Funerals in Rome and their Rich Traditions

July 15, 2018

Funerals in Rome have a rich tradition. Thousands of years back in ancient Roman, the oldest surviving son of the household went to the death-bed. There he would try and catch and inhale the last breathes emanating from the dying person.

If you were very wealthy in Rome years back, then y the libitinarii undertook the funeral arrangements These were professional undertakers.

Usually, the Roman funeral rites would include a public procession through the streets to either the tomb or the pyre for the dead person’s cremation.

What was particularly noticeable about the funeral procession was that the mourners would have masks on. These bore the images of the deceased ancestors of the family.

Funerals in Ancient Rome – Events after the Cremation

Funerals in RomeNine days after the disposal of the dead person, either by cremation or burial, they held a feast, pouring a libation over the grave or the ashes.

Most Romans chose cremation, and the ashes would be kept in an urn.

That would then stay in a special place, a niche, in the collective tomb – a columbarium. There were many Romans who belonged to funeral societies known as collegia for which they would pay a monthly sum.

These Collegia members had a spot in a columbarium. The Romans believed that a proper burial was essential for passage to the afterlife, and the Columbaria was an inexpensive way to guarantee this transition.

For nine days, the house where the person died was out of bounds. To counter this, the family would hang Mediterranean Cypress branches around to warn passersby. After the nine-day period, the family swept the house. This symbolically purged the house from the scourge of death.

There were a few Roman holidays that commemorated the family’s dead ancestors. These were between February 13 to 21. This was to honour the ancestors of the family. Cremation was out of bounds in Rome as well as inhumation inside the sacred boundaries of the city. This was in consideration for the sacred as well as consideration for the civilians.

Funerals in Rome – The biggest Roman Funeral ever

Pope John Paul II Funerals in Rome

The funeral of Pope John Paul II  in 2005 took place six days after his death. His funeral was the largest gathering in history with four kings, five queens and many other leaders, prime ministers and presidents being present.

Funerals in Ancient Rome – Burials

During the lifetime of a Roman, he had a tomb built. If you were very rich, you would usually commission a tomb in marble with a wall around the plot. There would be trees.

The common sepulchres were usually below ground – hypogea. They were niches that were cut out in the walls to house the urns. Because they looked similar to a pigeon-house, they were called columbaria.

Funerals in Rome – The Deceased is Kissed on the Forehead

Today, some funerals in Rome still follow traditions which began centuries ago due to cultural rituals, but for the most part, Italian funeral traditions are consistent with the Catholic Church. Funerals in Rome today are traditionally open for everyone in the town to attend with mourners still wearing all black to the funeral.

Traditionally in Roman or Catholic funerals there is an open casket and the attendees kiss the dead person on the forehead to show respect.  Roman funeral traditions began in old Italy, but some of these traditions are still present today in modern Italy.

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All info was correct at time of publishing