The corpse

The corpse was blessed by the attended priest

Posted by Sicilian Ancestry on Aug 8, 2019

The corpse was blessed by the attended priest, then cleansed and attired in the most fashionable clothes owed and occasionally along with some high value accessories. In the city of Modica, the dead was usually attired in white clothes and socks but with no shoes on and that was because it was believed that it was forbidden to appear before the Lord with shoes on.

It was mandatory for relatives or a close friend of the dead to mend the clothes which were put him on as it was intended for a cleanse of his sins. The needle used to mend the clothes was usually left aside the corpse of kept as a relic and in the late 19th century normally pinned to the dead son clothes to avoid him to join the army.

In some areas of Sicily, the dead woman was usually attired in her wedding dress, the so called “sàvanu”, cherished for many years for both memory and funeral clothes. In the city of Noto but also in the city of San Fratello the “sàvanu“ was a white bed sheet instead usually used to envelope the corpse before it was laid down in the coffin. In Catania’s surroundings many people used to put on makeup on dead women’s face for beautify reasons. As this habit was so widespread in 1668 the Catholic Church declared it was the only one to perform this ritual and thus banning folks from doing it on their own.

Family in Messina

It was believed to be pretty much clear what the dead fate was just looking at his face. If the face expression was calm the heaven was granted, if it was troubled the soul was doomed. It was generally not so much important to shut the dead eyes, but the mouth must have eventually been filled with cotton wool which by the way used to make his look more terrifying. It was said that whether the corpse had eyes opened brides used to cling on to its testicles or put hot bricks on it just to make sure the man was truly dead.

The corpse was disposed with legs facing the door, as it was ready to leave on his own. Three wax candles were put around the bed and this habit generated some superstitions:

“Cannila ‘n terra, malacùriu” - “Candle on the ground, bad omen!”

And when it comes to candles three of them are never lighted in a room together as it meant it was the time to “last will and testament”.