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In the not-so-good old days, there used to be an annexe to the Christian cemetery, called Rogue Pit in some places, where members who had commited suicide or had lived sinful public life would be burried. These days, such annexe is hard to come by. I wish to know whether the Catholic Church has officially stopped segregating a part of the cemetery to be used as Rogue Pit, or has the practice tapered off without invervention of of the Church authorities .

  • Could you give us a link to a source about this 'rogue pit' practice? – DJClayworth Jan 26 at 17:21
  • @DJClayworth The closest I could find is, from OED "pit" 5.a. {"A hole dug in the ground for a dead body; a grave; (now chiefly) a mass grave."}: "1716 J. Perry State of Russia 155 The Trunks of their Bodies..were order'd to be..cast into a Pit with common Rogues and Thieves." – Geremia Jan 26 at 21:56
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See 1983 Code of Canon Law can. 1184 (cf. 1917 Code can. 1240 and Dom Augustine's commentary on it):

Can. 1184 §1. Unless they gave some signs of repentance before death, the following must be deprived of ecclesiastical funerals [and thus also burials in Catholic cemeteries]:

1/ notorious apostates, heretics, and schismatics;

2/ those who chose the cremation of their bodies for reasons contrary to Christian faith;

3/ other manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful.

Those who "commited suicide or had lived sinful public life" and died impenitent cannot be buried in Catholic cemeteries.

I've never heard of the term "rogue pits," but if they exist, they couldn't be on Catholic cemetery grounds.

  • Well, let me explain. In the southern Indian state of Kerala where one fourth of the population is Christian, every church has a graveyard attached to it. Since the space allotted to the graveyard is too small to accommodate family graves for all the parishners, old graves are digged up to make way for new ones, and the skeletal remains of the ones buried earlier are deposited in a small enclosure atached to the graveyard. Those who are denied permission to be burried in the consecrated cemetery are burried in such enclosures. – Kadalikatt Joseph Sibichan Jan 29 at 14:57
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Do the Rogue Pits of cemeteries still exist?

The rogue pits that once existed were outside consecrated land and not part of a Catholic cemetery.

"Denying sacramental rites to detractors has been an age-old practice in the church to settle scores," explained C.I. Issac, a historian and member of the Indian Council of Historical Research.

"Earlier there used to be what was called rogue pits, dug on land immediately outside the main cemetery, to bury those branded as heretics and those who had committed suicide.... Those buried in rogue pits were denied the sacramental rites a Christian is entitled to upon death. It was the greatest insult a Christian could be subjected to."

Among those who ended up in such pits was Malayalam litterateur M.P. Paul in 1952. Paul, a torchbearer of the progressive literature movement, had challenged the orthodoxy of the church.

With time, the rogue pit became a thing of the past but what followed was a more "plebeian" form of boycott - as in the case of Mary John. - CHURCH RULES AND BURIAL CHOICE

Rouge Pits are not the same thing as receiving vaults which are still somewhat common in cemeteries that have harsh cold winters. Less common in modern cemetaries, they can still be found here and there.

A receiving vault or receiving tomb, sometimes also known as a public vault, is a structure designed to temporarily store dead bodies in winter months when the ground is too frozen to dig a permanent grave in a cemetery. Technological advancements in excavation, embalming, and refrigeration have rendered the receiving vault obsolete. - Receiving vault

Front of a receiving vault in Marion, Ohio, United States

Front of a receiving vault in Marion, Ohio, United States

This whole question of rouge pits reminds me of the story of Pope St. Gregory the Great and how he refused to bury a monk because he broke the rule in regards to poverty.

St. Gregory had distinguished himself for his affectionate goodness toward the monks of his monastery, but he also followed the demands of the Rule with a scrupulous severity. In the books of his Dialogues, St. Gregory relates the story of the death of one of his monks, Justus. Three gold coins were found in the monk’s cell, and since this was against their vow of poverty, St. Gregory ordered his body to be tossed on the dunghill instead of buried properly. The coins were thrown on the body in the presence of all the religious, who took turns repeating aloud: “May your money perish with you” (Acts 8:20). Afterward, mercy won over the heart of Abbot Gregory and he ordered, “See to it that for thirty days the Holy Sacrifice [of the Mass] be offered for Justus and that not one day be missed in which the Holy Victim be immolated for his intention” asking God for the liberation of his poor soul from Purgatory. On the thirtieth day, St. Gregory learned of the liberation of Justus’ soul and the efficacy of those thirty Masses through a private revelation.

St. Gregory, inflamed with a very ardent charity for the souls in Purgatory, lamented that after his death he would not be able to do anything else for them. Our Lord responded, “My Friend, I want to grant in your favor a privilege that will be unique. All souls in Purgatory, for whom thirty Masses are offered in your honor and without interruption, will immediately be saved however great may be their debt toward Me.”

The practice of having Gregorian Masses offered for the deceased has remained a custom of the faithful for centuries. The shortage of Priests, the majority of whom are occupied in parish ministries, often makes the celebration of the Gregorian Masses impossible. - Gregorian Masses

Rogue pits is a fancy name for designating the place of burial for those who could not be buried in consecrated ground.

The Execution and Burial of Criminals in Early Medieval England, c. 850-1150

ABSTRACT

In later Anglo-Saxon England, executed offenders and, probably also, other social deviants were separated from the rest of the community in death. They were buried in cemeteries far from settlements but in raised landscapes which would have been visible from frequented areas – so-called ‘execution cemeteries’. However, from the second half of the eleventh century, these deviant cemeteries appear to have fallen out of use.

Deviant Burial

Deviant burials are those burials with abnormal traits outside of the normative range of funerary rituals. In early medieval England these normative traits are those discussed previously: burial in consecrated land, or at least within churchyards, orientated west-east and laid supine with the limbs extended. Some of the early thoughts on deviant burials were quite imaginative, suggesting irregularities were due to the undertaker being lazy or even drunk (Aspöck 2008, 23-24 citing Leeds and Harden 1936, 39 and Rolleston 1869, 477 respectively). Most recent scholarship has suggested a more deliberate lack of respect or even purposeful unusual positioning (see for instance Cherryson 2008; Reynolds 2009). (Page54)

The execution cemetery

Andrew Reynolds’ recent work has reviewed deviant burial as a sign of judicial punishment in Anglo-Saxon England. Reynolds (2009) has identified and catalogued the phenomenon of the Anglo-Saxon execution cemetery, or cwealmstow, literally meaning death place or killing place. The basic concept of the execution cemetery is not an entirely novel one; it had previously been introduced on occasion as an explanation for sites with unusual forms of burial. Many of the burial types discussed by Reynolds are those same ‘deviant’ types detailed by Helen Geake: decapitation, prone burial, bound limbs and mutilation. Reynolds’ most significant contributions, in building on this earlier work, have been to compile a gazetteer of a number of exemplar sites and to create a site typology for execution cemeteries. (Page 59)

Rouge pits and execution cemeteries are simply terms that a cemetery that had not been consecrated for Christian burial. The dunghill of St. Gregory is an example of this also. Sinners were at one time not permitted to be buried in consecrated ground. There is no need for such cemeteries now, as civil cemeteries are not consecrated by the Church. Individual plots are blessed in such cemeteries in modern times.

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