Capsula Mundi Burial Pods: An Interview 3

Capsula Mundi

Capsula Mundi is an Italian company aiming to redesign the way in which we bury the deceased. The two founders, Anna Citelli and Raoul Bretzel looked at the codified position that the coffin and the tombstone play in our Western society, and approached it with a fresh perspective, one which they believe is more eco-friendly and personal than our current method of committing a body to the earth.

The Capsula Mundi is an egg-shaped pod into which the body is placed in the foetal position. This pod then germinates and grows into a tree; a living memorial to the person we’ve lost.

Keen to find out more about a proposition that bears all of the hallmarks of a revolutionary approach to burial, we caught up with Anna & Raoul to discuss how their project has been received, and what hurdles they face to bring the Capsula Mundi into the mainstream.


Capsula Mundi Burial PodsRead first:

How to arrange an eco-funeral

If you’re keen for an eco-funeral, you may wish to take out a funeral plan to ensure that your funeral wishes are recorded. Or if you’re looking to arrange a green funeral, start by finding your local funeral director who offers this service.


 

How did the idea for Capsula Mundi initially come up?

Capsula Mundi tree burial podsAs designers by trade, we believe that design can be applied as a solution for improving not only everyday objects, but also to projects that have a cultural impact on society at large. We started to think about how death was entirely left out of the design world. Death is often dealt with as a taboo, even though it has a very high environmental impact. Capsula Mundi comes from these reflections. It has the aim of fundamentally changing the cultural approach to death and to comply with a holistic vision: after dying we’ll still be part of the cycle of life and we should leave behind a positive legacy for our loved ones and for the future of the Earth.

 

What has the public reaction been like to your product?

Capsula Mundi burial pod treeAt the first exhibition of Capsula Mundi we were afraid of how the public would react. But actually many people who approached our stand got curious about this strange brown egg suspended in a completely white room, with a green tree on the top and they asked us, smiling: “What’s this?” We would reply, “A coffin!” and we could see the expression on their faces changing suddenly! But when we explained the whole project to them, a radiant expression would come back onto their faces! Everybody was enthusiastic and fascinated. We think that people need to be free from the taboo of death that weighs on the Occidental culture, like an immovable stone, and from the reaction that we’ve had, it seems that people are open to a paradigm shift in this area.



How are the pods/cocoons made? What are they made from?

capsula mundi urnThe pods are made from a fully biodegradable bio-polymer. We use a production technique that requires human hands, so that each Capsula Mundi burial pod is unique, and has that human touch to it.

The body pod is at the moment still in a conceptual phase. We need to do some further legal and scientific research on it. We have, however developed an ‘urn,’ which is a Capsula in a smaller size for ashes, and is available for sale through our website.

 

Are there many legal hurdles to overcome?

Capsula Mundi burial podsIt’s difficult to categorise the legal hurdles which we face, as they differ from country to country, and sometimes even within the same country. Most of the European countries allow the dispersal of ashes, including our country, Italy, but green burial is permitted in only a few.

In England, however, and in the Anglo-Saxon countries in general, green burial is a viable option, a reality.

 

In which countries is the Capsula Mundi available?

Capsula Mundi Ashes

Bearing in mind the legal obstacles (see above), the Capsula Mundi is available anywhere through our website.

 

Do you market the Capsula Mundi to funeral directors, or just to members of the public?

We are currently marketing the Capsula Mundi urns through our website shop. We are always open to those funeral directors who are interested in spreading more trees on our planet getting in touch with us.

 

How do you think we will be burying our dead in the future?

There are more and more human beings on our planet with each day, which leads to the problems of a lack of space, and an ever-increasing environmental footprint. At the same time, funerals are getting more and more expensive. These forces are putting pressure on the traditional way in which funerals are approached, and we believe that in the future there will be more space for ‘unconventional’ options, and certainly for greener options, where people want to return to Nature and respect the environment with their death.

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3 Comments

  1. i love nature, depending on the season and my comfort level. i don’t like summer at all. winter is usually too cold, but if i’m adequately bundled, a not-too-long exposure in not-windy conditions is refreshingly brisk. spring is undoubtedly uplifting and inspiriting. but the season that gets my juices going the most is definitely the Autumn.

    the crisp aromas of Autumn are intoxicatingly spicy, the beauty of the colorful leaves, the burning piles of leaves lending their smoky incense, the beds of raked leaves to jump on (hey, it’s not just for dogs!), the foods of Autumn: fruits and vegetables, casseroles, soups, braises, mulled wine, and cider, and the Janus holiday of Thanks/Friends-giving. nothing compares to Autumn.

    malheureusement, i’m stuck in central Florida. have been for the past decade. and for 30+ years prior to that, it was south Texas and New Orleans. i have mainly the treasured memories of my youth to sustain me. once i die, though, i hope that Capsula Mundi will arrange for my remains to be enclosed in a biodegradable pod and buried in a forested area up in the Northeast, far enough inland to avoid the inundation of rising waters from the Atlantic yet too distant for the parched midlands of prairie fires. on top of my body, CM will then plant a sapling of my choice (yet to be determined, and dependent upon location and eventual stabilized climate). my body will contribute to the nourishment of the baby tree-to-be. i am so excited by the thought of this, that sometimes i honestly cannot wait to be dead and buried!

