DEATH AND BURIAL
200. The cause of the Death Rattle is thus explained by Sir Henry Halford, the eminent physician:--" The lungs are the last to give up the performance of their functions and die. As death approaches they become gradually more and more oppressed; the air-cells are loaded with an increased quantity of the fluid which naturally lubricates their surfaces; the atmosphere can now no longer come into contact with the minute blood-vessels spread over the cells without first permeating this viscous fluid-hence the rattle; nor is the contact sufficiently perfect to change the black venous into the red arterial blood; an unprepared fluid consequently issues from the lungs into the heart, and is thence transmitted to every other organ of the body."
201. The custom of flying a Flag Half-Mast High as a mark of mourning and respect arose out of the old naval and military practice of lowering the flag in time of war as a sign of submission. The vanquished always lowered his flag, while the victor fluttered his own flag above it from the same staff. To lower a flag, therefore, is a token of respect to one's superior, and a signal of mourning and distress.
202. Tolling the Church Bells on the death of a distinguished person arose out of the Passing Bell formerly tolled in the parish church, the moment any member of the congregation passed away, to invite the prayers of all the other parishioners for the repose of his soul, and also to drive away wicked spirits, who could not bear to hear the sound. Says Jurandus, "It is said that the wicked spirits that be in the region of the air fear much when they hear the bells ringing; and this is the cause why the bells be ringing when it thundereth: to the end that the foul fiend and wicked spirits should be abashed, and flee, and cease from moving of the tempest."
203. "Why does the judge in a criminal court assume the Black Cap when pronouncing sentence of death?" is a question frequently asked. This is because covering the head has from the earliest times been regarded as a sign of mourning. Numerous examples of this occur in the Scriptures, in the classics, and in modern literature. "The ancient English," says Dudley Fosbrooke, in his monumental work on archology, "drew their hoods over their heads at funerals." We read also in Peck's "Dissertata Curiosa," of "the congregation, a very great one, sitting in the choir to hear the funeral sermon, all covered," at the burial of Bishop Cox in Ely Cathedral in the year 1581. Not only do the Jews keep their hats on their heads at funerals, but in some countries they still wear black caps at weddings, in token of mourning for the destruction of the Temple. Another reason is that the black cap forms part of the full dress of a judge, which is worn only on extraordinary occasions. When the new Lord Mayor is presented in the Court of Exchequer on the 9th of November, the judges receive him with their heads so covered.
204. The Black Flag hoisted upon prison walls as a signal that the last sentence of the law has been carried out, was first employed by Tamerlane, Khan of the Tartars, in the fourteenth century. Whenever a beleaguered city refused to surrender after a certain period, he displayed a black flag, to proclaim that "the time for mercy is now past, and the city is given up to destruction."
205. A Military Funeral is always an impressive spectacle. When such a one takes place in time of peace, the ceremonial is exactly the same as it would be in camp or on the battle-field. A gun-carriage forms an improvised hearse, the drums are muffled out of respect for the dead comrade, and all arms are carried reversed to show that the company deputed to perform the sad office count upon the forbearance of the enemy for the time being, consequently they do not fear an attack (see 379). In the case of a cavalry officer being buried, his horse is led behind the body; this is a survival of ancient times, when an officer's charger was universally sacrificed at the grave-side and buried with its master. At the conclusion of the ceremony a salute is fired over the grave to intimate to the enemy that they are once more ready to act on the defensive.
