Potter's field

A potter's field, paupers' grave or common grave is a place for the burial of unknown or indigent people. "Potter's field" is of Biblical origin,[1] referring to Akeldama (meaning field of blood in Aramaic), stated to have been purchased, with the coins that had been paid to Judas Iscariot for his identification of Jesus, after Judas' suicide, by the high priests of Jerusalem. The priests are stated to have acquired it for the burial of strangers, criminals, and the poor, the coins paid to Judas being considered blood money. Prior to Akeldama's use as a burial ground, it had been a site where potters collected its high-quality, deeply red clay for the production of ceramics, thus the name potters' field.

A trench at the potter's field on Hart Island, circa 1890 by Jacob Riis
A trench at the potter's field on Hart Island, New York, circa 1890 by Jacob Riis
Dunn County Potter's Field graves.jpeg
Potter's field in Dunn County, Wisconsin


The term "potter's field" comes from Matthew 27:3-27:8 in the New Testament of the Bible, in which Jewish priests take 30 pieces of silver returned by a remorseful Judas:

Then Judas, who betrayed him, seeing that he was condemned, repenting himself, brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and ancients, saying: "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood." But they said: "What is that to us? Look thou to it." And casting down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed, and went and hanged himself with a halter. But the chief priests, having taken the pieces of silver, said: "It is not lawful to put them into the corbona, because it is the price of blood." And after they had consulted together, they bought with them the potter's field, to be a burying place for strangers. For this the field was called Haceldama, that is, the field of blood, even to this day.[2]

The site referred to in these verses is traditionally known as Akeldama, in the valley of Hinnom, which was a source of potters' clay. After the clay was removed, such a site would be left unusable for agriculture and thus might as well become a graveyard for those who could not be buried in an orthodox cemetery. This may be the origin of the name.[3] A field where potters dug for clay would also be "conveniently already full of trenches and holes."[4]

The author of Matthew was drawing on earlier Biblical references to potters' fields. The passage continues, with verses 9 and 10:

Then what the prophet Jeremiah had said came true: "They took the thirty silver coins, the amount the people of Israel had agreed to pay for him, and used the money to buy the potter's field, as the Lord had commanded me."

This is based on a quotation from Zechariah (Zechariah 11:12-13). However, Matthew attributes the quote to Jeremiah. The author of Matthew may have been mistaken. There are two other possible reasons for the reference. First, Jeremiah also speaks of buying a field, in Jeremiah 32:6-15. That field is a symbol of hope, not despair as mentioned in Matthew, and the price is 17 pieces of silver. The author of Matthew could have combined the words of Zechariah and Jeremiah, while only citing the "major" prophet. Secondly, "Jeremiah" was sometimes used to refer to the Books of the Prophets in toto as "The Law" is sometimes used to refer to Moses' five books – Genesis through Deuteronomy, the Pentateuch.

Craig Blomberg suggests that the use of the blood money to buy a burial ground for foreigners in Matthew 27:7 may hint at the idea that "Jesus' death makes salvation possible for all the peoples of the world, including the Gentiles."[5] Other scholars do not read the verse as referring to Gentiles, but rather to Jews who are not native to Jerusalem.[6]


