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History of Funerals

Image of the Hadrian Mausoleum, also called Castel Sant'Angelo

10 Famous & Inspiring Tombs Around the World

By History of Funerals, Memorial

While the practical purpose of a tomb is to protect the dead, there are examples around the world that prove a tomb can be so much more than that. In some cases, tombs are a testament to human ingenuity, a beautiful declaration of love, a site for reflection and faith, or a place of reverence and remembrance. Today, let’s look at 10 famous tombs around the world and reflect together on the impact a single life can have and how long memories can last.

Image of the Great Pyramids at Giza

#1 – The Pyramids at Giza (Cairo, Egypt)

More than likely, you’ve heard of the Pyramids at Giza, but did you know that they were built as tombs for Pharaohs Khufu (father), Khafre (son), and Menkaure (grandson)? Long considered a wonder of the Ancient World, the pyramids not only housed the mummified bodies of the pharaohs but also any worldly goods the Ancient Egyptians considered helpful for the afterlife. It took an estimated 20,000 workers more than 20 years to construct the largest of the three pyramids. To this day, scholars still aren’t quite sure how the pyramids were constructed. Regardless, the three pyramids stood as the tallest man-made structures for more than 4,000 years. That’s pretty impressive for a tomb!

Image of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

#2 – The Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Jerusalem, Israel)

In many Christian circles, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a place of reverence. When Constantine became emperor of Rome in 306 CE, he unearthed what was thought to be Jesus Christ’s tomb. After excavating it, he then built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre around the tomb. While the building has seen its fair share of damage, various Christian communities have restored it through the centuries. Today, six different Christian communities control the church, and they each have their own designated chapel inside it. With such strong ties to Christianity, it’s no wonder this particular tomb is important to so many around the world.

Image of the Taj Mahal

#3 – Taj Mahal (Agra, India)

The Taj Mahal is perhaps the most romantic of the tombs we will discuss today. Completed in 1648, the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal as a breathtaking final burial place for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. With extensive grounds, the complex includes a mausoleum, a garden, and a mosque. Gorgeous in its detail, the all-marble building celebrates the love story between these two historical figures. A royal historian from Shah Jahan’s time described the relationship in his records. He stated that the two were close confidantes and possessed extraordinary physical and spiritual compatibility. When Mumtaz died in childbirth (with their 14th child!), Jahan built the Taj Mahal as an enduring tribute to her. At his death, he was laid to rest beside her, and to this day, they lay together – forever.

Image of the Terracotta Army found in Qin's Mausoleum

#4 – Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor (Xi’an, Shaanxi province, China)

Next up is the mausoleum for the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang (c. 259–210 BCE), who unified China into a single political entity. He standardized scripts, weights, measures, and coins, while also improving roads and fortifications. However, perhaps what he’s most remembered for is his impressive burial complex with its famous Terracotta Army. With more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, 520 horses, and 150 cavalry horses, the Army is stunning from an archeological perspective. Every soldier has a unique facial expression, and each one has authentic clothes, weapons, and hairstyles (different from each other!). No doubt intended to protect the emperor in the afterlife, archeologists believe there are still more soldiers, horses, and chariots to uncover in the years to come.

Image of the Tomb of Jahangir

#5 – Tomb of Jahangir (near Lahore, Pakistan)

Colorful and intricately tiled inside and out, the Tomb of Jahangir commemorates the life of Mughal emperor Jahangir. His son, Shah Jahan (remember him from the Taj Mahal?), built the mausoleum 10 years after Jahangir’s death. At the time of his rule (1605-1627), Jahangir was popular amongst his people, though a bit infamous for marrying 12 times and indulging in alcohol. With a walled garden and 98-foot-high minarets, the impressive structure also includes two entry gates and a white marble sarcophagus covered in its own delicate mosaics. For many, the Tomb of Jahangir is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in Pakistan!

Image of the Lenin Mausoleum

#6 – Lenin Mausoleum (Moscow, Russia)

Located in the heart of Moscow, the Lenin Mausoleum commands attention in Russia’s historic Red Square. Inside rests the mummified body of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin. What’s perhaps most interesting (and disturbing) about Lenin’s final resting place is that his sarcophagus is made of glass and is kept at a temperature of 61 °F (16 °C) and a humidity of 80 – 90%. Why? In order to ensure that Lenin’s body remains as lifelike as possible. In fact, a team of dedicated embalmers maintain the body, and his suit is typically changed every three years. While Lenin wanted a traditional burial beside his mother, Joseph Stalin ordered the display of Lenin’s body. Today, however, many Russians believe Lenin’s wishes should be honored and his body re-interred.

