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This chapter considers the expression of bereavement during the mourning period, which lasted a considerable period of time. During that the time, the direct relatives of the deceased and particularly those living under the same roof were subject to a series of restrictions affecting both their social and private life.

Those restrictions limited their attending dances, festivals and public entertainment venues, along with celebrating patron saint’s festivities, wedding or events of a similar nature.

Yet undeniably the most obvious expression of bereavement was the mourning apparel, to the point that that period of time is identified with black attire.

Mourning also required the family to carry out a series of ritual practices related to activating the burial site in the church and offerings.

Duration of the mourning

If mourning is taken to be the set of external expressions that the family adopted after the death, the length of time involved seem to be related to the duration that the lights were lit at the burial site in the church. That was reported in Berganzo, Salcedo, San Román de San Millán (A), and Getaria (G) where the mourning lasted as long as the lights were lit at the burial site. The period of mourning as regards dress was often much longer.

Restrictions during the mourning period

Attending dances and parties

The ban on attending dances, festivities and popular pilgrimages affecting the members of the families closest to the deceased during the period of mourning was universal in all the places surveyed, but its duration differed from one to another.

In Mélida (N), among the wives, it lasted for four or five years and sometimes for their whole lives. In Aria (N), young men and women were not allowed to dance for two years. In Orozko (B) and Zerain (G) until the one-year anniversary mass was held. The one-year ban was also found in Amézaga de Zuya, Apodaca, Berganzo, Bernedo, Ribera Alta (A), Amezketa, Arrasate, Bidegoian (G) and Eugi (N).

In several locations, the ban on dancing lasting longer than the one of attending the dance was reported.

Mourning apparel

The most obvious expression during the mourning period is the changing of the usual clothing for black apparel that reflected the grief of the family’s loss.

The mourning attire was worn for longer the closer the kinship to the deceased and in the same way as kinship, the duration was longer for women. The mourning was usually more rigorous among the relatives living in the household where the death occurred and among the elderly.

It sometimes not only affected the relatives of the deceased but also people who were not relatives but formed part of the household. In Obanos (N), for example, the servants wore mourning in wealthy households.

Signs of mourning on the outside of the house


The custom of hanging crepe was not limited to the period between the death and the funeral, but sometimes was extended to certain commemorative dates.

In Obanos (N), a household in mourning added black crepe in the centre of the drapery used to decorate the balconies for the Corpus procession. In that same location, when the pack horses were taken to the church on St. Anthony Abbot’s Day, a household in mourning could not put bells on their collars; some people believed that they could recall something black, a trapico, being hung there.

In Durango and Gernika (B), families in mourning attached a black ribbon to the palm leaf or the bay branch that they took to the church on Palm Sunday. After the procession, the people in mourning would then hang the branch or leaf with the ribbon on the balcony.

The custom of putting a sign of mourning on the balcony drapery for the solemn processions was also seen in Zeanuri (B), Getaria (G), Allo, Aoiz, Mélida, San Martín de Unx, Sangüesa and Viana(N).

In Sangüesa (N), another sign of mourning consisted of putting a bench with lit candles at the house entrance at the time of a public procession.

In Ezpeize-Undüreiñe and Liginaga (Z), black crepe was added to the cross made out of ears of wheat or flowers placed at the house’s front door on St. John’s Day (24 June) or it was covered with a black cloth. In Barkoxe (Z), on that same day, the family in mourning made a black cross or expressed their grief by tying violet ribbons to it.

Concealing the coats-of-arms

Another sign of bereavement consisted of covering with a black cloth the coats-of-arms if the household had one. This cloth remained there during the mourning period that was a year or would remain there until it fell off due to the wear and tear caused by the inclement weather. In the case of distinguished families, as a sign of the link of the death with the household, their coats-of-arms was hidden even when the death and the obsequies had occurred outside that town.

Changes to mourning

The obligation to be in mourning after a death began to fall into decline in the 1960s and from then onwards, and particularly in the following decade, this custom generally disappeared, both as regards the attire and fulfilling the religious obligations or the ban on celebrating festivities, attending dances and shows, going to bars, etc.

Nowadays, people wear black or grey, or just dark colours, to the funeral. Men, in some cases, wear a black tie.

Mourning attire began to be less common in the last thirty days, from the 1960s onwards. Some people still dress completely in black following the death of a loved one, but those cases are rather exceptional. On the other hand, the very use of black clothes is losing its former connotation of being in mourning.