XIX. RETURNING TO THE HOUSE OF THE DECEASED AND FUNERAL MEAL
The return of the funeral cortege or, at least, the family to the home of the deceased was part of the funeral rites overall.
The “Beliefs and Funeral Rites” surveys conducted by Barandiarán and his associates in the first quarter of the 20th century reflected a society where the homestead and its household played a key role in the funeral rites and, in fact, those rites started and ended in the home of the deceased. That practice was found throughout the Basque Country.
That was the case in Galarreta (A) in the 1920s where after the interment in the cemetery, “they return to the church and say responses at the burial site of the household of the deceased. Then the priest, accompanied by the sacristan (who carries the cross) and the members of the funeral cortege, then go to the home of the deceased, to say a response there as well; the priest then immediately returns to the church. The family members of the deceased invite the all the relatives, outlanders and one or two from each local house, to lunch, if the burial is in the morning, or to a teatime snack, if it is in the afternoon”.
In Ziga (Baztan-N), according to the same survey (1923), the relatives, barrides and people who had travelled from far, returned to the house of the deceased in a strict order of kinship. They were all offered a meal.
In Beasain (G), until the 1930s, the cortege returned to the home of the deceased in a row, led by the head of the family who wore a cape and a top hat. One of the people surveyed there had to lead his father’s funeral cortege when he was 10 years old, as he was the oldest male left in the household. He remembered that his mother held the hem of the cape so it did not drag on the ground and filled the hat with stuffing so that it did not fall too far down on his face. That cortege was made up of the members of the household, etxekoak, and the relatives who had travelled from other towns, who were offered a funeral feast back at the house.
In Zeanuri (B), the oldest people recalled that up to seventy years ago, the people who had made up the family mourners at the burial returned from the church to the house of the deceased in two groups: the men wearing capes and hats, and the women with black veils. On the way back, once they had reached a certain point, the men would remove the heavy capes, particularly in summer. They all then took part in the funeral meal that was put on at the house.
An article published in the 1920s pointed out that after the interment in Zuberoa, all the guests would go to the house of the deceased where they would be offered refreshments. They would originally only have been offered bread and cheese with the homestead’s wine, but by the 1920s, there would have been a meal. At the end of the meal, the precentor or sacristan would say some prayers for the deceased and “for all the souls that had left the home”, which would mark the end of the ceremony.
The return of the cortege to the home of the deceased that was common until three or four decades took different forms throughout Euskal Herria. In general, it could be said that in places with a concentrated population and the homesteads formed a settlement close to the church —as is the case of Álava and of Mid-Navarre— all the participants in the funeral rites, presided by the parish church and accompanied by the priest, returned to the house from where the funeral cortege had left and then a prayer was said in front of the door and which marked the end of the obesquies.
The family of the deceased the offered the people at the door a snack of bread and wine, which was called la caridad in Álava. The funeral meal would then be served to the relatives of the deceased inside the house.
In the regions with a scattered population —the Northern Basque Country, Gipuzkoa, the Navarrese Mountains and Bizkaia—, the relatives who were part of the mourners would return in a cortege to the house of the deceased where the festival feast prepared for the occasion would be served. The other people at the funeral would be offered refreshments after the funeral in the church porch or nearby.
The end of the obsequies usually involved meals and feasts. It should be noted that those feasts are further proof that the people attending the burial and funeral were made up of two different groups: the honour group, consisting of the people at the obsequies due to obligations arising from blood relationships, and the charity group, made up of those there due to Christian solidarity. There were different meals for each group.
In both cases, those meals were held with a ceremony in line with the requirements of a ritual, which has caused some authors to consider them as funeral meals or feasts dating back to ancient times.
- BARANDIARAN, José Miguel de. “Creencias y ritos funerarios en Orozko, Ziortza (Zenarruza), Kortezubi, Otazu, Ataun, Arano, Ziga (Baztan), Otxagabia” in Anuario de Eusko Folklore. Volume III. Vitoria: 1923, pp. 57 & 59.
- BARANDIARAN, José Miguel de. “Creencias y ritos funerarios en Orozko, Ziortza (Zenarruza), Kortezubi, Otazu, Ataun, Arano, Ziga (Baztan), Otxagabia” in Anuario de Eusko Folklore. Volume III. Vitoria: 1923, p. 132.
- D. ESPAIN. “Des usages mortuaires en Soule” in Bulletin du Musée Basque, VI, 1-2 (1929) p. 24.
- The Constitutions of the Ánimas de Sangüesa (N) Brotherhood, drafted in 1798, echoed this practice when they laid down that the members should go to the house of the deceased to say the response after the funeral mass.
- José Miguel de BARANDIARAN. Estelas funerarias del País Vasco. San Sebastián: 1970, p. 35.
- Bonifacio ECHEGARAY. “Significación jurídica de algunos ritos funerarios del País Vasco”, in RJEV, XVI (1925) pp. 102. Barandiarán in turn stressed that the funeral meals or feasts “do not have the mystical content as in the past”. See Estelas funerarias del País Vasco. San Sebastián: 1970, p. 29.