Popular culture

  • Hart Island, New York, the Potter's Field in New York City, is featured in the film Don't Say a Word. The independent documentary Hart Island: An American Cemetery by Melinda Hunt also concerns Hart Island.
  • It is now confirmed that the child actor Bobby Driscoll (Peter Pan, 1953) is buried in Potter's Field on Hart Island in New York, being unidentified at the time of his burial.[10] This is also loosely referenced in Law & Order: Criminal Intent in the episode "Blasters".
  • In the HBO drama Oz, "Potter's Field" is the name for the cemetery where deceased prisoners with no next-of-kin or whose remains are unclaimed are buried.
  • In the 1953 film Pickup on South Street, the character Moe Williams' (Thelma Ritter) sole motivation for work is to save money in order to prevent a possible burial in Potter's Field.
  • In Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, Jean Valjean is buried in Potter's Field.
  • From Potter's Field is a novel by Patricia Cornwell.
  • The Potter's Field is the name of the seventeenth chronicle in the series of Brother Cadfael detective books by Ellis Peters, later turned into a television episode.
  • Potter's Field is the title of a 3 issue limited comic book series (plus a one shot) written by Mark Waid and published by Boom! Studios about an anonymous investigator who takes it upon himself to discover the identities of those buried on Hart Island.
  • A potter's field is featured in Neil Gaiman's novel The Graveyard Book. One of the characters, Liza Hempstock, is a witch who was buried in a potter's field next to Nobody Owens' graveyard.
  • Potter's Field is an album by the rock band 12 Stones.
  • "No Eagle Lies in Potter's Field" is the name of a song by the rock band On A Pale Horse.
  • "Potter's Field" is the name of a song by the American Thrash metal band Anthrax from their 1993 album Sound of White Noise.
  • Railroad Earth has a song called "Potter's Field" on their self-titled 2010 album.
  • "Potter's Field" is a song by alternative band Mono Inc.
  • Tom Waits makes references to Potter's Field in several of his songs.
  • On the title track to Johnny Cash's album American IV: The Man Comes Around, the lyrics include a reference to "the potter's ground" as a metaphor for dying without salvation.
  • In the long-running MUD GemStone IV, an area called the "Potter's Field" is the primary spawn area for zombies. The area's descriptions are, indeed, of a long-disused graveyard for the indigent and unknown.
  • Similarly, in City of Villains a massive graveyard called "Potter's Field" is a place where zombies spawn, while magicians use the area for necromantic rituals.
  • American bluegrass band Blue Highway mentions a Potter's field as Ottie's final resting place in the song "Clay and Ottie".
  • The name of the American noise rock band A Place to Bury Strangers describes a potter's field.
  • The Venture Compound in The Venture Brothers has a potter's field containing dead henchmen, as well as the bodies of a succession of clones Dr. Thaddeus Venture had made of his accident- and danger-prone sons. Hank and Dean Venture remembered their father telling them to avoid a spooky house on the edge of their property, "Mr. Potter's house". However the actual inhabitant, a reclusive scientist named Ben, told Dean Venture that no one named "Mr. Potter" had ever lived there, and theorized that Dean's father had actually called it "potter's field", because he and his father used the field in front of the house to bury the massive number of supervillains and henchmen who died on the compound over the decades, and hide the clone bodies to prevent others (including the Venture boys themselves) from learning that the original Hank and Dean were dead.
  • The term was used by Saul Berenson in the Series Homeland Episode 7 to describe where Raqim Faisel would be buried.
  • Over the Garden Wall features a town called Pottsfield, which is the residence of dead spirits.
  • In the novella Prisoner 489 by Joe R. Lansdale, in the potter's field behind the prison the headstones are only marked with the number in the order the condemned were executed.
  • In the film It's a Wonderful Life, Potter's Field is Henry F. Potter's housing development intended for those too poor to live in his slums. He eventually loses Potter's Field tenants to George Bailey's nicer, more affordable Bailey Park.
  • Joanna Newsom makes reference to the term in the song Sapokanikan, from her album Divers.
  • ’The Potter’s Field’ is the title of one of the episodes from the fifth TV series of Montalbano.
  • In the tenth episode of the fifth season of Person of Interest, "When the World Went Away" the character Root makes reference to "the most principled corpse in Potter's Field." After her death, she is briefly interred in one (presumably Hart Island) before being disinterred in a search for her modified cochlear implant.
  • The third act's climax of Gideon's Sword by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child takes place on Hart Island. The book mentions the burial fields extensively. Preston has a blog post in their website about his own experience at Hart Island during a research trip.
  • Potter's Field is the location where Mike "Meathead" Stivic suggests to his father in law Archie Bunker to bury his Cousin Oscar in an episode of All In The Family.
  • In the 2017 film, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the character Kylo Ren informs Rey that her parents are buried in paupers' graves in the middle of the desert of the planet of Jakku.
  • In the 2017 musical, The View UpStairs, the character Patrick refers to being buried in a Potter's field after being killed in the arson attack on the UpStairs Lounge.

