Transporting bones

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Transporting bones

Postby Carolina » Wed May 23, 2007 8:39 am

Yes this is a llittle macabre :!: so if you haven’t had your morning coffee yet, you may want to read it later! It’s not a great subject, but it’s a cultural norm that you may come across sometime …

I’d just been checking something on the KEP website (which, by the way, has had an overhaul and there’s some new info there ( ) and what caught my eye this morning was
“Granting of license for transport of bones”.
This brought back memories of when, newly married, my husband got up one Sunday morning and said the family were off to move Papou’s (grandfather’s) bones from the grave that day. Did I hear him right ? Yes!

As the Greek Orthodox church doesn’t allow cremation there is a shortage of graves. Concrete tombs are used in cemeteries, and in most cases they are rented from the church for 3 to 5 years. After this time the tomb is opened and the bones removed, to make way for the next unlucky occupant. The bones are removed by family and transported either to the 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 (I’ve had nightmares about walking into one of these vaults).

The whole scenario is far removed from what most North Europeans would expect, as is the whole funeral and grieving process.

A chapter and web page on funeral customs and etiquette must be included soon I think?

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Postby filippos » Wed May 23, 2007 2:23 pm

First time I've visited the KEP web site although I been to their offices in Vamos and Kalyves.

I struggled a bit until I spotted the little Union Jack at the top of the page. Perhaps I need a big print version or new glasses. Once I stopped struggling with the Greek home page (and dictionary) and got to the contents it looks as though there's a lot of useful stuff so thanks for posting the link.

Information about funeral customs and etiquette would be useful perhaps with, in Greek, one or two of the phrases that people typically use to offer condolences or sympathy to grieving relatives. In many situations I've found that literal translations from English often don't work and if this were so in the case of a death it could, at the very least, be embarrassing. I have asked a couple of Greek friends and, of course, got different answers.


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Postby jeansy » Wed May 23, 2007 4:01 pm

We have been to quite a few funerals in our village and have found that the people really do appreciate us coming to pay our respects. A little info for those of you who have not as yet had to attend one,
Dark clothes are not a requirement but are preferred
The coffin is usually open depending on COD
The funeral willnormally take place within 1 to 2 days of departure
Flowers are usaully from the family
A collection is normally held for the family to help pay the cost or for donations to a charity or good cause
Cakes and Metaxa are normally supplied after the funeral outside of the Church
A gathering will be held in a taverna after for a snack coffee and drinks
The internment is normally for close family at the cemetery
The close men members of the family will wear black on most occasions and will not shave for 40 days
After 40 days another service is held normally early about 8.30 am

We normally place our hands on our hearts and say signormi which seems to be acceptable as we are always thanked and invited to the taverna

We believe it is a mark of respect to the person who has passed on and to the family left behind.
The open coffin can be a bit off putting as you will see people kiss the head of the deceased

You may also see things like a packet of the persons favourite ciggies or a little bottle of Raki to ease the way in the coffin.

Hope this is not to morbid but if you live here long enough a Greek friend will pass away law of odds I'm afraid

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Postby Kilkis » Wed May 23, 2007 5:16 pm

A few other points regarding funerals etc:

If the person dies in the morning the funeral may be on the same day. If not, the following day would be more typical than after two days.

It is usual for people to visit the house of the deceased and sit in vigil for a time between the death and the funeral. Obviously this applies more to family and close friends but could also include neighbours.

People tend to also visit the house for several days after the funeral so that the surviving close relative(s) is(are) not left alone.

Close family will not eat meat for a period of days; I’m not sure how many. The deceased is regarding as still having corporal form for this period and eating meat would be regarded symbolically as eating the body of the deceased.

The remembrance service after 40 days is usually attended by far more people than the funeral, i.e. all those who could not get to the funeral because it is held so quickly. We found that it was often tagged on the end of the normal Sunday church service with no break between them. A special cake is given out after the service and it is pretty common to have a meal for everybody afterwards. Watch out for the small silver balls in the cake, they are real teeth breakers.

There is another remembrance service after one year.

My Greek is not good but I think Λυπάμαι might be a better expression of sorrow than Συγγνώμη. I think the former means “I am sorry” while the latter is more “Pardon” or “Excuse me”


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Postby Mary » Wed May 23, 2007 6:34 pm

The Greeks also say 'Zoi se sas', which means life to you.
(I'm not sure how to use the Greek alphabet on my computor)


Postby Kenny » Wed May 23, 2007 7:13 pm

Jeansy,thanks for your very informative post.Its nice to be aware of what to do in the event of a bereavement of a neighbour or friend.I have noted your points in my little book that I keep for important need to know things. Ken.

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Re: Transporting bones

Postby Graham » Wed May 23, 2007 7:43 pm

Carolina wrote:

The whole scenario is far removed from what most North Europeans would expect, as is the whole funeral and grieving process.


This is a custom still practiced in many of the older communities in Germany also...the renting of the grave site. Not so long ago I read a news article that preservatives were becoming a problem when after the time of 25 years is up and the bones exhumed to make way for a new arrival it was being found that the bodies had not decomposed. Usually the bones were removed boiled and deposited in the catacomb under the church. I never followed up on what they are doing now with the bodies being still intact.

