Potter's field
A potter's field was an American term for a place for the burial
A cemetery is a place in which dead bodies and cremated remains are buried. The term "cemetery" implies that the land is specifically designated as a burying ground. Cemeteries in the Western world are where the final ceremonies of death are observed...

 of unknown or indigent people. The expression derives from the Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

, referring to a field used for the extraction of potter's clay, which was useless for agriculture but could be used as a burial site.


The term comes from Matthew 27:3-8 in the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 of the Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

, in which Jewish priests take 30 pieces of silver
Thirty pieces of silver
Thirty pieces of silver was the price for which Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew 26:15 in the Christian New Testament. Before the Last Supper, Judas went to the chief priests and agreed to hand over Jesus in exchange for 30 silver coins...

 returned by a remorseful Judas
Judas Iscariot
Judas Iscariot was, according to the New Testament, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. He is best known for his betrayal of Jesus to the hands of the chief priests for 30 pieces of silver.-Etymology:...

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
Mite box
The term mite box refers to a box that is used to save coins for charitable purposes. Contemporary mite boxes are usually made of cardboard and given out to church congregations during the Lenten season. The mite boxes are collected by the church and donations are given to the poor...

, 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.

The site referred to in these verses is traditionally known as Akeldama, in the valley of Hinnom
Gehenna , Gehinnom and Yiddish Gehinnam, are terms derived from a place outside ancient Jerusalem known in the Hebrew Bible as the Valley of the Son of Hinnom ; one of the two principal valleys surrounding the Old City.In the Hebrew Bible, the site was initially where apostate Israelites and...

, which was a source of potter's clay. Obviously, such a strip-mining site would not then be good for agriculture and 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.

Matthew was drawing on earlier Biblical references to potter's 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 a free quotation from Zechariah
Book of Zechariah
The Book of Zechariah is the penultimate book of the twelve minor prophets in the Hebrew and Christian Bible, attributed to the prophet Zechariah.-Historical context:...

 11:12-13. However Matthew gives the quote to Jeremiah thereby creating confusion. There are two possible reasons for the reference to Jeremiah. Jeremiah also speaks of a "potter's field" in the valley of Hinnom in Jeremiah 19:1-13 as a symbol of despair as mentioned here; and Matthew could have combined the words of the two prophets 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.

Craig Blomberg
Craig Blomberg
Craig L. Blomberg is an American New Testament scholar. Since 1986 he has been Distinguished Professor of the New Testament at Denver Seminary in Colorado.-Life:...

 suggests that the use of the blood money
Blood money (term)
Blood money is money or some sort of compensation paid by an offender or his family group to the family or kin group of the victim.-Particular examples and uses:...

 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."


  • Lincoln Park
    Lincoln Park
    Lincoln Park is an urban park in Chicago, which gave its name to the Lincoln Park, Chicago community area.Lincoln Park may also refer to:-Urban parks:*Lincoln Park , California*Lincoln Park, San Francisco, California...

    , on Chicago
    Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...

    's North Side, found its origin in the 1840s as Chicago City Cemetery. The southernmost portion of the cemetery, where one may now find a number of baseball fields (north of LaSalle Dr., west of North Avenue Beach), was the location of the City Cemetery potter's field from 1843 to 1871. More than 15,000 people, including 4,000 Civil War Rebels, were buried here on marshy land near the water's edge. The baseball fields have occupied these grounds since 1877.
  • Madison Square Park
    Madison Square
    Madison Square is formed by the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Broadway at 23rd Street in the New York City borough of Manhattan. The square was named for James Madison, fourth President of the United States and the principal author of the United States Constitution.The focus of the square is...

    , Washington Square Park
    Washington Square Park
    Washington Square Park is one of the best-known of New York City's 1,900 public parks. At 9.75 acres , it is a landmark in the Manhattan neighborhood of Greenwich Village, as well as a meeting place and center for cultural activity...

     and Bryant Park
    Bryant Park
    Bryant Park is a 9.603 acre privately managed public park located in the New York City borough of Manhattan. It is located between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and between 40th and 42nd Streets in Midtown Manhattan...

     in New York City
    New York City
    New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

     originated as potter's fields. The city's current potter's field, and one of the largest cemeteries in the United States, with at least 800,000 burials, is on Hart Island.
  • Potter's Field was also the name of a small cove of the East River
    East River
    The East River is a tidal strait in New York City. It connects Upper New York Bay on its south end to Long Island Sound on its north end. It separates Long Island from the island of Manhattan and the Bronx on the North American mainland...

     just below the Williamsburg Bridge on the Brooklyn side, where bodies that have been in the river from November through the winter season surface in April as the rising temperature causes them to decompose and rise to the surface. The fluid dynamics of the East River causes a collection of these bodies every year off the docks of Potter's Field.
  • Hudson County Burial Grounds
    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 between 1992-2003...

