Sweden opens first cemetery free of religious symbols

Crosses - or indeed any religious markers - will be banned from the graveyard

Story highlights

  • It's open to believers and non-believers
  • But all marks of religion are banned

(CNN)Sweden has opened its first neutral cemetery, free of any religious symbols, to cater to the country's large number of atheists.

The founder of the site in Borlänge, in central Sweden, said it is open to believers and non-believers alike as long as they don't have any religious symbols or markings on their headstones.
    "The idea came up because I wanted to have a neutral place for people," said Josef Erdem, a teacher, who got permission for the new burial ground from the Church of Sweden.
    The site is next to the Stora Tuna church, which already has a graveyard for Christians. Applications are now open for spaces there, which will be maintained by the church.
    The non-religious cemetery is located next to the Church of Sweden's Stora Tuna church
    "If, for example, you're a family that has both Muslims and Christians and want all your family together, you don't want any symbols in the cemetery," explained Erdem, in an interview translated into English by his son, Jian Erdem.
    "There will still be the opportunity for the families to choose whatever they want. It cannot be religious but it is up to them how they want to decorate their plot," he said.
    Erdem said the response has been positive.
    "People appreciated this idea a lot. It will be a cemetery for everybody," he said. "Maybe they don't pray in church or go to a mosque -- they should have a place."
    Josef Erdem, a teacher and local politician, felt there should be a cemetery for everybody
    Erdem, 57, is a Kurd who has lived in Sweden for more than 30 years. He is involved in local politics Borlänge, as a member of the Social Democrats.
    He explained that the majority of his relations are Muslim but some are Christian. He, himself, holds no religious views.
    The Swedish people are the least religious in the western world according to a survey last year by Gallup International and the WI Network of Market Research.
    About 80 percent of respondents said they are either not religious or convinced atheists. The only country to score higher was Communist-controlled China.