See also


  1. ^ Dictionary.com. Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/potters field (accessed: December 24, 2014).
  2. ^ Douay-Rheims Bible
  3. ^ R. T. France, The Gospel According to Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary, Eerdmans (1985), page 386
  4. ^ Bahde, Thomas (30 December 2016). "The Common Dust of Potter's Field". 06 (04). Retrieved 30 December 2016 – via Common-Place.
  5. ^ Craig L. Blomberg, "Matthew," in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 97.
  6. ^ Brown, Raymond. The Death of the Messiah. Yale University Press, Dec 1, 1998 pg. 646
  7. ^ "Hidden Truths: Potter's Field". Retrieved 30 December 2016.
  8. ^ Hart Island; Melinda Hunt and Joel Sternfeld; ISBN 3-931141-90-X
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-05-15. Retrieved 2009-04-05.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ Risen, Clay. "Hart Island - The Morning News". Retrieved 30 December 2016.

External links


Akeldama (Aramaic: חקל דמא or ח𐡒𐡋 𐡃𐡌𐡀 Ḥaqel D'ma, field of blood) is the Aramaic name for a place in Jerusalem associated with Judas Iscariot, one of the original twelve apostles of Jesus.

Bedford Falls (It's a Wonderful Life)

Bedford Falls (or Pottersville) is the fictional town in which Philip Van Doren Stern's 1943 short booklet, The Greatest Gift, and RKO Pictures' 1946 film adaptation, It's a Wonderful Life, are set.

Evergreen Cemetery (Los Angeles)

Evergreen Memorial Park & Crematory is a cemetery in the East Side neighborhood of Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, California.

Evergreen has several prominent individuals of historical Southern California on its grounds. Many pioneers are interred here, names such as Bixby, Coulter, Hollenbeck, Lankershim, Van Nuys, and Workman. There are politicians, notably former Mayors of Los Angeles. The Garden of the Pines section of the cemetery is a memorial to Japanese Issei pioneers.

From Potter's Field

From Potter's Field is a crime fiction novel by Patricia Cornwell. It is the sixth book in the Dr. Kay Scarpetta series.

Hart Island (Bronx)

Hart Island, sometimes referred to as Hart's Island, is an island in the northeast Bronx, New York City, at the western end of Long Island Sound. It is approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) long by 1⁄3 mile (0.54 km) wide and is in the Pelham Islands group, to the east of City Island.The first public use of Hart Island was to train United States Colored Troops in 1864. Since then, the island has been a location for a Union Civil War prison camp, a psychiatric institution, a tuberculosis sanatorium, a potter's field, a homeless shelter, a boys' reformatory, a jail, and a drug rehabilitation center. Several other structures, such as an amusement park, were planned for Hart Island but not built. During the Cold War, Nike defense missiles were also stationed on Hart Island. The island was used as a prison and a homeless shelter intermittently until 1967, and the last inhabited structures were abandoned in 1977. The island now serves as the city's potter's field and is run by the New York City Department of Correction.

More than one million people are buried on Hart Island though, since the first decade of the 21st century, there are fewer than 1,500 burials a year. Those interred on Hart Island include individuals that have not been claimed by their families, the homeless and the indigent. Access to the island is restricted: the only method of access is by ferryboat, family members of those interred must request access in advance, and the New York City government only allows 50 to 70 visitors per month as of 2017. The Hart Island Project, founded in 1994, has assisted families in obtaining copies of public burial records, as well as advocated for easier access to the island.