  • Washington Square (Philadelphia)
    Washington Square (Philadelphia)
    Washington Square, originally designated in 1682 as Southeast Square, is an open-space park in Center City Philadelphia's Southeast quadrant and one of the five original planned squares laid out on the city grid by William Penn's surveyor, Thomas Holme. It is part of both the Washington Square West...

  • Potter's Field (Omaha)
    Potter's Field (Omaha)
    The Potters Field Cemetery in Omaha, Nebraska is located on a 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...

     in Omaha, Nebraska
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Omaha is the largest city in the state of Nebraska, United States, and is the county seat of Douglas County. It is located in the Midwestern United States on the Missouri River, about 20 miles north of the mouth of the Platte River...

  • Holt Cemetery in New Orleans
    New Orleans, Louisiana
    New Orleans is a major United States port and the largest city and metropolitan area in the state of Louisiana. The New Orleans metropolitan area has a population of 1,235,650 as of 2009, the 46th largest in the USA. The New Orleans – Metairie – Bogalusa combined statistical area has a population...

     contains the remains of known and unknown early jazz musicians, including Charles "Buddy" Bolden
    Buddy Bolden
    Charles "Buddy" Bolden was an African American cornetist and is regarded by contemporaries as a key figure in the development of a New Orleans style of rag-time music which later came to be known as jazz.- Life :...

    . The battered remains of Robert Charles
    Robert Charles
    Robert Charles was an African American living in New Orleans whose armed resistance to arrest and shooting of police officers sparked a major race riot; see the Robert Charles Riots.Charles was involved in the Liberian emigration movement ....

    , at the center of the 1900 New Orleans race riot
    Robert Charles Riots
    The Robert Charles Riots of 1900 were sparked after African American laborer Robert Charles shot a white police officer, which led to a manhunt. Twenty-eight people were killed in the conflict, including Charles. Many more people were killed and wounded in the riots...

     were briefly interred there, then dug up, and incinerated. It is located next to Delgado Community College
    Delgado Community College
    Delgado Community College ' is a Louisiana public community college with campuses throughout the New Orleans metropolitan area, the East and West Banks of New Orleans, the East Bank of Jefferson Parish and on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain in Covington and Slidell in St. Tammany Parish...

  • Potters Fields, London, SE1
    SE postcode area
    The SE postcode area, also known as the London SE postcode area, is the part of the London post town covering part of south east London, England...

    , near the London City Hall and St Olave's Grammar School
    St Olave's Grammar School
    St Olave's and St Saviour's Grammar School is a super-selective boys' secondary school in Orpington, Greater London, England. The school is consistently one of the top achieving state schools in the UK and it was The Sunday Times State School of the Year in 2008...

  • Toronto
    Toronto is the provincial capital of Ontario and the largest city in Canada. It is located in Southern Ontario on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. A relatively modern city, Toronto's history dates back to the late-18th century, when its land was first purchased by the British monarchy from...

    , Ontario
    Ontario is a province of Canada, located in east-central Canada. It is Canada's most populous province and second largest in total area. It is home to the nation's most populous city, Toronto, and the nation's capital, Ottawa....

     had a Potter's Field at the corner of Yonge and Bloor Streets. The burial grounds were closed with some of the bodies moved to other cemeteries. Unknown number of bodies remained on the site when it was built over. Today the grounds are part of the posh Yorkville
    Yorkville, Toronto
    Yorkville is a district in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, well known for its shopping. It is a former village, annexed by the City of Toronto. It is roughly bounded by Bloor Street to the south, Davenport Road to the north, Yonge Street to the east and Avenue Road to the west, and is considered part of...

     district, and the site of an office tower.
  • Blue Plains, in the Anacostia area of Washington D.C., contains remains of executed international spies including Nazi spies from Operation Pastorius
    Operation Pastorius
    Operation Pastorius was a failed plan for sabotage via a series of attacks by Nazi German agents inside the United States. The operation was staged in June 1942 and was to be directed against strategic U.S. economic targets...

  • Cimetière de Laval, near Montreal, Quebec
  • Music Hall
    Music Hall (Cincinnati)
    Music Hall, completed in 1878, is Cincinnati's premier classical music performance hall. It serves as the home for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Opera, May Festival Chorus, and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. In January, 1975, it was recognized as a National Historic Landmark by the...

     in Cincinnati, Ohio was built over a nineteenth-century potter's field.

