Friday, October 28, 2016

Victorian Mourning and Post-Mortem Photography Part 2

As time goes by, there are some traditions and customs that have been forgotten or are not necessary anymore. I clearly remember that all of the funeral ceremonies that my parents attended were always at the disease's house. It was a way for the disease to say goodbye to his/her home. Nowadays, most people avoid this practice, they say it is "too morbid" or like my mom said " It give me the chills just to think about a funeral in my house", this is the way many people feel about funerals. For the Victorians of the British Empire was serious business, full of rituals to live by. 
Victorian Mourning and Post-Mortem Photography Pt. 1 HERE

Before "It used to be the custom in most Celtic countries in Europe for mourners to keep watch or vigil over their dead until they were buried — this was called a "wake". It was basically a vigil to watch over the body of the deceased in case this would wake up (now it would be known as waking up from a coma). The difference between a wake and a funeral is that the wake is held at home with a familiar and private atmosphere and the funeral is held at a funeral home where the people who works at this place take care of the details of the ceremony that the mourner don't want to deal with.When a wake was held at the home of the disease the body was usually "prepared" at the kitchen, of course, the people of this era were not aware of the lack of sanitary standards they should have had for this practice. The next step was sending the -invitations - and it was a sign of disrespect to the family if you did not attend. The wake was usually held for 4 days up to a week for 2 reasons (as far as I know). The first was because the family wanted to make sure that their loved one was really dead, hence the wake, they would stay up all night in case this would happen. 

The second reason was because some members of the family had long trips to make to attend the funeral and burial. This also was the reason why many subjects of post-mortem photographs show signs of initial decay, even some of them have their eyes painted over their eyelids because of the changes the eyeballs would experience in several days and photographers just wanted the dead person ,,, to look...not dead. 

The parlor, where the wake was held, was the best room because it was the face of the house and the family image to the community, usually the families who owned a parlor where from the upper class. It was important for the family to be there to look after their loved one as a last token of love, the last thing they could do for her or him. Because of the many days the funeral was held, candles and many flowers were essential to conceal the smell coming out of the body. High status families probably had already paintings and pictures of their family members when they were alive but nonetheless a post-mortem photography was still very important to have. In fact people saved more than a picture ; mourners usually took a lock of hair to save it inside a pendant and tears were saved in a tear catcher.

People with a low income or poor, were used to save all the money they could for funeral arrangements because there was a big chance that most of their children wouldn't make it past their fifth birthday. The mortality rate was so high that it could happen anytime. This families spent their money on one picture to remember the disease. There are many post-mortem photographs where the body is lying on a bed, looking peaceful and saint like but there are others where the family and the photographer wanted to create the illusion of life in the body. The photographer used a posing stand to hold up the body but they usually sat them on a chair or couch.

During mourning, mirrors were cover up (because the soul could get trapped inside), a black ribbon hung on the door, the clocks were stopped at the time of death, pictures were covered, the family wore all black , usually women were the ones who used to mourn for longer periods of time, , usually a year. When the family was ready, the body was taken to the cemetery in a funeral carriage and they hired professional mourners "symbolic protectors of the deceased" to walk along the funeral procession or stand at the church's door. The family's job was not completed until the mortsafes (iron cages) were put on top of the burial place. At the time there were body snatcher lurking in cemeteries. Since there were not laws against it, this person used to rob recently buried bodies "A common purpose of body snatching, especially in the 19th century, was to sell the corpses for dissection or anatomy lectures in medical schools"-Wikipedia 

Funeral arrangements were held on a whole different level and were more hectic on the Victorian era than it is today. Now we can hire a funeral home and we don't have to take care of anything. At the present time, that's the point of it all ,people don't want to deal with corpses, death, cemeteries and won't even talk about it. Most people want to bury the loved one as fast as they can. We are not strong enough to deal with death and we don't even know how to mourn. Somehow at some point in history people got fed up with death and became allergic to it even though people die every day. In this modern world we want things to go quickly and painlessly, basically we want to be numb. But death it's something inevitable and it will always be painful. 
Or maybe the Victorians were obsessed with death? But that's a post for another night. 

Victorian Mourning and Post-Mortem Photography Pt. 1 HERE

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