Image of the Hadrian Mausoleum, also called Castel Sant'Angelo

#7 – Mausoleum of Hadrian (Rome, Italy)

If you’ve ever visited Rome, you’re probably familiar with the Mausoleum of Hadrian (also called Castel Sant’Angelo). Both a castle and a fortress, the mausoleum houses the remains of many Roman emperors, including Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, and most emperors from the High Empire. Built as a burial place for Hadrian and his family, the castle was once the tallest building in Rome! Situated on the Tiber River, Castel Sant’Angelo is made of brick and stone with a majestic statue of the Archangel Michael at its peak. Today, it stands as a remarkable addition to Rome’s collection of ancient and historic buildings.

Image of the Pantheon in Paris

#8 – The Pantheon (Paris, France)

Much like Westminster Abbey (also worthy of this list), the Paris Pantheon is both a church and a mausoleum. Commissioned by King Louis XV, its design combines the simplicity of gothic architecture with classical Greek elements. Inside, paintings depict the life of St. Genevieve (the patron saint of Paris) and the history of the French monarchy. Today, the Pantheon mainly serves as a final resting place for French heroes. Those laid to rest include Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Pierre and Marie Curie, Louis Braille, and Alexandre Dumas. Situated atop the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, the Pantheon is a striking addition to the Paris skyline.

Image of Grant's Tomb in New York City

#9 – Grant’s Tomb (New York City, New York, United States)

As the largest mausoleum in North America, Grant’s Tomb testifies to the gratitude people felt for the man who ended the American Civil War. As the Commanding General of the Union Army and later President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant endeared himself to the American people. After his death, approximately 90,000 people from around the world donated over $600,000 (roughly $18.4 million in 2023 money) toward the construction of Grant’s Tomb. It was the largest public fundraising effort of the time. With mosaics depicting key events of the American Civil War, the granite and marble tomb was completed in 1897. Over a million people attended its dedication ceremony. Today, the US National Park Service maintains the memorial and ensures that it is well-preserved.

Image of Tomb of Agamemnon, also called Treasury of Atreus

#10 – The Tomb of Agamemnon (near Argos, Mycenae, Greece)

Have you heard of the Tomb of Agamemnon (also called the Treasury of Atreus)? It’s perhaps the finest surviving example of a tholos or beehive tomb we still have from Mycenaean Greece. Built around 1250 BCE, it’s unknown whom the tomb was intended for or if it ever housed treasures. However, legend says that it was the final resting place of King Agamemnon. One of nine beehive tombs in the area, the doorway is 18 feet high (5.4 m) and tapers at the top (like a beehive). Inside, the tomb consists of two rooms, and the stonework throughout is decorated with bronze rosettes. The architectural skill and craftsmanship needed to build the tomb is impressive, and the tomb remains an important part of our historical narrative for Ancient Greece.

While such large tombs are now typically out of style, the need to honor and commemorate a loved one’s life still remains. That’s why it’s so important to consider a permanent memorial for yourself or a loved one. Whether it’s a headstone in a cemetery or a simple plaque on a cremation niche, it’s important to remember, to honor, to reflect. People matter, and we can keep their memory alive with loving physical tributes. To learn more about the value of permanent memorials, take a moment to read 5 Reasons to Establish a Permanent Memorial.

Anatomy of a Man by Leonardo da Vinci who studied the body in Middle Ages Europe

The Strange & Unusual History of Embalming

By History of Funerals

It’s always fascinating to delve into the history of a particular practice, event, or even where certain phrases and idioms originated. The same is true of embalming, where you definitely find the strange and unusual lurking amidst the intriguing. Let’s take a look!

Ancient Origins

Perhaps the most famous ancient example of embalming comes from Egypt. With so many artifacts and written records, historians have a strong understanding of the role of embalming in the ancient civilization’s funeral rituals. Closely tied to beliefs about the afterlife, embalming was a must for just about everyone, though we really only hear about it in relation to royalty and the wealthy.