Popular culture

  • A documentary about a potter's field by Melinda Hunt: Hart Island: An American Cemetery.
  • From Potter's Field
    From Potter's Field (novel)
    From Potter's Field is a crime fiction novel by Patricia Cornwell. It is the sixth book in the Dr. Kay Scarpetta series.-Plot summary:The story begins as a rotten Christmas for Scarpetta: Temple Gault has struck again, leaving a naked, apparently homeless girl shot in Central Park on Christmas Eve;...

    is a novel by Patricia Cornwell
    Patricia Cornwell
    Patricia Cornwell is a contemporary American crime writer. She is widely known for writing a popular series of novels featuring the heroine Dr. Kay Scarpetta, a medical examiner.-Early life:...

  • Potter's Field
    Potter's Field (album)
    Potter's Field is the title of the American rock band 12 Stones second album. It was released on August 24, 2004. For the origin of the title, see Potter's field...

     is an album by the rock band 12 Stones
    12 Stones
    12 Stones is a rock band that was formed in 2000 in Mandeville, Louisiana. They have collectively sold more than 2 million records.-History:The four band members met in Mandeville, Louisiana, a small suburb north of New Orleans, and within 15 months were signed to a record deal with Wind-up Records...

  • On the title track to Johnny Cash's
    Johnny Cash
    John R. "Johnny" Cash was an American singer-songwriter, actor, and author, who has been called one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century...

     album American IV: The Man Comes Around
    American IV: The Man Comes Around
    American IV: The Man Comes Around is the fourth album in the American series by Johnny Cash, released in 2002. The majority of songs are covers which Cash performs in his own spare style, with help from producer Rick Rubin...

    , the lyrics include a reference to "the potter's ground" as a metaphor for dying without salvation.
  • "Potter's Field" is the name of a song by heavy metal band Anthrax
    Anthrax (band)
    Anthrax is an American heavy metal band from New York City, formed in 1981. Founded by guitarists Scott Ian and Danny Lilker, the band has since released ten studio albums and 20 singles, and an EP featuring Public Enemy. The band was one of the most popular of the 1980s thrash metal scene...

     from their 1993 album Sound of White Noise
    Sound of White Noise
    Sound of White Noise is the sixth studio album by American heavy metal band Anthrax, released in May 1993 on Elektra Records. It is the band's first album with Armored Saint vocalist John Bush, and also their last studio album with longtime lead guitarist Dan Spitz.-Overview:The album, produced by...

  • Hart Island (New York), the Potter's Field in New York City, is featured in the film Don't Say a Word
    Don't Say a Word
    Don't Say a Word is a 2001 psychological thriller film starring Michael Douglas, Brittany Murphy and Sean Bean based on the novel of the same title by Andrew Klavan...

  • Tom Waits
    Tom Waits
    Thomas Alan "Tom" Waits is an American singer-songwriter, composer, and actor. Waits has a distinctive voice, described by critic Daniel Durchholz as sounding "like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car."...

     makes references to Potter's Field in several of his songs.
  • The Potter's Field is the name of one of the Brother Cadfael
    Brother Cadfael is the fictional main character in a series of historical murder mysteries written between 1977 and 1994 by the linguist-scholar Edith Pargeter under the name "Ellis Peters". The character of Cadfael himself is a Welsh Benedictine monk living at Shrewsbury Abbey, in western England,...

    detective books by Ellis Peters
    Edith Pargeter
    Edith Mary Pargeter, OBE, BEM , also known by her nom de plume Ellis Peters, was a British author of works in many categories, especially history and historical fiction, and was also honoured for her translations of Czech classics; she is probably best known for her murder mysteries, both...

    , later turned into a television episode.
  • Mr. Potter, the greedy banker in the Frank Capra film It's a Wonderful Life
    It's a Wonderful Life
    It's a Wonderful Life is a 1946 American Christmas drama film produced and directed by Frank Capra and based on the short story "The Greatest Gift" written by Philip Van Doren Stern....

    , is told by his land agent that his slum-like housing will soon be a "potter's field" due to the Bailey's efforts to build affordable housing.
  • In the long-running MUD GemStone IV
    GemStone IV
    GemStone IV is a multiplayer text-based online role-playing game produced by Simutronics. Players control characters in a High Fantasy game world named "Elanthia". The first playable version of the game was known as GemStone ][ and was launched in April 1988 on GEnie...

     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
    City of Villains
    City of Villains is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game based on the superhero comic book genre, developed by Cryptic Studios and published by NCSoft. Released on October 31, 2005 , the game is integrated with their previous release, City of Heroes...

     a massive graveyard called "Potter's Field" is a place where zombies spawn, while magicians use the area for necromantic
    Necromancy is a claimed form of magic that involves communication with the deceased, either by summoning their spirit in the form of an apparition or raising them bodily, for the purpose of divination, imparting the ability to foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge...

