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, 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.
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.
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. A field where potters dug for clay would also be "conveniently already full of trenches and holes."
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." Other scholars do not read the verse as referring to Gentiles, but rather to Jews who are not native to Jerusalem.
Lincoln Park, on Chicago'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 Confederate soldiers, were buried here on marshy land near the water's edge. The baseball fields have occupied these grounds since 1877.
Toronto, Ontario 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 district, and the site of an office tower.
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.
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.
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.
’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.