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Meet the Maker: Cremation Glass Jewellery 0

Glassmaker Kenny Scott of Ash Glass Design.

What do you see when you look at this pendant? To the untrained eye, it might look like … a pendant. But to those in the know, it’s something unusual, and completely unique: those flecks and swirls in the glass are made from the ashes of someone who has died.

In fact, the necklace is just one item in a range of mourning jewellery and sculpture created by glassmaker Kenny Scott and his team at Ash Glass Design. Based in the picturesque village of Clovenfords in the Scottish Borders, Kenny and co. craft bespoke cremation glass jewellery for families who want a subtle way to carry their loved one’s ashes with them.

So, how does one become a cremation glassmaker, exactly, and how is cremation glass actually made? To find out more about this relatively new answer to the question of what to do with ashes, we had a chat with Kenny …

 

How did Ash Glass Design get started?

Kenny began his career at the tender age of 16, leaving school to take on a five-year apprenticeship in making glass from scratch. 20 years later, he was creating glasswork for museums and clients when he received an unusual request:

“One of my friends who’s a funeral director approached me and asked if I would make a memorial pendant for someone using ashes”, Kenny told Beyond. While at first Kenny wasn’t sure (he describes it as “a wee bit of a Marmite moment”) the family was so pleased with the result that he immediately realised that he wanted to do it again.

“After I made the pendant and met the family, it was the best feeling I’ve ever had when making something for someone”, Kenny explained. “They were so happy, and it’s such a precious thing that you’re making for them, that I thought, ‘Oh, I really like doing this.’

“Basically, that was it: I put a wee range together, and from there it’s kind of grown. I love doing it.”

“Nobody would know what it was other than them, and I think that’s the beauty of it.”

Why do people like cremation jewellery?

CreAsh Glass Design's cremation glass mourning ringmation jewellery isn’t for everyone ­– but while some find the concept morbid, others like the idea of keeping a loved one close in a subtle way. “I speak to all the customers, and I think for them the nicest thing is the fact that they can have their loved one with them all the time, and it’s not in your face. It doesn’t have a big sign saying what it is – it’s just a lovely piece of jewellery”, Kenny said.

“Nobody would know what it was other than them, and I think that’s the beauty of it. Everybody says that they get so much comfort out of having it.”

In Ash Glass Design’s range, rings are the most popular option: “Somebody said to me, it’s like they’re still holding my hand.

“We do lots for weddings as well, my goodness. For somebody who has maybe lost a parent, it’s like [their loved one] can be there on their wedding day. It’s a lovely way to have them with you.”

“There’s always something you want to try and create differently and try and adapt.”

How is cremation glass jewellery made?

The process of making cremation glass jewellery is long and somewhat delicate, with great care taken to make sure the right ashes (“labelled, bagged, boxed, bagged again”, Kenny reports) are used.

At Ash Glass Design, everything is made in-house. After a discussion with the family about the design, Kenny melts their required colour of glass to make a base. He then carefully adds the ashes before sealing it over with clear glass to make a perfect finished surface.

After some time spent in the kiln – it takes a day and a half to gradually cool the hot glass down – the glass is polished down with diamond tools and set into the gold or silver using a traditional technique. Any ashes left over are returned to the family along with the finished piece.

“You have to know the procedures for cooling glass down, how to heat it up, how compatible it is with other materials, so it’s quite a wee science on its own,” Kenny said, adding that “there’s always something you want to try and create differently and try and adapt. You’re always making new designs as well, to stretch the boundaries a bit.”

“I still get phone calls three or four months down the road from some of my customers saying how happy they are, and what it means to them”

Do you take requests?

Because Ash Glass Design is a small company (Kenny, his wife Emma and “amazing” goldsmith Joanna) the team are able to take requests to make each piece of glass unique: “If somebody wants a bespoke colour in their jewellery, we never charge any extra … We do what we can to help folk get what they want. If [a customer] wants something to be adapted somehow, then we look into it for them”, Kenny explained.

“Sometimes it’s not as feasible as they might think initially, but we can talk them through it, and find the best option for them.”

Customers appreciate this personal service: “I still get phone calls three or four months down the road from some of my customers saying how happy they are, and what it means to them. Even a couple of years down the road, we still get them phoning back, asking how we are. It’s lovely.”


Want to find out more about Ash Glass Design? Check out their website, www.ashglassdesign.co.uk, give the team a ring on 01896 850447, or contact Kenny at [email protected]


About mourning jewellery …

A Victorian mourning ring with hair sealed into the gold. Image by Charles J Sharp, via Wikimedia Commons.