  • In the HBO drama Oz
    Oz (TV series)
    Oz is an American television drama series created by Tom Fontana, who also wrote or co-wrote all of the series' 56 episodes . It was the first one-hour dramatic television series to be produced by premium cable network HBO. Oz premiered on July 12, 1997 and ran for six seasons...

    , "Potter's Field" is the name for the cemetery where deceased prisoners with no next-of-kin or whose remains are unclaimed are buried
  • "No Eagle Lies in Potter's Field" is the name of a song by the rock band On A Pale Horse
    On a Pale Horse
    On a Pale Horse is a fantasy novel by Piers Anthony, first published in 1983. It is the first of eight books in the Incarnations of Immortality series...

  • Potter's Field is the title of an 3 issue limited comic book series (plus a one shot) written by Mark Waid
    Mark Waid
    Mark Waid is an American comic book writer. He is well known for his eight-year run as writer of the DC Comics' title The Flash, as well as his scripting of the limited series Kingdom Come and Superman: Birthright, and his work on Marvel Comics' Captain America...

     and published by Boom! Studios
    Boom! Studios
    BOOM! Studios is an American comic book company headquartered in Los Angeles, California, United States. The "BOOM!" in BOOM! Studios is always capitalized by the company.-History:BOOM! was founded June 22, 2005 with Zombie Tales #1....

     about an anonymous investigator who takes it upon himself to discover the identities of those buried on Hart Island.
  • It is now confirmed that the child actor Bobby Driscoll
    Bobby Driscoll
    Robert Cletus "Bobby" Driscoll was an American child actor known for a large body of cinema and TV performances from 1943 to 1960. He starred in some of The Walt Disney Company's most popular live-action pictures of that period, such as Song of the South , So Dear to My Heart , and Treasure Island...

     (Peter Pan, 1953) is buried in Potter's Field on Hart Island in New York, being unidentified at the time of his burial.
  • In Sam Fuller's Pickup on South Street (1953), tie saleswoman "Moe" [Thelma Ritter] saves up money for a funeral so she wouldn't be laid to rest in Potter's Field: "Look, Tiger, if I was to be buried in Potter's Field, it would just about kill me!"
  • In the television movie/series "Glory Enough for All
    Glory Enough for All
    Glory Enough for All is the 1988 television movie depicting the discovery and isolation of insulin by Frederick Banting and Charles Herbert Best. It won the 1989 Gemini award for best miniseries....

    ", the character Frederick Banting
    Frederick Banting
    Sir Frederick Grant Banting, KBE, MC, FRS, FRSC was a Canadian medical scientist, doctor and Nobel laureate noted as one of the main discoverers of insulin....

     indicates that a soldier he was trying to save is dead by saying "Another one for Potter's Field".
  • In Victor Hugo's Les Misérables
    Les Misérables
    Les Misérables , translated variously from the French as The Miserable Ones, The Wretched, The Poor Ones, The Wretched Poor, or The Victims), is an 1862 French novel by author Victor Hugo and is widely considered one of the greatest novels of the nineteenth century...

    , Jean Valjean is buried in Potter's Field.
  • Harry Potter
    Harry Potter
    Harry Potter is a series of seven fantasy novels written by the British author J. K. Rowling. The books chronicle the adventures of the adolescent wizard Harry Potter and his best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, all of whom are students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry...

     gets his last name from Potter's Field in London, as J.K. Rowling has always been fond of it since childhood.
  • A potter's field is featured in Neil Gaiman's
    Neil Gaiman
    Neil Richard Gaiman born 10 November 1960)is an English author of short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, audio theatre and films. His notable works include the comic book series The Sandman and novels Stardust, American Gods, Coraline, and The Graveyard Book...

     novel The Graveyard Book
    The Graveyard Book
    The Graveyard Book is a children's fantasy novel by English author Neil Gaiman. The story is about a boy named Nobody Owens, who after his family is murdered is adopted and raised by the occupants of a graveyard...

    . One of the characters, Liza Hempstock, is a witch who was buried in a potter's field next to Nobody Owens' graveyard.
  • On the TV show Benson
    Benson (TV series)
    Benson is an American television sitcom which aired from September 13, 1979, to April 19, 1986, on ABC. The series was a spin-off from the soap opera parody Soap ; however, Benson discarded the...

    , a plumber with no family suddenly dies under Benson's sink. When Benson says he will be buried in an unmarked grave in a potter's field, his secretary asks, "Shouldn't they bury him in a plumbers' field?"
  • Railroad Earth
    Railroad Earth
    Railroad Earth is a roots and Americana-based newgrass band from Stillwater, New Jersey. Their name was borrowed from the Jack Kerouac short story "October in the Railroad Earth," to which the band also has a song by the same name...

    has a song called Potter's Field on their self-titled 2010 album.

External links

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