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Postby jeansy » Wed May 23, 2007 8:54 pm

Warwick, as per usual you are a mine of info and I thank you , I think you are a little wrong, signormi also means sorry,but I believe the correct way at a bereavement is to say" TA CILIEPEETEEREE A' MOU" I am not shouting it is easier to show in higher case than lower case, I was told how to say this at my second funeral and wrote it in one of my little books and had to find it again.
Basically it says " sorry for who you lose" or as near as I can fathom,I write my interpretations phonetically which is the way I try to learn the language, also I do not have a dual keyboard which is probably a good job as I will never be the worlds typist.
Hope this helps somebody and as long as we all try to advise each other we will all learn a little.

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Postby Carolina » Wed May 23, 2007 10:17 pm

Graham thanks for that info, although it’s a little different I think removing bones after 25 years, or after 3 years, when the bones are removed by the family who are still grieving. Some morbid stories could be told there I am sure

There’s some great info and observations here from Jeansy and Warwick. A couple of things to add …
The vigil at the house before the funeral is also with an open coffin and as people arrive to pay their respects they will often bring a small bunch of flowers, kiss the head of the deceased and say to the family either (Mary) Zoi se sas , or (Jeansy) Ta syllipitiria moy. Wreaths are usually only given by family and close friends. The lid of the coffin is placed outside the deceased house for all to see, with the wreaths standing next to it.

There are a number of memorial services and as Warwick says the 40 day one can be busier than the funeral. There is also a 9 day service (only for close family), a 3 month, 6 month, 9 month and one year service. Thereafter on the year.

When they talk about the deceased they refer to them as the "synghorimenos/synghorimeni" - male/female- in front of their name. (the 'forgiven', meaning their sins have been forgiven by God). Some people will always talk about any deceased person only with the 'synghorimeno/i' in front of their name. Listen out for it - you often hear it in everyday conversations (like .. O synghorimenos O Yiannis... bla bla ).

Close male relatives don’t shave for at least 40 days, and normally wear a black armband to show that they are in mourning. The close female relatives dress head to toe in black – some for 40 days or less, others forever, depending on their age and the relative they have lost. Women who lose a child may dress in black for the rest of their lives.

Finally, a quote from a Greek American Orthodox church:

"Cremation is absolutely forbidden by the Church as being Blasphemous to the body of man which is "the temple of the Holy Spirit". Insistence on cremation will result in refusal by the Church to allow a Church service for the deceased."

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Postby Nita » Thu May 24, 2007 7:50 am

I've just looked through my old copies of the Athens News but can't find the article in question, but I'm sure I read that permission had been granted for a Crematorium to be built in or near Athens, presumably for the ever growing non Orthodox community. Maybe someone has the details?

A local friend, who was once a nurse at Chania Hospital, told me you can (before your demise) make arrangements with the hospital to be cremated there. Again I don't have the details but it might be a better option than having to be shipped back to the UK or the deceased's family trying to find somehwere here for the interment, which I know is extremely difficult for non Greeks.

I have discussed, in general terms, creamtion with my Greek friends who are all in favour. In view of some of the posts above it is clear why! Having said that though they don't envisage the Orthodox church changing their position on the subject.

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Postby Carolina » Thu May 24, 2007 8:34 am

Hi Nita,

The law to allow crematoria in Greece was passed in February/March 2006 after many years of opposition from the Orthodox church. In February this year it was announced that "The first crematorium in Greece will be located at the First Cemetery in Athens, Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis said yesterday. Kaklamanis did not say when the crematorium will be ready. " (Ekathimerini 9/2/07)

I don't know if the Athens one is now built and is operational?? . It sounds like your friend was quoting the law which says

"According to the law, Orthodox Greeks 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, the law said."

The Orthodox church is still opposed to cremation. See

According to this article, too, it seems that they are hoping that the Orthodox church will eventually drop its opposition to cremation for its own members if it becomes clear there is demand amongst the general population.

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Postby paulh » Thu May 24, 2007 9:38 pm

More of a story than information

As you may know I am married to a Greek from the north of Greece not too far from where Warwick lived. We used to come to Greece for 3 weeks, few days with the family, 2 weeks in Halkidiki or Thasos, 3 days with the family then home. 25 years ago we were on Thasos when my father in law died. The family phoned the police on Thasos, the police there used their registration details to find where we were staying, went there, we had gone round with the kids to the next bay. The police drove around to that bay and used a megaphone to find us, they took us and the kids back to our accommodation, the owner had our bags packed ready. The bags went in the police car and we were driven at speed across the island, blue lights flashing to the ferry. They radio'd ahead to hold the ferry departure 20 mins till we got there. Straight onto the ferry and across to Kavalla. Ferry radio'd ahead and had a taxi waiting at the docks, straight in and a mad dash across the north of Greece to Giannitsa getting there about 30 mins before the funeral ceremony. When we got there kids were whisked away to be looked after by a neighbour, clothes were laid out ready for us, we changed and we were able to say goodbye to her father properly.

Cost was never mentioned and it was purely a case of you must get there from everyone and everyone made 110% effort to make sure we did. (of course the taxi driver was well paid by a relative).

Back then bodies were buried within 24 hours, no exception. There were no mobiles, no hire cars just buses taxi's and police cars. When at some point I asked why did everyone put themselves out for us I was told that they had just done what was right and would expect us to do the same should the need arise.

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Postby jeansy » Fri May 25, 2007 8:54 pm

Paul a great story about the efforts people will go to in order to help sorry for the loss but where else would people make that kind of effort, good on them.

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