Ancient Egyptian tomb and sarcophagus

However, preservation of the dead also occurred in other areas of the ancient world. Ethiopia, Peru, China, Tibet, and the Canary Islands all practiced various forms of mummification. The Persians and Babylonians, among others, preserved the body by immersing it in honey or wax. Each culture had different reasons for embracing embalming, but for many, it related to cultural or religious beliefs.

Scientific Advancements in Europe

While many civilizations practiced embalming around the world, many of the significant scientific advances that affected modern embalming occurred in Europe. Let’s look at a few key breakthroughs.

With its largely Christian population, embalming in Europe wasn’t practiced for religious reasons. In fact, it was mainly attempted for scientific and medical research. More people were interested in understanding the body’s anatomy and how it functioned, so early scientists worked to perfect embalming as a means of preserving the body for study.

Anatomy of a Man by Leonardo da Vinci who studied the body in Middle Ages Europe

There were varying degrees of success. Eventually, through the independent work of Frederick Ruysch, William Harvey, Jean Gannal, and William Hunter, scientists discovered a successful way to adopt arterial injection as a means of preservation. This practice continues to this day.

In the early days, arsenic was used as a preservation agent. However, in 1859, Russian chemist Alexander Butlerov first synthesized formaldehyde, which eventually replaced arsenic as the main preservation chemical.

Embalming’s Role in the End of the Body Snatching Era

A strange moment in embalming’s history relates to the body snatching era, commonly associated with the UK because of two infamous body snatchers, William Burke and William Hare. In the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a shortage of legally acquired bodies to dissect and study. At the time, anatomists could only use the bodies of convicted criminals for study, and without proper preservation, the bodies became unusable after a short period of time. Thus, the body snatching era was born!

Because there weren’t enough legal bodies to supply all of the doctors and medical schools working on understanding anatomy, a black market opportunity arose. “Resurrectionists” or “body snatchers” began to steal newly buried bodies and sell them. It was a lucrative business, though it caused much pain and suffering for surviving family members. To combat against body snatching, some families even hired guards or installed metal crates or gates to protect the grave of a loved one. To learn more about Victorian funeral customs, click here.

At the time, a dead body was not considered anyone’s “property,” which is why its removal was often only a misdemeanor. However, dissecting an illegally acquired corpse came with heavier consequences. This meant that both the body snatchers and the medical professionals would face consequences if discovered.

Image of London's Old Ben in an aged yellow color

Where does embalming fit in?

Well, two things occurred to end the reign of body snatching.

First, the Anatomy Act of 1832 allowed for the legal donation of unclaimed bodies as well as donating your own body to medical research. This meant that hospitals and medical schools had better access to subjects. Additionally, doctors and anatomy teachers were required to obtain a license that allowed them to dissect donated cadavers.

Second, in the 1880s, embalming was introduced as a method for preserving bodies for medical research. This had a huge impact because it meant that a cadaver could be studied for months rather than mere days. Together, these two changes effectively ended the body snatching era.

The Rise of Embalming in the United States

While embalming for medical study did exist, it wasn’t until Abraham Lincoln’s death that it became a widely accepted practice for funerals. Following his assassination, Abraham Lincoln’s body was embalmed, and he laid in state in several key cities before journeying to his final resting place. During this period, he was viewed by thousands of citizens who remarked on his lifelike appearance. For many, it was the first time they’d seen an embalmed body, and not long after, the practice gained popularity.

Even before Lincoln’s death, embalming was used during the American Civil War. Many soldiers on both sides of the conflict died far from home. For those who could afford it, embalming provided a way to bring a loved one’s body home in decent shape for burial. It wasn’t widely used – estimates state that only about 40,000 soldiers were embalmed out of the 600,000+ who died.

close-up of Abraham Lincoln's sculpture at Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

With embalming’s sudden popularity, laws were enacted to ensure that only properly licensed embalmers could offer their services. Additionally, because embalming was regulated, families who wanted to use embalming could not do it themselves. Now, funeral professionals were needed to complete embalming, and thus, the role of the funeral professional changed drastically.

Embalming Today

Perhaps the most impactful result of embalming was the birth of the funeral industry as we know it. At first, surgeons completed the embalming process. However, when embalming grew in prominence, the need for skilled workers grew, creating new professional jobs like embalmers, funeral directors, morticians, and more. Many family-owned funeral homes got their start as furniture makers, having built coffins for the community, and when funerals changed, they changed with it.

