Italian Funeral Traditions

For the most part, Italian funeral traditions are consistent with Catholicism as it is the major religion of Italy. Italian funerals are times of gravity and dignity for everyone involved without any real theatrics.

Unless you are a socialite like Jep Gambardella in La Grande Bellezza by Paolo Sorrentino. In the first scene he theorizes the perfect behaviour to get noticed at a funeral.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OegfoLykQ8

In the next scene, at the funeral, his plan is staged and executed to perfection.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GazzTFxXGeE

Following are some rituals typically found throughout Italy.

Posters

Italian funerals are traditionally open for everyone in the village or town to attend. Posters are hung throughout the town to alert people of the deceased’s passing and details of when the funeral will be.

Telegrams 

The telegraph service, otherwise never used, still exists in Italy. Even neighbours send telegrams. Italians do not really use cards. The greeting card industry in Italy never got off the ground (which may be the fault of the postal service!), so condolence cards may simply not exist here. Telegrams are the done thing.

Food

Neighbours and friends traditionally bring food over to the deceased’s family as soon as they hear the news. It can be anything from bowls of fruit, desserts, wine, and casseroles. There is usually so much food the family will have plenty to offer visiting guests or freeze for later. Freshly brewed coffee is also served during visits.

Funeral Service

The Catholic tradition will include the last rites, the vigil or prayer ceremony, a funeral liturgy, and the proper Mass being performed. Pallbearers are a common practice in Italian funerals. In some cases, the funeral service will end with family members or friends speaking from the heart about the deceased.

Flowers

Giving flowers to the deceased’s family is among the common Italian funeral traditions. Flowers will adorn the church and casket, which could be draped with a “cushion” of flowers with a banner saying “from the wife and children”, bouquets and other flower arrangements are placed in the front of the coffin or on the steps leading up to the altar.

Attire

Mourners and attendants who follow Italian funeral traditions normally wear all black or dark clothes to funerals.

Funeral Procession to the Gravesite

Historically, people attending an Italian funeral would walk by foot in a funeral procession to the gravesite. The casket would be either in a horse drawn carriage or hearse. Today the funeral procession to the gravesite is similar to modern customs in which mourners follow the hearse in vehicles.

Burial Site

Italian funeral traditions continue at the cemetery as mourners gather around the gravesite. In some cases each person may walk up to the casket and toss a handful of dirt on the casket or place a single rose on top.

Being buried in the ground is rare in Italy due to lack of space. Instead, graves are stacked and placed in concrete mausoleums. The loculi ( singular loculus, Latin for “little place”) are then sealed with a marble slab with the deceased’s name and dates of birth and death engraved on it.  Due to the same reason, these days cremation is a much more common occurrence.

 

Alessandra di Claudio
Alessandra di Claudio

From flight attendant to language teacher to article writer and translator, soap maker and adult educator for the Education Board Training in Dublin, my professional life has been enriched with many wonderful experiences. Always curious and excited about life, I love taking up stimulating challenges especially when combining work and travelling.