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|Bereavement in Crete
Cultural Information - Bereavement in Crete & Greece
The rituals in a Cretan funeral are influenced by the Greek Orthodox Church and also by local cultural traditions
A Greek funeral usually takes place within 24 hours of death. The body is dressed and placed in an open coffin by
the undertaker and taken home where it is displayed prior to the funeral. Relatives and close friends will visit the
deceased at home to pay their respects.
The coffin lid is placed outside the front door of the house. Funeral wreaths are only given by close relatives and
these wreaths are placed outside the house with the coffin lid.
When family and friends arrive at the house they will normally bring a small bunch of flowers, and offer condolences
to the family : “ Zoi se sas “ (life to you) or “ ta silipitiria mou” (my condolences) or simply ‘silipitiria’ (condolences).
They will then bend and kiss the head of the deceased and lay the flowers on the open coffin.
The vigil goes on until the funeral takes place, often continuing throughout the night when the funeral takes place
the next day. Friends come and go while the family sit in vigil by the deceased’s coffin.
News travels fast in Cretan communities. Friends and relatives will attend the vigil and the funeral without invitation.
Female close relatives in mourning dress in black from head to toe, normally for at least 40 days, while many
widows and mothers who lose a child will continue to mourn and wear only black for the rest of their lives..
Close male relatives don’t shave for at least 40 days, and may wear a black armband. Although family members
wear black it is not expected of everyone, but bright coloured clothing should be avoided – sober colours should be
worn out of respect.
The funeral procession leaves from the house at the appointed time and the open coffin is placed at the front of the
church. Those friends who have not visited the home file past and offer their condolences to the family before
kissing the forehead of the deceased and laying flowers across the coffin.
After the church service they move out to the graveyard for the burial.
Graves are bunker-like and made of concrete. After the coffin has been lowered into the grave and a blessing
performed the grave is closed with concrete slabs and sealed. Relatives will later decorate the grave with marble
and a headstone.
Following the burial mourners may be invited to a cafeneion or back to the house for coffee, brandy and peanuts.
A number of memorial services (mnimosino) will be held after the death. The 40 days service ‘ta saranta” is held
on the Sunday nearest to 40 days after the death. The 40 day service is usually well attended, often more so than
the funeral as many of those who were unable to attend the funeral due to the short notice, will attend the 40 day
service to pay their respects.
There is also a 3 month, 6 month, 9 month and one year memorial service. Thereafter yearly.
At the church memorial service the family place a photograph of the deceased at the front of the church and each
mourner lights a candle as they enter the church. After the service the family line up and people file past to offer
There are a shortage of graves and if there is no family grave nearby then relatives of the deceased will rent one at
the local cemetery, usually for 3 to 5 years. After this time the grave is opened and the bones removed by family
members, washed in wine and then transported either to a family grave where other relatives lay (which may be
miles away from where they died and were buried – e.g. Athens or another island), or they are kept in a special
vault at the church; an ossuary or ‘osteofilakio’.
The Greek Orthodox Church currently forbids cremation as it considers it as being Blasphemous to the body of man
which is "the temple of the Holy Spirit".
However, according to a 2006 law, Orthodox Greeks, and anyone who dies in Greece, can choose cremation as
long as they have stated this in writing before their death or their immediate relatives wish it.
A pre-condition for the cremation is the clear, unequivocal statement of the deceased, or their relatives," that they
wish to be cremated. HOWEVER as at January 2017, there are as yet NO crematoria in Greece.
|Living in Crete
General Information - Bereavement