As for embalming itself, the technique has not changed much since the 1860s. However, the type of preservative fluid used has changed over time. In the 1860s, arsenic was used in embalming fluid. It was eventually replaced with formaldehyde (still the most common today). In addition to formaldehyde, some funeral homes now offer green embalming, which involves using an embalming fluid made from non-toxic chemicals and essential oils.

"Did You Know" image

Interesting History Facts

Before you go, here are some interesting facts about embalming and its unusual history. Fact is often stranger than fiction, right?

  • Before modern embalming, various preservatives were used to minimize decomposition. For example, some would pickle the body in vinegar, wine, brandy, or other strong spirits. Honey, wax, and spices were also utilized.
  • Originating with the Egyptians around 2600 BCE, embalming is considered “one of humankind’s longest practiced arts.”
  • Over a 3,000-year period, it is estimated that Egypt mummified at least 70 million bodies.
  • Leonardo da Vinci produced hundreds of anatomical plates. More than likely, he used some form of arterial injection to preserve his subjects. His notes indicate that he tried embalming fluid recipes that included camphor, turpentine, lavender oil, vermilion, rosin, wine, potassium nitrate, and sodium nitrate.
  • Body snatching occurred in the United States, with Baltimore serving as a kind of center for the activity.
  • Until the 20th century, arsenic was used in embalming fluid. It was later replaced after the discovery of formaldehyde.
  • Abraham Lincoln was the first president to be embalmed.
  • Thomas Holmes is considered the father of modern-day embalming. After Abraham Lincoln’s close friend, Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, was killed in Virginia, Dr. Holmes embalmed his body at the president’s request. Holmes would later go on to embalm both Lincoln’s 12-year-old son Willie and the president himself.
View of ruins of Ancient Greece with beautiful, dark cloudy sky

5 Ancient Greek Funeral Customs You May (or May Not) Recognize

By History of Funerals

The funeral ritual…is a public, traditional, and symbolic means of expressing our beliefs, thoughts, and feelings about the death of someone loved. – Dr. Alan Wolfelt

Since the beginning of time, human beings have honored the lives of people they love and respect. From RIP social media posts to attending a visitation or funeral service, we all feel the need to acknowledge the lives of others in a meaningful way. Unsurprisingly, the ancient Greeks felt the same. But what IS surprising is how similar some of their funeral customs are to what we practice today. Let’s take a look!

5 Ancient Greek Funeral Customs You May (or May Not) Recognize

While some funeral customs evolved and changed over their long history, the Ancient Greeks were consistent in their desire to ensure that every human being received proper burial rites. In fact, to deny someone the dignity of a final tribute was an intentional insult and could affect their ability to make a peaceful transition to the afterlife. While we no longer hold the same cultural or religious beliefs as the Ancient Greeks, we do still honor the dead in similar ways.

View of ruins of Ancient Greece with beautiful, dark cloudy sky

#1 – Prothesis (Preparation of the Body and Viewing)

Immediately after death, the first step in the process was to prepare the deceased’s body for viewing. Today, this process is completed by funeral professionals, but in Ancient Greece, female relatives prepared the body. These women:

  • Washed the body
  • Anointed it with oil
  • Placed a wreath on the chest
  • Sealed a coin in the mouth or placed them on the eyes (to pay for passage to the afterlife)
  • Dressed the person in clothing appropriate to their status (armor for a soldier, wedding dress for a newlywed, etc.)
  • Sang songs of mourning and lament as they prepared the body

Preparation was typically completed in one day. On the second day, the body was placed on a bed in the home and covered with a funeral shroud. Then, family and friends were allowed to stop by to mourn and pay their respects. During the viewing, either female relatives or professional mourners led a formalized lament.

Top of a white column in a Grecian style

#2 – Ekphora (Funeral Procession)

Before dawn on the third day, the body was removed from its place of honor in the home and either placed in a horse-drawn carriage or carried by pallbearers to the final resting place. Along the way to the cemetery, the ekphora (funeral procession) grew in number as more and more people joined the line of mourners. Often, singers and musicians walked alongside friends and family. Together, they expressed themselves through mournful songs and physical expressions of grief (like tearing of the clothing).

Once the procession reached the cemetery, the body was placed in an elaborately carved box, which was then either buried or burned on a funeral pyre. At this time, a eulogy was usually given to commemorate the person’s life.

