SLI:Traditions of Death and Burial
In this illustrated book historian and folklorist Helen Frisby describes how, since the Middle Ages, people have prepared for death and sent the dead on their way. The Black Death spawned a rich funerary culture, which came under attack during the Reformation. However, some old customs, such as the passing bell and funeral tea, persisted well into the Industrial Age. Meanwhile, customs which now seem long established have much more recent origins; professional undertakers first emerged in the 1700s, whilst the Victorians invented the garden cemetery and legalised cremation.
Death has been a source of grief and uncertainty for humanity throughout history, but it has also been the inspiration for a plethora of fascinating traditions. The covering of mirrors to prevent the departed spirit from seeing itself; the passing bell rung to assist the soul to heaven; the ‘sin eater’ who sat beside a coffin eating and drinking to ‘absorb’ the corpse’s sins – all of these were common approaches at one time or another. Yet in the modern day, death has become more clinical than spiritual, something kept hidden behind closed doors. This beautifully illustrated history explores English approaches to death and burial from the medieval era to the present day, exploring ancient customs which have long since lapsed, those such as lighting candles that have survived until the present day, and new approaches such as eco-burials, which are changing how we relate to death, dying and the dead.