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As its very title indicates, this chapter is about notifying the death by the people close to the deceased to those people who, due to a friendship, social or family relationship, may want to visit the bereaved household to express their condolences to the family or just to attend the funeral. Those people close to the deceased are usually family members and often those who live with the person who died, but it can also be one or several close neighbours, the young people of the village and even some persons to whom this rule has been entrusted, such the first neighbour or nearest neighbour and certain women.

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After someone who dies, the news is usually spread among the relatives living those in the same location and away, as well as to the neighbours and friends of the deceased.

The death is also notified to the doctor to certify the death and the priest to provide the necessary care and arrange the time of the funeral. The sexton or the person in charge of tolling the bells is also notified and, in the past, the carpenter to make the coffin.

Recipients of the notification

The people who are normally notified when a death occurs are the relatives of the deceased, both those living in the same place and those living in other locations, including those far flung lands. The residents of the town or neighbourhood are told as well.

Death announcers

In many locations, announcing the death was usually done by a relative of the deceased or, where applicable, by one or more close neighbours. However, there is the widespread custom that that task would be carried out by the so-called first or nearest neighbour, by specific young men in the village or by certain women.


Tolling the bell was a very effective way of announcing the death in rural settlements with a limited number of inhabitants.

It was usual that when the death knell was rung, those who heard it stopped what they were doing for a moment and said a prayer for the deceased.

Time of the death knell

The general rule was to ring the bells, just after learning of the death, once that news had been passed on to the person in charge of ringing them. In Iparralde, however, the death knell was rung when the cross was being taken from the church to the bereaved household.

Person in charge of ringing the bells

The person usually tasked with ringing the bells was the sexton (Apodaca, Mendiola-A; Gorozika, Muskiz-B; Arnezketa-G; Allo, Izal, Monreal-N) and where there was one, the bell-ringer (Valdegovía-A).

Language of the tolling of the bells

Traditionally, the death knell not only announced the death of a person, but also provided information about their age, that is, if a child or adult had died, their sex, and also indicated if the deceased was a priest or belonged to a brotherhood.

Death knells in chapels

In Durango (B), when the death occurred in the countryside, the San Roque, Santa Apolonia, San Andrés and Orozketa neighbourhoods, the bell at the San Roque chapel was rung at 3.00 p.m. and when the corpse was taken past the chapel.

Burial bell tolls

Other death knells are the ones rung from that initial moment to the funeral mass. Those immediately before and after the funeral are included in this point. There purpose is not to notify the death as by the news is well known at this point, but rather they announce that the mass is to be held.

Death notices

Newspaper death notices

The death notices that are published in newspapers are to announce the death to distant relatives and those geographically further away, as well as to certain acquaintances of the deceased who have not been notified by the more immediate and usual procedures. The death notice is a way to inform an indiscriminate number of people in a timely way who might not otherwise receive the news in time to be able to attend the funeral should they so desire.

Street death notices

Another type of death notices are those that consist of a small notice or cardboard rectangle with the details of the deceased and when, in which parish and at what time the funeral will be held.

They are placed at strategic points that vary according to the locations, but what they do have in common is that are frequented and known by the community.

Telling domesticated animals of the death

It used to be considered normal to tell the domesticated animals of the death of a family member, as the animals are part of the household to a degree; the home, ultimately, is a community made up by the living beings, both people and animals, that live there. However, to judge by the lack of responses in the surveys, the practice has been forgotten.

Telling the bees

Bees were the main ones to be told about the death of the owner of the home and in some locations that of any family member. The person tasked with telling them was usually the heir, widow or widower, a relative and even a neighbour or a friend. In some places, it was said that if a stranger did so, the bees would attack them (Morga-B and Haltsu-L)[1].

Telling the barn animals

In addition to telling the bees about the death, there was the custom in some other location to tell the other domesticated animals on the homestead. The extent of this ritual seems to have been much smaller than that performed with the bees.

In Sara (L), the custom was to announce the death of a member, particularly that of the owner, to the oxen and cows, making them come out of their stalls. The other animals of the chicken coup, the pig sty and the fold were also told.

  1. Resurrección Maria de AzKUE. Euskalerriaren Yakintza. Volume l. Madrid, 1935, p. 430.