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Victorian Era Funeral Customs and Rituals

Description: Curtains would be drawn and clocks would be stopped at the time of death. Mirrors were covered with crape or veiling to prevent the deceased's spirit from getting trapped in the looking glass.

Curtains would be drawn and clocks would be stopped at the time of death. Mirrors were covered with crape or veiling to prevent the deceased's spirit from getting trapped in the looking glass. A wreath of laurel, yew or boxwood tied with crape or black ribbons was hung on the front door to alert passersby that a death had occurred.

The body was watched over every minute until burial, hence the custom of "waking". The wake also served as a safeguard from burying someone who was not dead, but in a coma. Most wakes also lasted 3-4 days to allow relatives to arrive from far away. The use of flowers and candles helped to mask unpleasant odors in the room before embalming became common.

In the 19th century Europe and America the dead were carried out of the house feet first, in order to prevent the spirit from looking back into the house and beckoning another member of the family to follow him. Family photographs were also sometimes turned face-down to prevent any of the close relatives and friends of the deceased from being possessed by the spirit of the dead.

Timeline for Mourning

All communities had mourning rules that dictated how long a family would be in mourning according to their relation to the deceased. A woman might mourn her parents for months or even years, but a cousin or distant in law might dictate a much shorter mourning period. A husband's death, on the other hand, would dictate full mourning for six to twenty four months, with the tradition being one year and one day. This period of deep mourning might be followed by a period of lighter mourning that allowed the woman to slowly return to society. (Many women chose to remain in full mourning the rest of their lives, returning to society, but retaining their "widows weeds".)

The recommended guide for length of the mourning period (according to author Lou Taylor)

  • Widow for Husband 2 1/2 years
  • Widower for wife 3 months (children needed a mother)
  • Mother for Child one year
  • Child for parent one year

 

Professional Mourners

Professional Mourners
Professional Mourners known as 'Mutes' were hired to walk behind the hearse in Victorian times. They wore black draped hats and coats and carried draped banners and they bore a suitably dignified, somber countenance.

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db# 372

Victorian Era Superstitions

Victorian Era Superstitions
People living within the Victorian Era had many different beliefs and superstitions.

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db# 369

Victorian Funeral Cards

Victorian Funeral Cards
During the Victorian Era, families would created invitations that was sent out to people in order to attend a wake or funeral. It was considered a privelege to receive an invitation and a personal insult if you did not attend after receiving an invi...

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db# 181

Victorian Funeral Processessions

Victorian Funeral Processessions
Grandiose is not too strong a word to use to describe the manner in which a Victorian funeral was conducted.

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db# 1

Victorian Grave Robbing

Victorian Grave Robbing
Grave robbery by the 'Resurrectionist Men', often doctors themselves was a problem in the 19th century as medical schools needed fresh cadavers for dissection classes.

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db# 370

Victorian Hearses and Horses

Victorian Hearses and Horses
If a funeral parlour did not have enough clients to warrant owning their own hearses and teams of horses, this task was contracted out to a carriage-master who could serve several funeral businesses.

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db# 371

Victorian Mourning Clothes

Victorian Mourning Clothes
Victorians' fascination with death affected many aspects of everyday life, including dress. Fashion magazines advertised mourning versions of the latest styles while women in mourning followed very strict rules as to which types of dress were accepta...

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db# 368

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