206. The Mourning Colours of Different Nations are not devoid of meaning. BLACK is the accepted colour throughout Europe. It expresses the solemn midnight gloom, the total deprivation of light and joy on account of the loss sustained. In Shakespeare's time the stage was draped with black during the performance of a tragedy. This accounts for the opening line in his "Henry VI.," "Hung be the heavens with black;" the "heavens" answering to our "borders" and "flies." WHITE is the emblem of Hope, the Chinese colour of mourning. The ladies of Rome and Sparta dressed in white during the period of mourning. Prior to the year 1498, when Anne, queen of Charles VIII., of France, surrounded her coat of arms with black drapery and dressed herself in black on the death of her husband, in opposition to the prevailing custom, widows in England, France, and Spain generally adopted white mourning. Mary, Queen of Scots, received the name of "the White Queen," because she mourned in white for the death of her husband, Lord Darnley. White coffins for children are still popular; while in some parts of the country white hat-bands in mourning for the unmarried are the rule rather than the exception. BLACK AND WHITE STRIPED express Sorrow and Hope. This is the mourning colour of the South Sea Islanders. The ancient Egyptians mourned in yellow, "the sere and yellow leaf." So do the Burmese, whose monastic habit is the same colour. In Brittany widows' caps are invariably yellow. PALE BROWN, the colour of withered leaves, is the Persian mourning colour. The inhabitants of Ethiopia affect GREYISH BROWN, the colour of the earth, to which the dead return. In Syria and Armenia SKY-BLUE is the colour of mourning, indicative of the assurance that the deceased has gone to heaven. PURPLE was formerly the mourning colour of all Christian princes. All the kings of France mourned in purple. Charles II. of England mourned in purple for his brother Henry, Duke of Gloucester, when he died in the year1660. On Good Friday the cardinals, who bear the style of "Princes of the Church," wear purple habits because they are then in mourning for the death of Christ. So, also, on the death of the Pope, or of one of their number. This mourning colour of Christian princes in general, and of the princes of the Roman Catholic Church in particular, has been derived from the purple garment which the Roman soldiers. put about our Lord, and mockingly saluted him as "King of the Jews" (see 18, 373, 379).
207. Mourning Hat-bands are a survival of the liripipe, or long tippet, depending from the hood worn by males. In this country during the Plantagenet period. When the hood was exchanged for the hat in the reign of Henry VIII. the tippet was retained in the form of the hat-band. Modern hat-bands, designed for ordinary wear, are so narrow as almost to pass unnoticed, but our mourning hat-bands are identical with those adopted during the Tudor period.
208. Widows' Caps are accounted for in this way: The Egyptians and Greeks shaved off their beards and cut off their hair in times of mourning. The Romans did not cultivate beards, but cutting off the hair as a sign of mourning was common to both sexes. To supply the want of a natural head-covering, the men wore wigs, and the women caps. This practice fell into disuse after the Romans abandoned Britain; nevertheless, widows studiously concealed their hair during the whole period of mourning.
209. The Piece of Crape worn on the Sleeve, which has latterly superseded the hat-band as a sign of mourning, is the recognized military badge of mourning, derived from the scarf tied by each "Sovereign Lady" round the left arm of her chosen knight, in the days of chivalry, to bind him to her faithful service. No good knight and true was ever known to part with his lady's kerchief except at the cost of his life.
210. White Gloves are presented to the undertaker's men at a funeral for the same reason that they were formerly given to the coachmen at a wedding, viz., because they are the emblem of innocence. At such a time the mourners, like the bride and bridegroom of a bygone day, wish to show that they are at peace with all the world; and as the undertaker's men are virtually strangers to them, they well represent the world at large. In former times a white glove was usually suspended in the high street or in the marketplace of a country town during the annual fair; this ensured to criminals and debtors immunity from arrest for the time being.
211. Undertakers' Mutes were originally Roman lictors dressed in black who marched in the funeral procession under the direction of the master of ceremonies. The object of stationing a couple of mutes at the house-door, from the moment when the undertaker was called in until the funeral, was to guard the body on behalf of their master until his responsibility in the matter had ceased with the interment. Latterly their presence seems to have been required only on the day of the funeral. They are rarely to be met with nowadays.
212. The Pall-bearers at the obsequies of the great are invariably well chosen. When the Duke of Wellington was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral, the pall was borne by the officers who had fought by his side in his many campaigns. This custom of appointing such pall-bearers as the deceased worthy might have desired to carry him to the grave has been derived from the Romans. lmilius Paulus had for pallbearers the chief men of Macedonia who happened to be in Rome at the time of his death; Julius Caesar had magistrates; Augustus Caesar had senators; while Caligula had tribunes and centurions.
