Vatican and musicians at odds over appropriate use of crematorium leftovers

Six feet under or on your album shelf? The choice is yours...

The Vatican has put itself on a collision course with the rock music industry, after banning the spreading of human ash-ley remains.

The declaration that spreading or storing crematoria scrapings, flies in the face of a upsurge of musicians’ innovative re-use of the mortal remains of deceased band members, fans, and indeed parents.

Cardinal Gerhard Muller, current doctrinal enforcer at the Vatican, declared this week that families submitting their loved ones to the firey maw of the local crematorium should not keep the resulting ashes - either for spreading in a beloved beauty spot, or at sea, planting in a decorative urn on the sideboard, or turned into jewellery and desk accessories.

The reason for this appears to ecclesiastical concern that all the alternatives have a whiff of the pagan or pan-theistic - it’s only 50 years or so since the pope gave a grudging OK to Catholics consigning their remains to the flames rather than the traditional six feet under.

Rather, ashes should be “keep in a holy place, that is a cemetery or a church or in a place that has been specifically dedicated to this purpose.” Which some are suggesting makes the pronouncement more of a real estate than theological issue.

According to the Irish Times, Pádraig O’Reilly, the manager of Lakelands Crematorium in Cavan, reckoned the Cardinals were on a hiding to nothing, saying that if a family didn’t already have a burial plot, finding a duly sanctioned spot was another financial burden for the bereaved.

He added that options included jewellery, turning into a paper weight, or for fishermen (Cavan’s myriad of lakes being famous for its piscine bounty) the floation cushion, into which the mortal remains are placed, before punted out in the lake and gradually sinking.

If the doctrinal declaration is unlikely to make much impact in Cavan, it’s going to get even less traction in the music industry, which is just awakening to the spiritual AND commercial potential of creative reuse of cremains.

Californian-band Negativland recently offered two grams of deceased band member Don Joyce with every copy of its latest album, Volume 9. Meanwhile, a fan of Dying Fetus asked the band to spread his remains in the moshpit on their latest tour - a request which the band, and its fans, enthusiastically embraced.

Meanwhile, country songwriter Terry Allen is making a sculpture with the ashes of fellow singer Guy Clarke.

Of course, while the church has eternity on its mind, musicians’ timescales are somewhat shorter. Negativland has already run out of Joyce’s ashes - though with three members reportedly kicking the bucket over the last three years, it might be able to stretch out this particular promo for a while yet. ®

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