The first crematorium in Moscow was actually a converted church: the Seraphim Cathedral at Donskoi Monastery.

The Seraphim Cathedral of Donskoi Cemetery. Locations marked “1” (i.e. the former altar) were converted into cremation ovens. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The crematorium was opened on October 6, 1927. At the time of the crematorium’s opening, its boss Pyotr Ilyich Nesterenko actually lived in an apartment inside the building. That same year a society was formed to monitor and advertise cremation: the Society for Development and Advancement of Ideas Relating to Cremation and of Practical Assistance in Realizing Burial by Cremation Across All the Territory of the Union (shortened to ORRIK based on the Russian abbreviation). ORRIK held informational meetings at workers’ clubs, brought community members on tours of the crematorium, and even published cremation-themed greeting cards. Eventually, however, free tours of the cremation ovens were cancelled after a visitor was so startled by the sight of burning flesh that he or she died from the shock.

Vladimir Mayakovsky. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Among the famous people cremated at Donskoi was the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, who committed suicide in 1930 after his work was scorned by the State. Despite his unpopularity with the government, the cathedral/crematorium was packed with people for his communist funeral, which featured the communist anthem “Internationale” and a funereal wreath made of hammers and other workers’ tools.