213. Throwing a Handful of Earth upon the Coffin, after it has been lowered into the grave, was first ordered by a rubric of the Church in the year 1542. This is in allusion to the passage in Scripture, "For dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return." By a rubric of 1552 it was permitted to be done "by someone standing by." Nevertheless, the priest who reads the Burial Service is still regarded as the proper person to perform this duty.
214. Funeral Feasts were instituted by the Romans, who made the public exposure of a corpse on the day of the funeral the occasion of a solemn festival. The object of such exposure was to satisfy the relatives and friends of the deceased that he had died in a perfectly natural manner. In this may be traced the origin of Viewing the Body at an Inquest. When all the persons so convoked had practically exculpated the heir from the least share in the death, an offering of wine, milk, and honey, mingled together in a small plate decorated with flowers, was made to the manes of the deceased. This singular rite arose out of the pagan belief that the dead were capable of drinking the health of their friends on earth. Subsequently the whole company sat down to a feast of baked meats. At the conclusion of the repast everything that remained was distributed among the former employees of the deceased.
215. The popular notion that Burial at the Cross Roads, where a cross was generally set up, was reserved in former times for executed malefactors and suicides, as the next best place to consecrated ground, is not quite correct. The true reason was this: the Teutonic nations always set up their altars at such places, and as criminals were sacrificed to the gods, the place of execution was there. Hence, after the introduction of Christianity, malefactors and suicides were buried at the cross roads during the night, in order to convey as strong an impression as possible of a heathen burial. Christian burials, on the other hand, were, and are, conducted in the broad light of day, in contradistinction to the pagan Romans, who laid their dead to rest by night; the word Funeral being derived from the Latin funeralis, a torchlight procession, from funis, a torch.
216. The carved representation of a Skull and Crossbones at the entrance to some of the old disused churchyards in the City, is indicative of the burial-place of the early victims of the Great Plague of London. When these consecrated burying-grounds were all filled up, recourse was had to enormous plague-pits outside the City.
217. The Yew Tree and the Weeping Willow are appropriate to churchyards; the former on account of its umbrageousness and gloomy aspect; the latter, because its drooping branches are typical of sorrow and desolation. The suggestion that yew trees were first planted in English churchyards so that a sufficient supply of bow-staves might be forthcoming for the encouragement of archery practice, is by no means well supported. To commence with, it would have required a full century's growth to meet the demands of a single year. Secondly, that the bow-staves of the Tudor period were obtained from abroad is shown by certain enactments of Henry VIII., whereby all shipowners were compelled to import bow-staves in proportion to their ordinary cargo, such compulsory cargo being admitted duty free.
218. In these days the full significance of Monumental Brasses and Sepulchral Effigies is little "understanded of the people." The following hints may, therefore, be of some service. SAINTS AND MARTYRS always lie to the east of the high altar (see 23), and are elevated above the ground exactly in proportion to their acknowledged sanctity. HOLY MEN, not canonised, lie level with the ground, while FOUNDERS OF CHAPELS may be known by their monuments built into the wall. CROSS-LEGGED FIGURES are Crusaders, or those who at any time during their lives made a vow to proceed to Palestine, there to fight the Infidel under the banner of the Cross; where the figure is in the act of sheathing his sword, it means that his vow has been fulfilled. RECUMBENT AND KNEELING FIGURES are ordinary knights; those with a chalice in their hands are priests, or if with mitre, crosier or crook, and pontificals, prelates; whereas female figures wearing a mantle and a ring are nuns (see 34). When HUSBAND AND WIFE lie close together on a table-tombstone, it is not difficult to tell if they lived during the age of chivalry or after. In the former event, the universal homage paid to woman demanded that she should occupy the place of honour, viz., at a man's right hand. Since the decline of chivalry she has everywhere been placed on his left-hand side. The presence of A LION AT THE FEET of a monumental effigy of a man is symbolical of courage and magnanimity, exactly as A DOG AT THE FEET of a woman symbolizes affection and fidelity. Crusaders are often represented with a dog at their feet, indicating by this means that they followed the standard of the Cross as faithfully as a dog follows his master. The effigy of Edward the Black Prince in Canterbury Cathedral furnishes an example of this kind. KNEELING Boys on tombs remind us that formerly children were not allowed to sit down unless bidden, but were expected to kneel upon cushions when in the presence of their parents.