Hudson County Burial Grounds

The Hudson County Burial Grounds are also known as the Secaucus Potter's Field and Snake Hill Cemetery and it is located in Secaucus, New Jersey.

The cemetery was cleared of bodies to make room for the Secaucus Transfer Station and Exit 15X of the New Jersey Turnpike between 1992-2003. More than 4,000 bodies were disinterred. A few were identified and reburied by their families, but the rest were reinterred in a Hackensack cemetery. (The bodies were to be interred at Hoboken Cemetery, North Bergen, but when pits were dug for the bodies, human remains were found, in what was sold as virgin cemetery space.)

It is estimated that there are another 5,000 or so graves that have not been found, probably lying outside the Secaucus Junction projects construction areas. Some may lie underneath footings and embankments of the New Jersey Turnpike.The bodies were reburied at the Maple Grove Park Cemetery in Hackensack, New Jersey. The last body was removed from the cemetery on October 31, 2003. The remains of 4,572 were transferred. The Register of Burials listed interments between December 31, 1880, and April 12, 1962, but those within the removal area were from between 1920 and 1962. The cemetery served the insane asylum and the poor house that later became the Meadowview Psychiatric Hospital.

Newark City Cemetery

Newark City Cemetery, also known as Newark Municipal Graveyard and Floral Rest, in Newark, New Jersey is disused potter's field, or cemetery for the indigent. It was in use from 1869 until the early 1950s.An 1889 report of the Department of Health of the State of New Jersey found with respect to the no-longer extant Clinton Township, which once included he area: "There are two cemeteries, or burial-places, in the township — Clinton cemetery, in the village and upon the banks of Elizabeth river, and Newark potter's field, down in the salt meadow section". Located in Dayton neighborhood near Newark Airport and is prominently visible from the monorail serving it.The city began using the cemetery as a dump in 1954, until it was order to restore it in 1998.The area has been restored, but as of 2010 it is closed to the public.

Oak Hill Cemetery (Birmingham, Alabama)

Oak Hill Cemetery, located just north of downtown, is Birmingham, Alabama's oldest cemetery. Originally 21.5 acres (87,000 m2) on the estate of James M. Ware, it was already a burial ground by April 1869 when it served as the resting place for the infant daughter of future mayor Robert H. Henley. It was marked as "City Cemetery" on the original plats for Birmingham laid out by the Elyton Land Company and was formally sold to the city on December 29, 1873 for the sum of $1,073.50.

Most of the 10,000 or so burials at Oak Hill were interred before 1930, including nine of the ten landholders who founded the city, many early mayors, a Revolutionary soldier, numerous American Civil War veterans, and the first male child born in the city. Although few records exist from the time, most believe the "Potter's Field" section was also used as the final resting place for many victims of the 1873 cholera epidemic.

In 1889 Judge A. O. Lane purchased 200 acres (0.8 km2) on the southern slopes of Red Mountain (Birmingham, Alabama), now Lane Park, for the burial of paupers, thereby ending the use of Oak Hill's "Potter's Field". In 1928 the caretaker's cottage near the center of the property, was removed to the southwest corner of the cemetery and a new "Pioneer's Memorial Building" was constructed of Indiana limestone, designed by Miller & Martin Architects with William Kessler, landscape architect.In 1977, Oak Hill Cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Oak Hill Memorial Association keeps an office in the former caretaker's cottage and published a quarterly newsletter, the Oak Hill Pioneer, from Winter 1999 to Fall 2006, with articles about the history of the city in the context of the lives of those buried at Oak Hill.

Oakland Cemetery (Atlanta)

Oakland Cemetery is one of the largest cemetery green spaces, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. Founded as Atlanta Cemetery in 1850 on six acres (2.4 hectares) of land southeast of the city, it was renamed in 1872 to reflect the large number of oak and magnolia trees growing in the area. By that time, the city had grown and the cemetery had enlarged correspondingly to the current 48 acres (190,000 m2). Since then, Atlanta has continued to expand so that the cemetery is now located in the center of the city. Oakland is an excellent example of a Victorian-style cemetery, and reflects the "garden cemetery" movement started and exemplified by Mount Auburn Cemetery in Massachusetts.

