Y’know, sometimes the world seems so mad and strange that you grow numb to it’s peculiarities. Then one day you’re strolling through the internet, not a care in the world and you come across a post detailing the most outlandish and bizarre shenanigans that’d drive Satirists to doubt their own abilities. About how Human beings, all across the world, have at one time or another attempted to Prohibit Death.
It’s not a new phenomenon, on the contrary it’s quite old.
The island of Delos was considered a sacred and holy place by the ancient Greeks, and various measures were taken to “purify” the island to render it fit for the proper worship of the gods. In the 6th century BCE, the tyrant Peisistratus, of the city-state of Athens, ordered that all graves within sight of the island’s temple be dug up and the bodies removed to locations on or beyond the perimeter.
In the 5th century BCE, under instruction from the Delphic Oracle, the entire island was purged of all dead bodies, and it was forbidden for anybody else to die or give birth on the island.
There’s a similar pace in Japan, the island of Itsukushima. It’s considered to be a sacred location in Shinto belief, and is the site of the Itsukushima Shrine, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Purity is of utmost concern in Shinto worship, and because of this the shrine’s priests have attempted to keep the island free of the pollution of death.
Immediately after the Battle of Miyajima in 1555, the only battle to have taken place on the island, the victorious commander had the bodies of the fallen troops removed to the mainland and ordered that the entire battlefield be cleansed of the blood that was spilled, to the point that buildings were scrubbed clean and blood-soaked soil was removed from the island.
Retaining the purity of the Itsukushima Shrine is so important that since 1878, no deaths or births have been permitted near the shrine. To this day, pregnant women are supposed to retreat to the mainland as the day of delivery approaches, as are terminally ill or the very elderly whose passing has become imminent. Burials on the island are still forbidden.
Despite a few religous motivations behind such strange laws, there’s also a handful of cases that are more secular and down to earth- literally.
Officials in the Brazilian town of Biritiba Mirim had planned to prohibit residents from dying because the local cemetery had reached full capacity. The then Mayor, Roberto Pereira, said that the bill is meant as a protest against federal regulations that bar new or expanded cemeteries in preservation areas.
“They have not taken local demands into consideration“, he claims. Pereira wanted to build a new cemetery, but the project had been stalled because 98% of Biritiba Mirim is considered a preservation area.
A 2003 decree by Brazil’s National Environment Council forbids burial grounds in protected areas. Biritiba Mirim, a town of 28,000 inhabitants, not only wants to prohibit residents from passing away. The bill also calls on people to take care of their health in order to avoid death.
“I haven’t got a job, nor am I healthy. And now they say I can’t die. That’s ridiculous,” Amarildo do Prado, an unemployed resident, told local media. “Of course the bill is laughable, unconstitutional, and will never be approved,” said Gilson Soares de Campos, an aide to the mayor. “But can you think of a better marketing strategy to persuade the government to modify the environmental legislation that is barring us from building a new cemetery?”
The bill stated that anyone who violated the law would be severely punished, but never specified the punishment or how it would be enacted. Do you pray, but like, in an angry way?
But there have been various other regions around the world that were successful in prohibiting death. There are three settlements in France that have such laws; Le Lavandou, Cugnaux and Sarpournex.
Le Lavandou is a refined Riviera resort famous for its scented pines, breathtaking views and sparkling blue sea. While the two other towns are more mainland, close to the border with Spain. The seaside town was the first in the region to actually pass the law.
“It is forbidden without a cemetery plot to die within the town limits,” reads a surprising bylaw proclaimed by the mayor, Gil Bernardi. With the old town cemetery full, Bernardi was outraged by the ruling of a court in Nice that his plan for a new one on an attractive seaside site planted with olive trees contravened planning regulations.
Acting on a complaint by a local environmental group, the court decided that the site he proposed fell within the scope of strict recent regulations governing what may and may not be built in coastal areas of outstanding natural beauty.
The law, which forbids “heavy and permanent” construction along the much-abused Mediterranean coast of France, has been invoked by several local councils to outlaw unsightly beach bars and restaurants from Corsica to Saint-Tropez.
But in this case, Mr Bernardi said, the court’s decision was “an abusive interpretation of the regulations“.
Nearly a third of Le Lavandou’s 5,500 residents are over 65, he pointed out, and 80 people die in the town each year: 19 await permanent resting places, housed temporarily in friend’s burial vaults.
The mayor rejected the alternative site proposed by the environmentalists: a disused quarry just outside town. “We can’t bury bodies in a dump,” he said. “This is an important issue concerning religious faith and respect of the dead…It’s an absurd law to counter an absurd situation. But it’s working: no one’s died here since it was passed, and I hope it stays that way.”
In 2007, Cugnaux also prohibited death, for similar reasons and was subsequently granted permission to enlarge the local cemetery. Inspired by the town’s success, Sarpourenx was next to follow suit, in 2008.
Predating these French towns however was the law passed in Spain on the clipse of the century, in 1999- a full year before La Lavandou. Death has been prohibited in the Andalucian town of Lanjarón. The village, with 4,000 inhabitants, is to remain under this law until the government buys land for a new cemetery.
The mayor who issued the edict explains that the awkward new law is his response to politicians urging him to find a quick fix for a long-lasting problem. The edict has become wildly popular amongst residents, even amongst political opponents of the mayor who issued the law, and was received with a sense of humour from most.
But probably one of the funniest tales I encountered was a story sometimes reported in England stating that it is forbidden for commoners to die in a royal palace, such as the Palace of Westminster, on the grounds that anyone who dies in a royal palace is technically entitled to a state funeral. Sadly, this has been proved to be a myth.
It’s a very strange world we live in, and although life at certain times may appear to be exhausting or unbearable- we ought to cherish it. Mainly because we’d be liable to a fine if we don’t.