219. It is not unusual in old churchyards to meet with tombstone inscriptions commencing with the words, " Stop, Traveller! " Now, although it is true that, except in cases where a cross-cut from the public high-road leads directly through the God's acre, few "travellers" ever visit the earthly mansions of the dead, it should be remembered that the Romans invariably buried their warriors by the side of some great military road, and placed a monument over their bodies, the inscription on which was headed Siste, viator (Stop, traveller). In their case, at least, the injunction was sufficiently appropriate.
220. The Jewish Mode of Burial is simplicity itself. There is not the slightest need to call in an undertaker, the whole of the arrangements being carried out by the officials of the synagogue at a fixed charge. From the moment of death until the interment the body is never left alone. Two days is the limit of time during which the dead are allowed to remain above ground. There is no adornment of the wooden coffin, nor are flowers permitted to be placed either inside or on the lid. Velvet and feathers are likewise prohibited. All expenses over and above those incurred in respect of the actual interment are discountenanced. The burial-grounds are euphemistically called "Houses of Life," though they are virtually mansions of the dead. Family vaults are unknown, because a corpse can on no account be suffered to repose on a shelf; it must be placed six feet beneath the surface of the earth. Neither is it permitted for one coffin to be placed above another. No prayers are said at the grave-side, except "May he [or she] go into his [or her] place in peace." The orations which on rare occasions are delivered at the interment of a distinguished person must be brief. Hats are not removed at any time. Females are never allowed to follow a corpse to the grave. Priests may not enter a burial-ground at all, except at the interment of a near relative, such as a father or mother. In Biblical times, those who had suffered defilement by coming in contact with a dead body were compelled to attend a purification service in the Temple; nowadays, all persons on leaving the cemetery must wash their hands. The only food laid before the mourners on returning to the house consists of hard-boiled eggs and salt, the respective symbols of regeneration and incorruptibility. For seven days all mirrors are covered over, so that none shall see the reflection of his face or any sign of joy. During this period the members of the household sit on lower chairs than usual; they do not wear boots, and all manner of work is suspended. To meet the case of the poor in this respect a monetary allowance is made.
221. The Parsee mode of disposing of the dead is exposure on The Towers of Silence. Perfectly naked, the bodies deposited on these lofty structures become the prey of vultures perpetually hovering around. To make room for fresh arrivals, it is the business of an attendant to topple the newly-pecked bones to the foot of the tower with the aid of a pair of tongs. This final destruction of the body awaits all classes, from the highest to the lowest. According to the Zoroastrian religion neither fire, which is the common object of worship, nor the earth, which produces fruit, must be defiled by contact with a dead body.
222. The custom, universal among the ancient Egyptians, of Embalming the Dead Body is easily accounted for. It was one of the fundamental articles of their religion that after a period of three or four thousand years the soul would return to the body, therefore the latter had to be preserved from corruption. Meantime the soul was destined to occupy the bodies of a succession of inferior animals. This was why most of the lower animals were held sacred, and flesh meat was never eaten.
