Austin's Blog


Funerals in Ancient Rome

November 6th, 2017    Author:

From professional mourners to elaborate processions, we look at how wealthy Romans said goodbye to their deceased…

Back in the days of Ancient Rome, it was believed that a person’s soul left their body through the mouth – so the nearest relation would be at their loved one’s deathbed ready to inhale their last breath. Afterwards, the deceased would be lovingly bathed, perfumed and dressed in fine robes then coins would be placed over their eyes or under their tongue.

For the funeral procession, wealthy Romans would have an elaborate affair organised by professional undertakers called libitinarii. At the head of the procession there were dancers, musicians and actors wearing masks signifying the deceased’s ancestors. Also taking part were paid female mourners who wailed loudly while pulling their hair and scratching their faces. Following behind the main procession, friends and relatives transported the deceased in an open cloth-covered bier, or bed-like tray.

The deceased would either be buried or cremated and their ashes placed in an urn within a columbarium, or dovecote. This was an important part of the funeral ritual, as the Romans believed that until a body was interred it couldn’t cross the River Styx – the mythical river that took the deceased from Earth to the Underworld. Nine days later, there would be a feast, during which a libation was poured over the grave or ashes.

After a person’s death, families regularly commemorated their loved ones by gathering around their tomb and making offerings to the spirits. The Roman state also set aside special commemoration days during the year so that people could honour their ancestors.

While we may not follow the same traditions as the Ancient Romans, like them we do all we can to give our loved ones a memorable a send-off and to keep their memory alive in our hearts.

* For help and support planning a funeral or cremation, please contact us on 01438 316623

How Mexicans honour the departed

October 25th, 2017    Author:

Next month it’s Mexico’s Day of the Day so we’re taking a look at this annual tradition…


The Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, began in Mexico several thousand years ago at a time when the Aztecs believed mourning loved ones was disrespectful. They considered the deceased to still be part of the community and wanted a way to keep their memory and spirit alive. The annual event, which takes place on the first two days of November, is held throughout Mexico and is now listed by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

During the celebrations, altars are built in homes and cemeteries ready to welcome visiting spirits. Colourful marigolds decorate the altar, which is purified with smoke from copal incense and laden with offerings such as family photos and a candle for each dead relative. A toy may be left for a child spirit.

Food and drink are also left out ready for the deceased. Some families may offer ‘pan dulce’ – a typical Mexican sweetbread – that’s been decorated with bones and skulls made out of dough. Others may prepare their loved one’s favourite meal. Sugar skulls are also a popular offering.

Outside, the streets are decorated with ‘papel picado’, intricately designed shapes made from coloured tissue paper. And everyone gets into the party mood to celebrate the festivities. They paint their faces with skulls and put on fancy dress costumes to parade through their town, city or village.

Far removed from the sombre memorial ceremonies of some other cultures, the Mexicans remind us that remembering our loved ones can be a happy, uplifting and joyful occasion.

* For help and support planning a funeral or cremation, please contact us on 01438 316623.

Japanese memorials

August 29th, 2017    Author:

We’re always fascinated to learn about other cultures and how they honour their dead, so this month we thought we’d focus on Japan…

Each year the Japanese honour their ancestors’ spirits with a Buddhist tradition known as ‘Obon’. Also known as the Feast of Lanterns and the Festival of the Dead, Obon is held at different times of the year depending on the region but most Japanese celebrate it in August. It lasts for three days and although it’s not a public holiday everyone is allowed to take time off work.

Obon begins by setting out electrified paper lanterns inside the house to guide the spirits of relatives back home. If it’s the first Obon memorial since the loved one’s death, a small fire is lit outside to help them find their way back. Next comes the ritual of sharing food with the deceased, which is known as ‘ozen’. This can be a main meal or offerings of fruit, rice, sake, green tea and sweets shaped like lotus leaves that are left at the family’s Buddhist altar.

While the spirits are back at home, the family will visit the deceased’s burial place to perform a ritual cleaning of the gravestone.

A major part of Obon is the traditional bon dances, or ‘bonodori’. This is a vibrant affair with colourfully-dressed dancers performing alongside a singer and musicians playing taiko drums, lutes and bells. In Tokushima on the island of Shikoku, as the dancers take to the street the special Bon dance known as Awa Odori attracts over a million tourists every year.

Finally, when Obon is over it’s time to say goodbye to the deceased and let them return again to their resting place. To see off the spirits, families light a fire or, if they’re near the river or sea, they help the deceased on their way with lanterns placed on the water. Other sending-off ceremonies include Kyoto’s spectacular ‘Daimonji Gozan Okuribi’, when fires are lit on the mountain slopes.

It may seem like a strange tradition to us in the Western world, but for the Japanese this annual memorial celebration is obviously a wonderful way to unite family members and share memories of loved ones that have passed.


* For help and support planning a funeral or cremation, please contact us on 01438 316623



How to choose a headstone

July 25th, 2017    Author:

How to choose a headstone

Taking your time

Choosing a headstone can feel like a daunting task when you’re newly bereaved. The first thing you should know is that there’s no rush to make a decision. A headstone serves as a timeless tribute to the deceased and while you’re still in the early stages of the grieving process your thoughts are bound to be clouded by sadness. It’s often better to allow some time to pass – even if that’s several years – so you can think more clearly about how you’d like your loved one to be remembered.

 Church or cemetery burial?

When you’re ready to think about a headstone, bear in mind that your choice may be restricted according to whether the burial was in a church or cemetery. Generally you’ll find that cemeteries don’t have hard-and-fast rules and regulations. However, with churchyards there will be limitations. These will be dependent on the branch of the church and the local parish, but commonly include only allowing inscriptions that refer to Christianity, avoiding any reflective materials and finishes and not using bold colouring.

Deciding on a design

One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is on the style of headstone. The most traditional design is the upright headstone, which is usually made from granite, limestone or marble. A smaller upright version is called a ‘desk tablet’ – also known as a DVT (Desk Vase Tablet). You can also have a ground-level flat headstone in granite or bronze or a ‘kerbed’ or ‘ledger slab’, which is a full-length, ground-level headstone.

Selecting the stone

Headstones come in a range of materials including slate, granite and limestone. There’s also white marble and bronze, though neither of these are permitted in churchyards. As well as the overall look, you’ll need to consider things such as durability, how clearly it will show an inscription, weather resistance and what kind of cleaning and maintenance it will require. And of course cost will be a factor. Granite is a popular choice as it’s a cheap option, highly durable and comes in different colours and finishes.

Finding the right finish

As well as the material, you’ll also need to choose a finish – and with this there are three options. A polished finish looks beautifully smooth and shiny, but the downsides are that it won’t be allowed by most churches and it will also need regular cleaning. Another choice is part-polished, where only the base and inscription is polished.  Then there’s honed, a church-friendly smooth but unreflective finish.

Composing a lasting inscription

The inscription includes the name of the deceased and their date of birth and death, along with an epitaph. Finding the right words can be the hardest part, which is another good reason not to rush things. Engraving tends to be charged per letter or per word, so an epitaph will usually be fairly short and concise. You might want to choose something simple, such as ‘Gone but not forgotten’ or ‘Until we meet again’. Some people prefer a Bible passage, the verse of a poem or a memorable quote.

* We’re here to help you with all aspects of burial or cremation. Please contact us on 01438 316623.  You can see more examples of stone designs on our memorial page.