Funeral rites in Corsica
Death and funerary rites in Corsica, yesterday and today
Times have changed and yesterday's customs have blurred.
In the old days, people believed that at night the dead (those who were already in their graves) came to the burial of the one who was about to die. During this ceremony " the spirits of the dead sang or rather grumbled the Libera me Domine and the De Profundis in a deep dark and frightening whisper: it was the squadra d'Arroza". Nowadays in a few isolated villages some people can make premonitory dreams about the imminent death of a relative, a friend or a neighbour ...
On this island of Corsica two types of funeral rites existed wether the death was natural or violent .
In the event of natural death, and in order to accompany the dying person in this ordeal they would toll knell, which had a protective virtue and the priest performed last rites. After the death the angelus bell sounded, indicating by the number of strokes whether it was a man (3 peals of bell), a woman (2 peals) or a child (1 peal).
As soon as the person had passed away, the windows and doors were left open so that the soul could fly away,then all the mirrors of the house were covered with a sheet so that the spirit of the dead could not be reflected and remain prisoner.
For three days the house remained closed, fires were put out. The dead was exposed on the main table where meals were usually served .
During the wake that lasted until dawn by the dim light of oil lamps, after the ritual meal (confortu), parents and relatives improvised funeral songs, laments praising the virtues of the deceased and sometimes funny stories were told.
The funeral took place two days later, the coffin was placed in the nave of the church on the catafalque- a construction of several stories high sometimes if the deceased was an important person.
OThen the crowd attending the funeral listened to traditional polyphonic chants, then men took the coffin to the cementary or to the family vault erected on their land next to their houses. Until the end of the XVIIIth century, churches were used for burials.
In the event of violent death, during the wake, they heard funeral laments, the voceri, that could be calls for revenge.
Where the victim had been killed, a small hillock was erected and passersby could throw a pebble on it. So a mucchju (tumulus) was formed in the end .
After the long funeral ceremony, a funeral meal always starting with a meat broth was proposed by the family to the large attendance. Parents and relatives, friends who had travelled from afar talked, cried, sang . After dark, before leaving, they recited a prayer the De Profundis for the deceased .
A specific insular character of Corsica: if the dead was a young unmarried woman the funeral chants were those composed for a bride.
Nowadays the cult of the dead is kept alive in the heart of Corsicans but all the rituals of death have been simplified.
Almost everywhere wakes have disappeared, the rich and the poor are buried with the same ritual: a Holy Mass followed by the Absolution.
Corsicans, traditions rooted in their souls, remain true to their deceased by praying for them and have masses celebrated for their souls.
"Quand'ellu si ne sà di più, hè tandu ch'ellu si more"
"When we know more, when we have more experience, that's when we die"