Funeral processions are still a common practice today. In many places, drivers stop their vehicles to allow the funeral procession to pass without difficulty – a small way to honor life and pay respects to the person who has died.

#3 Perideipnon (Post-Funeral Gathering)

After the death of a loved one, it’s important to spend time together, share stories, reminisce, and draw comfort from each other. As human beings, we often do this around food.

In Ancient Greece, following the burial, it was customary for the women to return home and prepare a banquet in honor of the deceased. The men would stay behind at the gravesite and place a stele (monument) over the grave. The feast not only honored the person who died, it was also a way to bring people together and to thank those who came to pay their respects.

At many funeral or memorial services today, a meal is included – often called a gathering – where people are encouraged to talk, laugh, and share. It’s a time to support each other, to listen, and to remember the person who has died through the sharing of cherished memories.

Statues of women acting as columns on an Ancient Greek structure

#4 Acts of Remembrance

It’s so important to take part in acts of remembrance after a loved one dies. These acts give you a way to physically engage with your feelings, which in turn, helps you express them, rather than bottle them up.

In Ancient Greece, they:

  • Erected tombs, installed grave markers, or created marble statues
  • Included an epitaph in memory of the deceased
  • Visited the graveside on the 3rd, 9th, 13th, and 30th day after death
  • Conducted memorial services at 40 days as well as at 3, 6, 9, and 12 months
  • Prayed at the grave or sang songs of lament
  • Decorated the grave with ribbons or flowers and some even left offerings of oil, wine, or food
  • Placed mementos around the grave that were important to the deceased

Do some of these sound familiar to you?

While statues and tombs are less common now, grave markers and meaningful epitaphs are still widespread. We conduct services to honor a loved one’s life, though the practice has become more concentrated rather than spread over time. It’s not uncommon to see coins, flowers, or stuffed animals left at a graveside in remembrance. And some families or cultures participate in decorating the grave (a famous example is the Day of the Dead).

Ruins of an Ancient Greek temple against a blue sky

#5 A Mix of Burial and Cremation

While pop culture and movies often associate cremation with Ancient Greece, burial was just as prevalent, if not more so. Beginning around 3000 B.C, burial was the chosen final disposition (except in Athens), but around 1100 B.C., cremation on a funeral pyre began to appear. Eventually, the two existed together as options for families until the rise of Christianity made burial more popular again.

Today, we see this same paradigm in our own world. Some families choose burial and others choose cremation. Both are great options, depending on the family’s needs and wants. Thankfully, no matter which option is chosen, the family can still honor and celebrate life with a personalized service.

Looking back at Ancient Greek funeral customs just reinforces the importance of a final tribute. No matter what culture or year you look at, honoring life and individual people is valuable and important.

The History Behind Pallbearers

By History of Funerals

More than likely, we’ve had pallbearers since mankind started having funerals. In other words, from the beginning of time. Certainly, they have not always been called “pallbearers,” but the function of carrying the mortal body of a person who has died to their final resting place? That duty has existed for all time. But just for curiosity’s sake, let’s talk about our modern word “pallbearer” and how it came to be.

Today’s Definition of “Pallbearer”

Today, a “pallbearer” is a person who carries the casket during a funeral service. Depending on the family’s choices and religious background, this could mean:

  • Carrying in and out of the church
  • Taking out of the church only (to the funeral car)
  • Carrying to the graveside
  • A combination of the above

Most often, there are between six and eight pallbearers. Depending on tradition or preference, the casket is either carried at the waist or hoisted to the shoulder. Both men and women can perform this meaningful responsibility as they accompany a person to their final resting place.

The Term is a Portmanteau

“Pallbearer” is actually a portmanteau. In other words, it’s the combination of two words into one. In this case, “casket bearer” and “pall” were merged into one to create “pallbearer.” The earliest use of the word in print was around 1710. But what is a pall, you may ask?

What is a Pall?

While you may not be familiar with the term “pall,” you’ve most likely seen one, whether in person or in a movie or TV show. The pall is a heavy, usually white, and sometimes ornate cloth that is draped over the casket. The use of palls still occurs today, usually with specific ethnic, religious, or fraternal backgrounds, but anyone can decide to use one. In fact, the American flag acts as a pall when it is draped over the casket of a deceased veteran or service member.