Mourning jewellery dates back as far as the 1600s, when stern memento mori-themed rings (‘remember that you must die’) were gradually overtaken by more personal tokens of grief. Examples from the British Museum demonstrate how gruff messages like “learn to dye” were replaced by kinder tributes, such as “not lost but gone before” and “not dead but sleepeth”.

At its peak in the Victorian era, mourning jewellery was worn as part of a strict dress code for the bereaved. Mourning rings were joined by broaches and lockets, and were often made with jet (a precious stone that, being black, was thought to be mourning period-appropriate). Many contained a lock of the hair from the person who had died, or a miniature portrait.

Popularity eventually declined as life expectancy increased – by World War One, mourning jewellery was out of vogue. But the desire shared by bereaved families for physical mementos of their loved ones never really went away.

Now, the rise in cremation – 70% of people in the UK choose it over burial – and increasing openness about death are leading to a rise in interest, with companies like Ash Glass Design offering a more contemporary take.

Meet Basil, the UK’s First Funeral Therapy Dog 0

Basil the Beagle, a funeral therapy dog

What makes someone a good fit for bereavement care? Kindness, attentiveness, a lovely glossy coat …

Basil, who puts in his hours in at Clive Pugh Funeral Directors in Abbey Foregate, Shrewsbury, might tell you it’s all three – if he could talk. Basil is, after all, a dog.

In fact, the gentle and unassuming beagle is quite possibly the UK’s first ever funeral therapy dog, working with Clive and Rosalinda Pugh to offer comfort and support to bereaved families.

“People love him because it feels as though they’re coming into a home, as opposed to funeral premises.” Rosalinda told Beyond when we caught up with her recently.

“We hope it’s something that gives a bit of relief to people, even for a very short space of time, when they come to us to arrange the funeral of their loved one.”

Basil the Beagle, a funeral therapy dogOffering paws for thought …

Basil joined the family business in 2016, at the tender age of six. Clive and Rosalinda’s daughter had taken care of Basil since he was a puppy, but she was finding it difficult to give Basil the long walks he loves after having their first grandchild. Clive and Rosalinda were happy to step in.

“With Clive and I both working full time in the business, I said now that Basil is going to live with us, we will have to give him a role.” Rosalinda explained.

“I knew that therapy dogs went into nursing homes and hospitals and I thought that Basil would be perfect in a similar role with us because he’s just such an adorable beagle – so calm and loving.”

Once Rosalinda and Clive started giving families the opportunity to spend time with Basil, they found that he was a perfect fit:

“He started coming to work with us every day, and we let people decide as to whether they wanted him there or not. And it’s just gone from there.”

“We have found that the majority of families are really pleased to have him around, to the extent that we had a funeral recently where the family wanted him to lead the coffin into church. They were thrilled that he was able to be there. I’ve been amazed at the response.”

“We often get letters and cards from families asking us to say hello to Basil or thank him for being there.”

Giving families a hound

Picture supplied by Richard Dawson/Bav Media

What’s the secret to Basil’s success? Recent studies have shown that support animals really do make a difference to the way we feel, lowering blood pressure and releasing mood-boosting hormones.

One study by Goldsmiths University indicated that dogs in particular are compelled to comfort people they think are in distress, and will even approach and nuzzle strangers who are crying in an effort to soothe them.

In a funeral home, this instinct to help can make a real difference to the bereaved. “Basil provides families with unconditional love and support, as well as a subtle distraction from grief,” Rosalinda told Beyond.

“If you’ve ever had an awkward family reunion, you might know that a dog, even then, can brighten up the mood and give people something a little bit light-hearted to talk about. That effect is immediately helpful when you’re arranging a funeral, because people are anxious when they come to see a funeral director. They’re not sure what to expect, and I think Basil just takes a little bit of that stress away.”

“Sometimes people are nervous of going into our Chapel of Rest, but if they have Basil with them, it seems to alleviate that feeling.”

Every dog has his day

It’s not just bereaved families who love Basil – he’s now something of a celebrity. So far, Basil has been featured in a number of national and international newspapers, including The Times, The Express, The Independent, Metro News and even Paris Match. He’s also made an appearance on ITV’s This Morning, where Clive, Rosalinda and Basil were interviewed by Davina McCall and Ore Oduba of Strictly fame.

So, has Basil let all the fame go to his head? Rosalinda says not: “We’re not letting any diva behaviour become evident, if we can help it. Definitely not. But beagles are such loving, affectionate dogs; I think that you can’t go wrong, really.”

“We’ve seen an incredible response. It’s been quite amazing. You have to wonder why somebody didn’t do it a long time ago.”

Want to find out more about Clive Pugh funeral directors, home to the lovely Basil? Check out their profile here on Beyond.