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Dorota Dutsch

Na(e)nia is a genre of verbal composition (cf. carmen), most commonly a chant including a eulogy, performed at a funeral to the accompaniment of pipe music by professional mourners called praeficae.1 In contrast to the formal laudatio funebris, the nenia’s praise of the deceased and its female performers were routinely mocked as insincere by comic writers.2 Ancient etymologists claimed that word nenia was equivalent of offal and rubbish as well as ending.3 Nonetheless, according to Varro, the goddess Nenia, the chant personified, presided over the final days of life (Antiq. div. fr. 161 Cardauns).4

As a dirge, nenia was used as equivalent to the Greek choral thrēnos by Horace and later could refer to a formal choral lament for an emperor (Suet. Aug. 100.2).5 No script of a funerary nenia survives; Seneca’s parody in anapaests (Apocol. 12) is the most substantial instance of the genre’s literary reception.


The “Classic” Age of Christian Worship, 4th–6th Century  

John F. Baldovin

The 4th–6th centuries can be considered a classic period in the development of Christian worship. During this time many of the liturgical forms that are still recognizable today were consolidated: the architectural disposition of church buildings, the shape of the Eucharist and the various traditions of the eucharistic prayer, the rites of initiation, the annual liturgical cycle (calendar), and the rites associated with ordination, weddings, the anointing of the sick, penance, and the burial of the dead. This was the period in which the great diversity and variety that characterized the first Christian centuries gradually settled into the basic structures that are familiar today. At the same time, it was the period of the development of the great rites of Christian worship that were centered on the major cities of the Roman Empire: Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, Edessa, Jerusalem, and Rome. The new diversity of these rites often corresponded to the various languages in which they were celebrated: Greek, Syriac, Coptic, and Latin.



Jacob Latham

A procession (πομπή/pompa), at a basic level, is the ritualized escort of someone or something from one place to another by some group before some audience—an ordinary walk transformed by means of performance traditions and customary rules into a more or less spectacular pageant, whose significance derives, in part, from a variable calculus of honoree, cortege, itinerary, audience, and performance. The honoree(s), triumphant generals, the deceased, images of the gods, sacrificial animals, etc., were accompanied by a processional cortege, typically a specific social group (like the worshippers of Isis in a particular city) or a collection of groups imagined as a civic cross-section. The procession then traversed an itinerary, creating a symbolically charged pathway that transformed urban space into significant place. Processions may be produced with varying degrees of theatricality, while the same procession could vary from one performance to the next. Despite such variation, a shared set of production techniques and values, a kind of processional koine, spanned the Mediterranean. Processions were thus constrained by custom and open to innovation—and audiences could be attentive to both. In the end, ritualized walking (one way of understanding a procession) impacted both the urban imaginary, creating community, and urban practices, marking spatial significance.


Death and Dying in the Working Class  

Michael K. Rosenow

In the broader field of thanatology, scholars investigate rituals of dying, attitudes toward death, evolving trajectories of life expectancy, and more. Applying a lens of social class means studying similar themes but focusing on the men, women, and children who worked for wages in the United States. Working people were more likely to die from workplace accidents, occupational diseases, or episodes of work-related violence. In most periods of American history, it was more dangerous to be a wage worker than it was to be a soldier. Battlegrounds were not just the shop floor but also the terrain of labor relations. American labor history has been filled with violent encounters between workers asserting their views of economic justice and employers defending their private property rights. These clashes frequently turned deadly. Labor unions and working-class communities extended an ethos of mutualism and solidarity from the union halls and picket lines to memorial services and gravesites. They lauded martyrs to movements for human dignity and erected monuments to honor the fallen. Aspects of ethnicity, race, and gender added layers of meaning that intersected with and refracted through individuals’ economic positions. Workers’ encounters with death and the way they made sense of loss and sacrifice in some ways overlapped with Americans from other social classes in terms of religious custom, ritual practice, and material consumption. Their experiences were not entirely unique but diverged in significant ways.


Christian Marriage and Funeral Services as Rites of Passage  

Ruth A. Meyers

Weddings and funerals mark major transitions in human life. In these rites of passage, which effect a transformation from one status to another, an individual is separated from one state of existence, passes through a threshold or liminal space, and is incorporated into the community with a new status. In a wedding, individuals move from being single to being joined in a marriage, and in rites surrounding death, a person moves from the land of the living to become an ancestor. These rites of passage concern not only those making the transition but also the community. The ritual actions enable the individuals as well as the community to navigate momentous events in human life, they acknowledge and bring about a transformation in the community, and they offer an interpretive framework for the transition. Weddings and funerals are not rooted in any single religious tradition. Rather, they are social and cultural events that may also have a religious dimension. Many religious weddings and funerals incorporate practices from different cultural contexts, and as social or cultural norms change, ritual practices may evolve to accommodate these norms. Wedding practices have changed to reflect modern Western notions of companionate marriage rather than arranged marriage, and, more recently, growing acceptance of same-sex life partnerships has led a few religious bodies to develop rituals to bless these relationships. Funerals express different understandings of life after death, and they are adapted to various practices for disposal of the body, for example, cremation or burial of the body.


