Nondenominational Crematorium and Memory Garden to Open in Capital Area

site for crematorium, garðabær

Tré lífsins (‘Tree of Life’), a private organization that seeks to provide alternative, nondenominational, and environmentally friendly end-of-life services will be opening a crematorium and ‘Memory Garden’ in the capital-area municipality of Garðabær, RÚV reports. Founder Sigríður Bylgja Sigurjónsdóttir says that now that permits have been approved, fundraising for the project is the next major step. She hopes that the crematorium and funeral facilities will be up and running within three years.

As part of its efforts to get the project approved by local authorities, Tré lífsins has resurrected the Icelandic Cremation Association, which previously operated from 1934-1964. The association established a crematorium in Fossvogur at the time, and Tré lífsins had hoped to take over that facility. It was not equipped with any emissions control equipment, however, and negotiations had stalled. In the end, it was simply easier to apply for an entirely new facility to be built.

“We’ve experienced a great deal of good will toward the project and felt that the need for this is significant,” remarked Sigríður, who says that 50% of Icelanders are opting for cremation in lieu of traditional burials these days. She adds that she expects that the number of cremations will increase in Iceland in the coming years.

Services at Tré lífsins will be available to individuals regardless of their religious beliefs or views. Sigríður says there is a great need for spaces that are open to everyone for various activities in times of happiness or grief.

“So for people who maybe don’t want to have a traditional ceremony in a church or something else that is available, we want to have options. But of course, also for everyone, regardless of whether people are Christian, pagan, or anything else.”

Per the Tré lífsins website, services will be restricted at the beginning to those with Icelandic citizenship or permanent residence. The Memory Garden will stand in lieu of a traditional cemetery: “After the cremation people can choose to plant their ashes with a tree in a Memory Garden where the tree will grow up as a living memory of a loved one.”

Demand for Ash Scattering on the Rise

Applications for ash scattering in Iceland have increased substantially in recent years. The District Magistrate’s Office received 50 applications in 2018. Close to half of the applicants were foreign citizens who do not permanently reside in Iceland, RÚV reports.

There’s an ever-increasing number of people who choose to burn their earthly remains once they have passed away. The same is also true of relatives who wish to scatter the ashes of the deceased. People have applied to scatter ashes in beautiful locations such as Reynisfjara, Gullfoss, and Skógafoss, to name a few. However, the scattering of ashes is prohibited in these places. Halldór Þormar Halldórsson, from the District Magistrate in North-East Iceland in Siglufjörður, explains that certain criteria have to be met.

“It’s evaluated in each case, but it’s preferable to head to mountainous areas without people. The law states that it is expected that ashes should not be scattered close to populated areas. It has been interpreted that it is therefore permitted to scatter ashes at sea and in uninhabited areas, in places where there is no traffic, far away from populated areas.”, Halldór stated in an interview with RÚV.

The increased of travellers heading to Iceland in recent years has led to an increased interest in scattering ashes in Icelandic nature. “We’ve heard many different explanations. People have visited the country, or seen pictures of the Northern Lights who are excited by the idea of Iceland. In some cases, it is folks who have visited Iceland as travellers, either the deceased or his close relatives. It’s mainly folks from the United States, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, as well as a little from the Netherlands, who are interested in it,” Halldór said.

A sacred resting place in Eyjafjörður?
There have been ideas afoot to established a sacred resting place in the middle of Eyjafjörður fjord, where people have permission to scatter the ashes of their relatives. Halldór believes that the idea needs to be inspected to ensure the laws about scattering ashes are followed. “There’s nothing that bans people from scattering ashes wherever in the sea, as long as it is not within harbour areas. But if we are talking about one specific place where people want to scatter ashes, then people will always to apply for permission for that. I can’t envision a reason to stop people from scattering ash more in a specific place, rather than any other place. However, it is stated in the law that it is forbidden to label or distinguish the place, but it is out on the sea so it could be marked out by GPS coordinates,” Halldór stated.