Vasile standing at his wife's grave at the six week funeral service.

December 1999:

Widow and coffinWhen Death comes in Maramures, the living light a candle. They keep it burning by the dead person's side to keep others from falling prey to Death.

On the coffin here is the last candle to watch over the deceased. Put in a jar with grain, it burns over his heart.

Money in Bread   





They put twenty four pieces of money in a loaf of bread. To pay for twenty four crossings in the afterlife.

This seems like a custom that goes back a long ways.

Bread for the dead   

Before the priest arrives, they give the loaf of bread to the departed.


Blowing the horns   





   Traditions vary, but in Birsana, they blow these long horns. The family of this deceased comes from Birsana, though the funeral happened twenty kilometers away in Ogna Sugatag.

These horns are also used for calling in sheep.

Gathering During the funeral, the village gathers in the courtyard of the deceased's home.

The priest carries on the rituals, most of them inside where only the family and close friends are present. He comes out near the end of the private rituals to throw holy water in all the buildings to ward off bad spirits.

Meanwhile, the attendees wait, and wait, and wait.

Bringing out the coffin   

Finally the coffin comes out, born by friends and family.

The bearers all have dish towels pinned to their shoulders.


We all receive a candle, and hold it lighted through the ceremony.




Passing food   

They pass food, money and wine over the body.



Preaching and writing   


As this priest delivers his sermon, the chanter is writing a custom song eulogizing the person's life. Once the priest finishes, he'll start singing.

Writer's block is not an option.

Laying hands   

  Near the end of the ceremony, friends and family connect with the departed by laying their hands on the coffin, or on the person in front of them who's connected to the coffin, and so on in long snaking lines across the courtyard.

Uncovering the casket   


At the end of the service, they uncover the body, wailing begins again.

Nailing it shut.   

Then they waste no time in nailing the coffin shut. It's done loudly in front of everyone.





Once the coffin is securely nailed shut, they walk it to the cemetery.

They stop every hundred meters for more prayers.

Walking with cross and candle   


Here a family relative carries the cross with the dead man's name.

Burial beginning   

He's also carrying the candle from on top of the coffin. This will be thrown down into the grave just before they fill it with dirt.








   At the cemetery, they hurry to complete the job




Burying their dead and walking back empty-handed.




Walking back





Cleaning the feast   


The family sponsors a feast for everyone.

Cleanup is taken care of by friends of the family.




Six weeks later   

Six weeks later, they visit the grave again.


Incense over the grave   




More prayers are said.



And when the service is over, there's more food than people could possibly hope to eat.

The game is to eat as much as possible, then sneak some more away in your pockets.

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