223. Modern researches have proved beyond a doubt that the Pyramids of Egypt, both great and small, were constructed for no other purpose than to contain the embalmed bodies of notable personages. Knowing this, one need not be surprised to learn that the entire number of pyramids in Egypt--between sixty and seventy--are spread over that extensive necropolis near the city of Memphis in which the people were known to bury their dead. When first explored all the chambers in the interior of these pyramids contained sarcophagi. In one case the sarcophagus enclosed a coffin, the inscription upon which showed that it had at one time contained the mummy of a king. The chief reason why the aristocracy of Egypt affected this costly and enduring mode of sepulchre was the universal dread which the pillagers of the tombs anciently inspired among the people. Not even the tombs of the kings were safe from the visitations of these plunderers. The three largest and principal pyramids were certainly constructed by three kings of the fourth dynasty as places of sepulture for themselves. Labour was cheap in those days, and kings were tyrants. Cheops, the builder of the Great Pyramid, had no compunction about impressing a hundred thousand men during a period of twenty yearsleaving out of count the ten years required to construct a causeway from the Nile bank to the actual site of the work -in the colossal undertaking upon which he had set his heart. On the outside of the pyramid, when completed, was set forth in Egyptian characters the enormous sums expended while the work was in progress for the radishes, onions, and garlic supplied to the labourers, but nothing is mentioned about wages. It is a sad reflection that the greatest monuments which now excite the wonder and admiration of our species were reared at the cost, of an incalculable amount of human suffering in an age when a monarch's will was law, and a universal system of slavery prevailed.
224. There is no longer any room for doubt concerning the primary object of the Roman Catacombs. Neither disused sandpits, turned to good account by the early Christians for places of refuge and secret worship, nor puticoli, or pits, into which, as has been said, the Romans flung the bodies of their slaves, because they considered them unworthy of decent sepulture, were originally these subterranean galleries, which, after having been closed and forgotten for hundreds of years, may now once more be traversed. The arenarioe, or sandpits, which are common enough around Rome, exist in a different stratum altogether from the Catacombs. When persecution increased in severity, and the ordinary approaches to the hiding-places of the Christians became known to their persecutors, a secret entrance through some disused sandpit may in many cases have been constructed for greater convenience and security. But that the Catacombs themselves, with their storied galleries one above another, and countless ramifications extending for miles in different directions, could ever have been excavated without the knowledge of the authorities was impossible. The whole truth of the matter is this: the Catacombs were, from the first, the recognized burial-places of the early Christians. The pagan Romans had their family burial-places, too, but these, styled columbaria, from their resemblance to dovecotes, were simply depositories for the urns containing the ashes of the cremated body. The Christians, on the other hand, as Minucius Felix reminds us, "execrated funeral pyres, and condemned the sepultures of flame." This is easy to understand. Being for the most part a Greek-speaking community of converted Jews, the earliest followers of the new religion desired to bury their dead, as had always been the Jewish custom, and because the Son of God had Himself been laid in a rocky tomb. Although advocates of cremation themselves, the Romans placed no restrictions upon those who held an opposite view. Those who wished to bury their dead, either out of preference for such a mode of sepulture, or because they could not afford to pay the usual charges for cremation and the exclusive right to a columbarium, had full liberty to do so. This liberty was extended also to the Christians; indeed, it was the only Christian office that they were allowed to perform undisturbed. Fortunately for the Christians the Romans paid the utmost respect to all places set apart for the burial of the dead, such places enjoying the special protection of the municipal authorities. The formation of the Catacombs had very humble beginnings. First of all a small plot of ground was secured and consecrated. The next step was to run an underground gallery around the enclosed area, and construct stairways in connection therewith. On both sides of the gallery, loculi, or cavities for the accommodation of the dead, were then cut. As soon as the first series of galleries was fully tenanted, a second series was commenced on a lower level; and, in due course, a third, on a still lower level. Frequently as many as five such stories of galleries are to be met with. If it chanced that a person of distinction in a wealthy family desired a private vault, such a one, called a cubiculum, was excavated out of the earth lying between two main corridors. In these small rectangular chambers the martyrs were usually buried, their tombs serving as altars upon which Mass was celebrated. Thus, when the persecutions at length broke out, this subterranean city became at once a secure asylum for the living, and a safe burialplace for the dead. For three centuries it was the palace of the Popes, and the home of the Spouse of Christ.