The word “pall” likely comes from the Roman word “pallium,” which referred to a person’s cape or cloak, often used in relation to a soldier. When the person died, they were covered with the cloak. Around the Middle Ages, the word “pallium” was shorted to “pall” and began to refer to a heavy cloth (rather than a cloak).

And Where Do Casket Bearers Come In?

It used to be that two sets of people participated in carrying the casket. First, there were those who carried the casket itself (casket bearers). Second, there were those who carried the pall (if there was one) and placed it over the casket. Today, because both duties have generally merged into one (the pall and the casket are carried by the same people), we now use the term “pallbearer.” Interestingly, the term has become so common that even if there is no pall, the term “pallbearer” is still used.

So, there you have it! Our modern term finds its roots in a long-held tradition of carrying a loved one to their final resting place. In some religious and family traditions, the pall is still carried separately from the casket, but for many, the two duties have been merged into one under the name “pallbearer.”

Explore the 4 Building Blocks of Ancient Egyptian Funeral Customs

By History of Funerals

Egypt has a long and well-documented history. If you’re like many people, Ancient Egypt brings to mind sandy deserts,  grand pyramids, powerful pharaohs, creepy mummies, and priceless antiquitiesAs you envision the Great Pyramids of Giza, it’s impossible to forget a well-publicized and intriguing Ancient Egyptian funeral custom – mummification. While we don’t practice mummification anymore, it still holds a certain fascination for us.  

It’s often the Old KingdomMiddle Kingdom, and New Kingdom periods that we most closely associate with Egyptian history. These Kingdom periods include:

  • the height of mummification practices
  • the creation of the Valley of the Kings
  • the rule of pharaohs like Tutankhamun
  • the expansion of Egypt’s territories and wealth

Let’s take a walk through history and learn about a few Ancient Egyptian funeral customs that dominated their long history. Let’s go! 

The Role of the Afterlife 

Every aspect of Ancient Egyptian funeral customs revolved around the afterlife. They believed that carrying out funeral practices specifically and fully was necessary to ensuring immortality after death. For them, the afterlife was a place called The Field of Reedsand you could only enter this place if you were deemed worthy in the Hall of Truth. Essentially, a person’s heart was weighed against the goddess Ma’at’s white feather, and if the heart was lighter than her feather, the soul would continue to The Field of Reeds.  

However, there was a caveat. If a person’s body had not been properly buried and all the funerary rites followed, then that person would be unable to reach paradise. This is why Ancient Egyptians placed such a high regard on completing each aspect of their complex funeral customs. While funeral practices started out simple with shallow graves and minimal (if any) mummification in the early days, the practices became more complex over time. By the time of the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms, funeral practices had become quite elaborate and widespread. 

The 4 Building Blocks of Ancient Egyptian Funeral Customs 

Mummifying the Body 

While mummification has ceased as a practice in most countries of the world, we do regularly practice other forms of preservation, like embalming. In Ancient Egypt, mummification was the way to go. Because the preservation of the body was essential to the afterlife, they did not practice any form of cremation.  

The full mummification process took 70 days and was very intricate. For a detailed account of mummification, click hereWhile mummification was most common amongst the wealthy – like kings, priests, and nobility – a simplified form was available to the poor. Where the wealthy would use linen bandages to wrap the body and place it in a stone sarcophagus, the poor would use their own old clothes to wrap the body and place it in the simplest of graves.  

Also, interestingly, archeologists have recently discovered evidence that funeral homes (of a sort) existed in Ancient Egypt. They focused on mummification and burial. You can learn more about this new discovery by clicking here

Including Spiritual Elements and Remembrance Service  

After mummification was complete, a great procession was gathered to escort the body to the tomb. Today, we still take part in the practice of accompanying the body to its final resting place. However, back then, it was a more elaborate event and often included professional mourners called the Kites of NephthysPerhaps the most important part of the graveside service was the Opening of the Mouth CeremonyvUsing spells and incantations from the Book of the Dead, a priest would ceremonially touch different areas of the body. Without this ritual, the person would be unable to breathe, eat, drink, talk, or move freely in the afterlife. 

Following the Opening of the Mouth Ceremony, priests recited a few more prayers and sealed the tomb. At this time, the mourners took time to celebrate the life of the departed with a feast, often held right beside the grave. Even the poorest Egyptian was given some kind of ceremony because it was believed that an improperly buried person would return as a ghost to haunt the living. Gives you shivers, doesn’t it? They certainly took things very seriously!  