Martin Luther on Death and Dying  

Susan C. Karant-Nunn

In the late 15th century, when Martin Luther was born and grew up, death was very much present. Family, friends, and neighbors seldom reached what we today would consider a middle age, and women of childbearing age were at special risk. Catholic clergy took pains to offer Christians at every social level ways in which they could prepare themselves for the happiest possible afterlife. When Martin Luther joined the order of Augustinian Eremite Friars in 1505, he had never read a Bible. He now gained access to one that the brothers of the Erfurt house had in their library. Luther read it intently. He found that numerous Catholic points of theology and practice were not validated in scripture. In 1517, he chose the issue of indulgences on which to attack church practice, in view of the fact that the ordinary people in Wittenberg to whom he regularly preached—he was not their pastor—sacrificed a great deal to pay for certificates of indulgence. As a result of his encounter with the Bible, Luther proceeded to dismantle long-standing Catholic belief concerning death and treatment of the dead. He disqualified the Virgin, saints, and priests as intermediaries between individual souls and God. He insisted that as a result of the Fall of Adam and Eve, humans could not perform good deeds to earn themselves entry to Heaven. They had, instead, to rely on the atoning power of Christ’s death on the cross to pay the penalties that they deserved for their continual sinning. Those who had faith in the atonement would be saved. Justification by faith supplanted a theology of justification by good works. Gradually, over about twenty years, new Lutheran liturgies for ministering to the sick and dying and for burying the dead were introduced. Beginning at about midcentury, preachers were instructed to compose funeral sermons for just about every burial. These constitute a new literary subgenre. Many were published for reading by a larger audience, and as many as a quarter million of such printed sermons have survived. Visible as a theme within them is the traditional belief that every Christian should strive to achieve a “good death.” The phrase meant that dying people should cling fervently to the certainty that Christ has paid the penalty for faithful Christians’ sins.


Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardo Thödol)  

Casey Alexandra Kemp

Although in Tibet there is no single text directly referred to as the Tibetan Book of the Dead, this English work is the primary source for Western understandings of Tibetan Buddhist conceptions of death. These understandings have been highly influenced by Western spiritualist movements of the 20th and 21st centuries, resulting in efforts to adapt and synthesize various frameworks of “other” religious traditions, particularly those from Asian societies that are viewed as esoteric or mystical, including tantric or Tibetan Buddhism. This has resulted in creative forms of appropriation, reinterpretation, and misrepresentation of Tibetan views and rituals surrounding death, which often neglect the historical and religious realities of the tradition itself. The Tibetan Book of the Dead is a prime example of such a process. Despite the lack of a truly existing “book of the dead,” numerous translations, commentaries, and comparative studies on this “book” continue to be produced by both scholars and adherents of the tradition, making it a focal point for the dissemination and transference of Tibetan Buddhism in the West. The set of Tibetan block prints that was the basis for the original publication of the Tibetan Book of the Dead in 1927 by Walter Y. Evans-Wentz (1878–1968) consisted of portions of the collection known in Tibetan as The Great Liberation through Hearing in the Intermediate State or Bardo Thödol (Bar do thos grol chen mo). This work is said to have been authored by Padmasambhava in the 8th century ce, who subsequently had the work buried; it was rediscovered in the 14th century by the treasure revealer (gter ston) Karma Lingpa (Kar ma gling pa; b. c. 1350). However, as a subject for literary and historical inquiry, it is nearly impossible to determine what Tibetan texts should be classified under the Western conceptual rubric of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. This is due partly to the Tibetan tendency to transmit textual traditions through various redactions, which inevitably change the content and order of collected works. Despite this challenge, the few systematic efforts made by scholars of Tibetan and Buddhist studies to investigate Bardo Thödol literature and its associated funerary tradition have been thorough, and the works produced by Bryan Cuevas and Donald Lopez Jr. are particularly noteworthy. The Bardo Thödol is essentially a funerary manual designed to guide an individual toward recognizing the signs of impending death and traversing the intermediate state (bar do) between death and rebirth, and to guide one’s consciousness to a favorable next life. These instructions provide detailed descriptions of visions and other sensory experiences that one encounters when dying and during the post-mortem state. The texts are meant to be read aloud to the deceased by the living to encourage the consciousness to realize the illusory or dreamlike nature of these experiences and thus to attain liberation through this recognition. This presentation is indicative of a complex and intricate conceptual framework built around notions of death, impermanence, and their soteriological propensities within a tantric Buddhist program developed in Tibet over a millennium, particularly within the context of the Nyingma (rNying ma) esoteric tradition known as Dzogchen (rDzogs chen). Tibet and other tantric Buddhist societies throughout the Himalaya have developed a variety of technologies for practically applying Buddhist understandings of death, and so this particular “book” is by no means the only manual utilized during the dying and post-mortem states, nor is it even necessarily included in all Tibetan or Himalayan funerary traditions. Nevertheless, this work has captured the interests of Western societies for the past century and has unofficially become the principal introduction not only to Tibetan death rites but also to Tibetan Buddhism in general for the West.