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Separation of the soul and body

The belief that the soul separated from the body after death is widespread, as is to be expected in an area of Christian culture. The desire to establish the possible destinations for the soul once leaving the corpse has also been very common. Thus, signs have been sought from the place of death itself, such as the countenance of the deceased or the type of death suffered; or from the setting, such as if the wind blew or it rained after the death.

The belief that the soul did not separate from the body until a certain time after death has been recorded in Berganzo (A) and Aoiz (N). The belief that this separation happens at the time when life ends is more widespread. In Amézaga de Zuya (A), some people claim that the soul leaves the body with the last sigh or breath, and with the last wheeze in Apodaca (A).

Signs of salvation or damnation

Countenance of the corpse

.Whether it was a peaceful or troubled death and the countenance of the corpse have often been taken as signs of salvation or damnation.

In Arrasate (G) and Bera (N)[1], it is said that people who die peacefully, with a gentle look on their face, have been saved; however, those who suffer in death and with a pained look have gone to hell. In Orozko (B), if the person had a peaceful death, it was a sign that their soul had been saved; but if they suffered greatly, it was believed that they had been damned[2].

Signs of nature

One of the most widespread beliefs is that dying on a rainy day or it raining after the death is a sign that the soul has been saved.

In Bidegoian (G), it is believed that if it pours with rain the day after someone dies, the soul of the deceased in is heaven. In Telleriarte (Legazpia-G), if it rained during the burial, the soul was going to heaven.

Problems when removing the coffin from the house

There was the belief in the past that if the deceased had not treated beggars kindly, it would be difficult to remove the coffin from the bereaved home. It was therefore a sign of damnation.

In Orozko (B), they believed that if the deceased, while still alive gave alms to the poor through a window and not through the door, the corpse would not be able to cross the threshold and would have to be taken through that window. There is a tale in that town of a rather uncharitable woman who on the few times she gave alms to beggars did so by throwing it through the kitchen window. When she died, they could not get her body across the threshold of the door of the house and it had to be taken out through the kitchen window[3].

Incorrupt bodies

The different signs as to whether the soul of the deceased had been damned or saved include a belief that is a way of checking the salvation of the soul much later on. Bodies that are incorrupt, i.e. not decomposed, when exhumed at the end of a certain period to make room for new burials, belonged to saints.

In Hondarribia (G), they said that those bodies that remained incorrupt at the end of so many years were of saints[4].

In Rigoitia (B), an incorrupt body taken to be a saint, popularly known as gorputz santuz[5], is to be found in the sacristy in the parish Church of Santa María.

Practices to ensure salvation

The salvation of the soul can be guaranteed in life by observing certain religious practices.

There is the belief that anyone wearing a medal of Our Lady of El Carmen around their neck when they died would go directly to heaven. However, the medal has to be always worn as it is essential to be wearing it at the time of death. Prior to the medal, the custom was to wear a cloth scapular.

Another practice has been to receive Communion on the first Fridays of nine consecutive months. This has been less popular and widespread than the previous one.

Then there is the custom of praying for a good death. An Our Father to St. Joseph was said after the rosary for "the petitioners to have a good death".

  1. Julio CARo BAROJA. La vida rural en Vera de Bidasoa. Madrid, 1944, p. 168.
  2. AEF, III (1923) p. 7.
  3. AEF, III (1923) p. 8.
  4. AEF, III (1923) p. 91.
  5. Iturriza already mentioned it, indicating that it was unearthed during the rebuilding of the church in around 1550. See Juan Ramón de ITURRIZA. Historia General de Vizcaya y Epítome de las Encartaciones. Bilbao, 1938, p. 420 .