It’s also worth noting that Ancient Egyptians understood the importance of remembrance activities. They would regularly visit the family tomb, write letters to loved ones and leave them at the tomb, or keep busts of loved ones in the home to encourage their spirits to visit. 

Providing Grave Goods  

In preparation for the afterlife, people were buried with grave goods. Besides your body and the ability to eat, drink, breathe, talk, and move, what else do you need to set up a home in the afterlife? Household goods and treasures, of course! This meant including pots, combs, stone vessels, figurines, beads, amulets, and much more in the tombOne of the most famous finds was King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. Sadly, most tombs were looted by grave robbers long before any modern-day archeologists could explore them, but despite that, we’ve still learned a great deal about Ancient Egyptian funeral practices. The grave goods included were dependent on the wealth of the person who died.  

Preparing a Final Resting Place 

 Ancient Egypt gave humanity some of the most spectacular and memorable final resting places, like the Great Pyramids and the Valley of the KingsFilled with grave goods, hieroglyphics, and even mummies sometimes, Egyptian tombs have long been an archeologist’s dream and have given us a glimpse in what life was like in Ancient Egypt. While the tombs did not remain undisturbed for long due to grave robbers, the tombs do provide a long-lasting memorial. After all, thousands of years later, we are still talking about Tutankhamun, Ramses, and Nefertiti, amongst others 

Cemeteries provide the same function for us today, though thankfully, we don’t have to worry about grave robbing anymore. Instead, a cemetery provides a quiet, tranquil place to remember the person we love and feel close to them once more. To learn more about the benefits of a permanent memorial, click here. 

As you can see, for millennia, humanity has felt the need to mourn and remember loved ones while also participating in healing rituals. We definitely do things differently now – definitely no more spells or secret incantations – but the purpose of the funeral remains the same. We want to honor those we love. Remember their lives. Celebrate them. And look forward to seeing them again someday. 

8 Intriguing Funeral Customs from the Victorian Era

By History of Funerals

Have you ever found yourself wondering where some of our funeral traditions come from? The Victorian Era (1837-1901) introduced some of our current funeral traditions as well as a few customs that have fallen out of memory and practice. Some of the following customs will feel familiar while others will surprise you. Let’s take a look at a few funeral traditions from the past.

A Shift in Funeral Customs

The Victorian Era directly aligns with the reign of Queen Victoria of England. Crowned on June 20, 1837, Victoria reigned until her death on January 22, 1901. While she is the second-longest reigning monarch in England’s history, she is also notably known for her deep love for her husband, Prince Albert, and her 40 years of mourning following his death in 1861.

In response to her husband’s death, Queen Victoria went into mourning, and her very public practices influenced many nations, creating a shift in funeral customs and how grief and mourning were expressed.

8 Intriguing Funeral Customs from the Victorian Era

1. Mourning Clothes Were a Must

Following Albert’s death, Victoria dressed in full mourning for the first three years. To her death, it was unusual to see her in anything but black. Her example led to the population copying her style of dress, and certain expectations were set in place.

Mourning clothes were considered an outward expression of a person’s inner feelings. Societal rules were especially specific for women. In “deep mourning,” women’s clothing was deep black and non-reflective, often trimmed in black crepe, and worn with minimal or no jewelry. Additionally, widows were expected to wear a black silk “weeping veil” or “widow’s cap.” After a specified time, a woman moved into “half mourning” where colors like gray and lavender were permitted with minimal ornamentation.

For men, fashion was much easier – they simply wore dark suits with black gloves, hatbands, and cravats. Children were not expected to wear mourning clothes, and for those who were wealthy, servants even wore mourning clothes. Thankfully for the Victorians, if you were ever in doubt as to what to wear, you could consult Cassell’s Household Guide.

2. There Was a Set Mourning Period

In the Victorian era, society observed a specified “mourning period.” The length of time depended on the type of loss: spouse, sibling, parent, child, cousin, etc. For example, widows were expected to wear mourning clothes for two years (one year in full mourning, one year in half mourning). In addition to wearing only black during deep mourning, a widow could not go out in society except to attend church.

Societal rules for men who lost a wife were less rigorous, mainly because men were expected to remarry relatively quickly. For children mourning parents (or vice versa), the mourning period was one year; for grandparents and siblings, six months; mourning aunts and uncles, two months; for great uncles and aunts, six weeks; for first cousins, four weeks. Again, if you were ever in doubt, you could consult Cassell’s for guidance.

