National Register Bulletin 41: Guidelines for Evaluating and Registering Cemeteries and Burial Places ( includes cemetery terminology and information about historic cemeteries. The National Register Bulletin is an invaluable resource for evaluating the significance of cemeteries for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The Bulletin defines the following terms, as well as others:

Altar tomb: A solid, rectangular, raised tomb or gravemarker resembling ceremonial altars of classical antiquity and Judeo-Christian ritual.

Bevel marker: A rectangular gravemarker, set low to the ground, having straight sides and an uppermost, inscribed surface raked at a low angle.

Cemetery: An area set aside for burial of the dead; in Latin American culture known as “campo santo,” or holy field.

Cenotaph: A monument, usually of imposing scale, erected to commemorate one whose burial remains are at a separate location; literally “empty tomb.”

Chapel: A place of worship or meditation in a cemetery or mausoleum, either a freestanding building or a room set apart for commemorative services.

Chest marker: A solid, rectangular, raised gravemarker resembling a chest or box-like sarcophagus.

Cinerary urn: A receptacle for cremation remains, or ashes, in the shape of a vase.

Columbarium: A vault or structure for storage of cinerary urns.

Crypt: An enclosure for a casket in a mausoleum or underground chamber, as beneath a church.

Epitaph: An inscription on a gravemarker identifying and/or commemorating the dead.

Exedra: A permanent open air masonry bench with high back, usually semicircular in plan, patterned after the porches or alcoves of classical antiquity where philosophical discussions were held; in cemeteries, used as an element of landscape design and as a type of tomb monument.

Family cemetery: A small, private burial place for members of the immediate or extended family; typically found in rural areas, and often, but not always, near a residence; different from a family plot, which is an area reserved for family members within a larger cemetery.

Family plot: An area reserved for family members within a larger cemetery.

Flat or flush marker: A flat, rectangular gravemarker set flush with the lawn or surface of the ground.

Gravemarker: A sign or marker of a burial place, variously inscribed and decorated in commemoration of the dead.

Graveyard: An area set aside for burial of the dead; a common burying ground of a church or community.

Headstone: An upright stone marker placed at the head of the deceased; usually inscribed with demographic information, epitaphs, or both; sometimes decorated with a carved motif.

Ledger: A large rectangular gravemarker usually of stone, set parallel with the ground to cover the grave opening or grave surface.

Mausoleum: A monumental building or structure for burial of the dead above ground; a “community” mausoleum is one that accommodates a great number of burials.

Memorial park: A cemetery form begun in the 20th century, cared for in perpetuity by a business or nonprofit corporation; generally characterized by open expanses of greensward with either flush or flat or other regulated gravemarkers; in the last half of the 19th century, those with flush or flat markers were called “lawn” cemeteries.

Military cemetery: A burial ground established for war casualties, veterans, and eligible dependents. Those established by the Federal government include national cemeteries, post cemeteries, soldiers’ lots, Confederate and Union plots, and American cemeteries in foreign countries. Many States also have established cemeteries for veterans.

Monument: A structure or substantial gravemarker erected as a memorial at a place of burial.

Monolith: A large, vertical stone gravemarker having no base or cap.

National cemetery: One of 130 burial grounds established by the Congress of the United States since 1862 for interment of armed forces servicemen and women whose last service ended honorably.

Obelisk: A four-sided, tapering shaft having a pyramidal point; a gravemarker type popularized by romantic taste for classical imagery.

Peristyle: A colonnade surrounding the exterior of a building, such as a mausoleum, or a range of columns supporting an entablature (a beam) that stands free to define an outdoor alcove or open space.

Potter’s field: A place for the burial of indigent or anonymous persons. The term comes from a Biblical reference: Matthew 27.7.

Receiving tomb or vault: A vault where the dead may be held until a final burial place is prepared.

Rostrum: A permanent open air masonry stage used for memorial services in cemeteries of the modern period, patterned after the platform for public orators used in ancient Rome.

“Rural” cemetery: A burial place characterized by spacious landscaped grounds and romantic commemorative monuments established in a rural setting in the period of the young republic and at the dawn of the Victorian era; so called for the movement inspired by the American model, Mount Auburn Cemetery (1831) in the environs of Boston; a cemetery developed in this tradition.

Sarcophagus: A stone coffin or monumental chamber for a casket.

Screen memorial: A vertically-set gravemarker consisting of a tablet with wing elements resting on a continuous base.

Sepulcher: A burial vault or crypt.

Sexton: Traditionally, a digger of graves and supervisor of burials in the churchyard; commonly, a cemetery superintendent.

Shelter house: A pavilion or roofed structure, frequently open at the sides, containing seats or benches for the convenience of those seeking a place to rest; erected in rustic and classical styles to beautify a cemetery landscape.

Slant marker: A rectangular gravemarker having straight sides and inscribed surface raked at an acute angle.

Stele: An upright stone or commemorative slab, commonly inscribed or embellished on one of the broader vertical surfaces; a gravemarker type revived from classical antiquity.

Table marker: A rectangular grave covering consisting of a horizontal stone slab raised on legs, which sometimes are highly elaborate; also “table stone.”

Tablet: A rectangular gravemarker set at a right angle to the ground, having inscriptions, raised lettering or carved decoration predominantly on vertical planes, and top surface finished in straight, pedimented, round, oval, or serpentine fashion.

Vault: A burial chamber, commonly underground.

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