V. HOUSEHOLD MOURNING AND HELP FROM NEIGHBOURS
This chapter describes the signs of mourning used by a family to express its sorrow for the death of one of its members during the period of time between the death and the time that the corpse was removed from the home to take it to the church.
- 1 Signs of mourning of the bereaved household
- 2 Role of neighbours during the mourning period
- 3 The parish cross in the bereaved household
Signs of mourning of the bereaved household
This first section describes the signs of mourning used by the bereaved household. It should be noted that the death usually occurred inside the home and it was therefore the main aspect of the mourning.
One of the most common signs and which has now fallen into disuse was to cover the mirrors in the bereaved home with cloths. As is often the case, the ritual lasted for longer than the reasons for it, even though some of the people surveyed still remembered why they acted in that way. In Berganzo (A), it was said that if there was a wardrobe with a mirror in the room, it was covered to avoid "the dead being depicted" in it.
Concealing other belongings
Apart from covering the mirrors, anything that stood out was concealed in several places.
According to a person interviewed in Azkaine (L), anything that was conspicuous was covered in the room of the deceased. According to another person, it was not particularly the mirrors that would be covered, but rather anything distracting on the walls, such as paintings. Draperies were therefore used that were decorated with sprigs of bayleaf pinned in place.
The extreme case was to completely cover the walls of the room using pieces of linen or sheets to surround the corpse. The ceiling was even sometimes covered. This custom was mainly seen in the Northern Basque Country, although it was also reported in the Southern part.
The custom in some places was to keep the windows closed, even with the shutters ajar, to show that the family was in mourning.
This practice was relatively common in Iparralde. In Beskoitze (L) and Izpura (BN), the house shutters were half closed and remained so until the family returned from the funeral. Then, after they were opened, prayers were said in the dead person’s room around a lit candle.
In Gamboa (A), one of the most obvious signs of mourning is to close all of the house’s openings.
Signs of mourning outside the house
It was the custom in some places to hang black bows or crepe at the main entrance or somewhere on the frontage of the house where a death has happened.
At the turn of the century, the most affluent families of Laguardia (A) used to hang black crepe on the balcony. This custom spread down through the century and was even used for those people who held an honorary office during the Spanish Civil War.
Role of neighbours during the mourning period
When one of the members of household group died, the other members stopped working. The greatest expression of mourning was everything stopping while the corpse was present. One such example is that it was said in Ahuzti (L) that the family was living comme cloitrée, as if they were cloistered. There, the family would not even leave the house to go to Mass if there was a Sunday between the time of death and the day of the funeral.
Neighbourhood and neighbours with regard to the bereaved household
Neighbourhood relations intensified when someone dies, as the neighbours carried out numerous and various duties while the household was in mourning.
This section describes the different ways of organising the neighbourhood, auzoa, kartierra. As has already been pointed out, it should be noted that there was not always a clear hierarchy everywhere. The most distinctive way of organising it was according to the proximity between homes and sometimes due to their relative position with respect to the church. There are now few places where that distribution still remains as when it comes to helping, friendship usually prevails over those of proximity.
Help provided by neighbours
The help of neighbours was essential when a death occurred in a household. In reality, the neighbours began to help as the person was dying and continued to do so even after the body was laid to rest. The neighbours were in charge of notifying and accompanying the priest to administer the Viaticum and Anointing, and also the doctor. When the death occurred, they prepared the body and prepared the room, helped to watch over the corpse and led the prayers, carry out the household tasks, notify the other relatives who lived in the town and further away, check the state of the corpse way to the church and get it ready if necessary; be there when the coffin was taken out and accompanied it along the route, acting as bearers, carrying the wreath at the head of the cortege, sometimes the parish cross and also the axes taken along with the coffin; made offerings of lights and bread and also said Mass in memory of the deceased, in some places, dug the grave and filled it in, and once the cortege had returned, burnt the pallet, and prepared the food and the venue for the wake.
The importance of neighbour is clearly reflected in popular sayings, such as: Hobe duzu aizoekilan untsa izaitea, edozoin jedekeekin baino (You are better off getting along with your neighbours that with any member of the family, —lit. with any other person) (Mithiriña-BN).
The parish cross in the bereaved household
This section refers to the custom seen in some places consisting of a neighbour carrying the cross from the church to the bereaved household after the death.
This ritual was very common in Iparralde, where the neighbour that went to the church to get the parish cross was usually the first neighbour of the house where the death had occurred. After the cross was taken to the bereaved household, it was the placed in the room where the corpse lay.