The original 6 acres (24,000 m2) of Oakland remains one of the oldest historical plots of land in Atlanta, most of the rest of the city having been burned in 1864. Because of its age and location, the cemetery directly reflects the history and changing culture of the City of Atlanta and the significant events it has seen. Names of Atlanta streets, buildings, parks, subdivisions, and more can be found within the cemetery gates. An estimated 70,000 people are interred at Oakland, and while the last plots were sold in 1884, there are still regular burials today. These are largely conducted on family-owned plots or areas owned by Atlanta (one of the most recent being former mayor Maynard Jackson, whose plot was contributed by the city).

Potter's Field (Omaha)

The Potter's Field Cemetery in Omaha, Nebraska, United States is located on a 5-acre (20,000 m2) plot of land at 5000 Young Street near the intersections of Young Street and Mormon Bridge Road. Like all Potter's Fields, it was used to bury poor people or people with no known identity from across the Omaha area. The cemetery was active from 1887 to 1957.

Potter's Field (album)

Potter's Field is the second album by American rock band 12 Stones. It was released on August 24, 2004. The album debuted on the Billboard 200 at No. 29, making it the band's highest charting album.

The Potter's Field (Camilleri novel)

The Potter's Field (orig. Italian Il campo del vasaio) is a 2008 novel by Andrea Camilleri, translated into English in 2011 by Stephen Sartarelli. It is the thirteenth novel in the internationally popular Inspector Montalbano series.

The Potter's Field (Peters novel)

The Potter's Field is a medieval mystery novel by Ellis Peters set in August to December 1143. It is the 17th volume of the Cadfael Chronicles and was first published in 1989.

It was adapted for television in 1998 by Carlton Media and Central for ITV.

The hastily buried body of a young woman is found in a newly tilled field recently given to the Benedictine abbey in a land exchange. Uneasiness pushes Cadfael to find the whole truth behind this unexpected discovery.

The Trench in Potter's Field

The Trench in Potter's Field refers to an 1890 photograph depicting a trench used as a mass grave for tenement residents who died during the period of mass immigration in New York.

Thirty pieces of silver

Thirty pieces of silver was the price for which Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus, according to an account in the Gospel of Matthew 26:15 in the New Testament. Before the Last Supper, Judas is said to have gone to the chief priests and agreed to hand over Jesus in exchange for 30 silver coins, and to have attempted to return the money afterwards, filled with remorse.

The Gospel of Matthew claims that the subsequent purchase of the Potter's field was fulfilment, by Jesus, of a prophecy of Zechariah.The image has often been used in artwork depicting the Passion of Christ. The phrase is used in literature and common speech to refer to people "selling out", compromising a trust, friendship, or loyalty for personal gain.

Wallabout Bay

Wallabout Bay is small body of water in Upper New York Bay along the northwest shore of the New York City borough of Brooklyn, between the present Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges, opposite Corlear's Hook on Manhattan to the west, across the East River. Wallabout Bay is now the site of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The nearby neighborhood of Wallabout, dating back to the 17th century, is adjacent to the bay. The neighborhood is a mixed use area with an array of old wood frame buildings, public housing, brick townhouses, and warehouses; it is bounded by Navy Street to the west, the Brooklyn Navy Yard to the north, Myrtle Avenue to the south, and Classon Avenue to the east, and contains the historic Lefferts-Laidlaw House, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.The name of this curved bay on the western end of "Lang Eylandt" (Long Island) comes from the Dutch "Waal bocht", which means "Walloons' Bend", named for its first European settlers: the Walloons, from what is today Wallonia.

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.