifically designed shapes of stone. Latvia can be proud of its unique multicoloured boulders available in thousands of different color variations. Inhabitants of other countries may envy us because their choice of color variations for stone is not as broad.
People in Latvia have always paid great attention to arrangement and layout of gravesites. Covering the grave with flowers was apparently first practiced by Herrnhutters - members of the so-called Brethren congregations around Valmiera and Cēsis at the end of the 18th century. In Courland fishermen’s villages the tradition was to carve ornaments into the cross or adorn it with ribbons and cords. Tombstones with words cast in them, coats of arms and commemorative plates, had already started to spread in Riga as early as 15th century. When the law was adopted that provided for establishing burial places only outside the city limits, in 1773, the citizens of Riga obtained the so-called Great Cemetery. In 1910, the Riga City Council granted a nearly 100 hectares to install a suburban cemetery in the forest. Thus the Forest Cemetery was created, which over the span of hundred years has become a very large burial ground.
Since the beginning of time, stone has attracted people’s attention as an unsurpassed practical and noble material, and has earned its reputation in manufacture of gravestones and in honouring the memory of the deceased. Choice of a gravestone is determined by style, taste and cost as well as client’s mentality, traditions, views and religious beliefs. The choice of a memorial stone is not an easy decision to make, because the uniqueness of the gravesite is often determined by the gravestone. Sometimes people decide in favour of the cheapest solution for the memorial sign forgetting that they order a gravestone once or twice in a lifetime. Gravestone will serve and outlive many generations. The memorial place will bear memories of your loved ones for centuries.
“There is hardly anything in the world that someone cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price alone are that person’s lawful prey. It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money — that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot — it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.”
English writer, poet, art critic and social reformer
(1819 – 1900)