A crematorium is a facility built for the purpose of cremating human remains. It may be attached to a cemetery or funeral home, or it may be an entirely separate facility. The size of a crematorium can vary widely, from a facility with a single cremator, also called a retort, to a building which is capable of handling high volumes of cremations. Cremations began to grow in popularity in the twentieth century, especially after the publication of Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death, a searing expose of the American funeral industry.
When a body is brought to a crematorium, it is incinerated in a high temperature furnace to reduce much of the body to ash and large bone fragments. Many facilities grind these bone fragments to make the cremated remains, sometimes called cremains, more uniform, while others leave the ashes plain for religious reasons. The ashes are packaged in a secure container for survivors of the deceased to pick up, or they may be interred in a cemetery or vault.
Depending on the facilities, a crematorium may allow family members to be present during the cremation, or at the start of the procedure. Some facilities even include small chapels or meditation rooms, and they may accommodate religious services as well. In other cases, a crematorium is closed to the general public, usually because it handles a high volume of remains from a large surrounding area.
Many religions have practiced cremation for centuries, especially in Asia. The concept spread to Europe and America slowly at first, until cremation became one of the preferred methods of disposal for a body. People choose cremation for a wide number of reasons, ranging from a belief that it is more environmentally friendly to a desire to bring down the overall cost of a funeral. The rise in demand for cremation led, naturally, to an increase in crematoria.
As is the case with a funeral home or any other facility which handles human remains, the operations at a crematorium are governed by an assortment of laws, and the crematorium may also be subject to inspection. These laws are designed to ensure that cremations are safe and hygienic, while also promoting a respectful attitude towards the dead. Many regions of the world have banned multiple cremations, for example, and the law also usually specifies the required temperature for the furnace as well. Regulation and regular inspection are designed to ensure that crematoria operate responsibly, within the bounds of the law and human decency.