While there were set rules on how long you must outwardly mourn, there was no set end date. Queen Victoria is an excellent example – she mourned Prince Albert for the remainder of her days. In the Victorian era, there was no hurry to end a period of grief. People took the time they needed, and those around them respected the necessity of mourning.

3. Superstitions Were Prevalent

During this time, humanity was still learning a lot about the natural world. People were spiritual and believed in the supernatural. Because of this viewpoint, there were a number of superstitions surrounding death:

  • Victorians carried the deceased out of the home feet first so they couldn’t look back and call someone else to follow them.
  • Curtains were closed and mirrors covered until after the funeral so that the deceased’s image wouldn’t get trapped in a looking glass.
  • It was thought that you might be next if you saw yourself in a mirror at a house where someone had recently died.
  • To prevent bad luck, all clocks were stopped at the time of death.
  • And somewhat creepily, Victorians turned family photographs face-down to protect family and friends from possession by a spirit of the dead.

4. They Feared Final Rest Disturbances

The Victorian period was a time of medical advances, but in many ways, its people were still in the dark. In fact, they really did have reason to fear that their final rest might not be as peaceful. At the time, it was difficult for medical professionals to procure bodies for study, so grave robbers became a concern for everyone. Additionally, because medical conditions weren’t as well understood, a doctor might mistakenly declare someone dead. In these cases, the person was often in a coma.

To combat grave robbers and premature burial due to lack of medical understanding, the Victorians put a few safeguards into place. Some families buried a loved one with a rope in their hand, attached to a bell outside the grave. If the person in the grave awoke, they could ring the bell, signaling their need for help. Other burial options included bricking over a grave, covering it with a protective gate, or purchasing a coffin with a series of tubes and mirrors to allow the gravediggers to peer inside for movement.

5. Victorians Contributed to the Rise of Photography

With the invention of the daguerreotype in 1839, some people began to take family photos. However, the cost was prohibitive for the average family. Many only took photographs at big life events, like the death of a loved one. Thus, the custom of taking a photograph with a loved one after death became a popular trend. The photograph gave the family a lasting visual reminder of their loved one.

Often called “death photography,” this practice continued throughout the Victorian era. It was especially common to photograph children since they had the highest mortality rates. Though the practice has died out, we do still take postmortem photographs. Now it’s more often in the context of forensics and pathology.

6. Personal Mementos Were Common

In addition to a photograph, some families also created mementos using a loved one’s hair. They artfully arranged their loved one’s hair in shadow boxes, wreaths, fabrics, corsages, and particularly in jewelry. Though a woman was not allowed to wear jewelry (other than jet black gemstones) during deep mourning, they often wore a jewelry memento afterward. Queen Victoria was known to wear a locket that contained a picture of Prince Albert and a lock of his hair.

This may seem like an unusual practice, but actually, we do something quite similar – memorial or cremation jewelry. Instead of hair, we place a portion of a loved one’s ashes in jewelry and wear it in their memory. Although the method of memorialization has changed over time, the basic idea is the same.

7. Stately Monuments Came into Prominence

Before the Victorian era, burial plots near home and churchyards were most common. With the advent of public cemeteries, the desire to memorialize and grandly mark a grave came into fashion. While grave markers had been more simplistic, during the Victorian era, they became much more elaborate. While some markers were still simple, others could be large – almost like a private mausoleum – and might include urns, wreaths, columns, or carved figures. Today, we still see large cemetery monuments, though we have toned down the opulence in exchange for something simple and personal.

8. Families Planned Ahead

The Victorians had no illusions about death. Mortality rates for children were high, and even if you survived childhood, many adults didn’t live past 50 years. In this era, death was so certain and people prized an elaborate funeral service. Because of this, many families saved for years to pay for a funeral service. In fact, women frequently made their own shrouds and included them in their wedding trousseau.

Today, we shy away from talking or even thinking about death. In reality, we could learn something from the Victorians: it’s okay to talk about and plan for death. The Victorians didn’t focus on death, but they accepted it as a reality and planned for it. While their methods seem strange to us today, the Victorians did understand the value of celebrating a loved one’s life and honoring their memory. We could greatly benefit from more openness, less fear, and a willingness to have these important conversations with our families.

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