line_gbg68.gif (1697 bytes)

Autumn - Autunno - Jesen
line_gbg68.gif (1697 bytes)


November 2 - The Dead

On all Soul's Day, everyone would visit the cemeteries, recently reorganized and weeded, renewing the faith and Christian hope by placing oil lamps between the chrysanthemums.

Whoever entered the churches for the vespers of the Saints would be struck by the black multi-floored catafalque, erected in the center. Once the saints' duty was done, they would light candles and oil lamps which would brighten the impressive monument that was full of symbols for the dead. Then they would begin the vespers of the dead. At the end, absolution was given at the sepulchre and the church would be filled by the chanting of the Libera me Domine (Free me God), sung by the congregation. The death and the judgment that would follow, would be presented as extremely serious occurrences so much so as to incite tremors (tremensfactus sum ego).

Afterwards, depending on the distance, they would participate in the procession to the cemeteries, where, after another Libera me Domine, the priests would bless the tombs (the offerings ended up inside the bucket of holy water) reciting the verse Dies ira, dies illa or the psalm De profundis.

In the privacy of the homes, instead, as many oil lamps would burn as the number of the recently deceased that were to be remembered. It was believed that during the night, the deceased, having left their tombs, would return to visit their homes where the buckets of water would be left uncovered so that they would be able to quench their thirst. Not to disturb them in their travel, whoever was still on the street would walk along the sides of the road, leaving the center free. The dead would return to their coffins at the first rooster's crow. In some places, the bells would knell all night.

The following morning, brought the Commemoration of all the faithful departed, the church was crowded with people waiting for confession and to find out where they could earn their indulgence for the dead, toties quoties, assisting at the mass. The third mass has been sung since World War I, every priest being allowed to celebrate three of them and to apply them to the dead), preceded by the chant of the office of the day. The Dies irae is moving, the sequence of Tommaso da Celano (+ 1256), performed by all according to the ancient module from Aquileia.

The young boys would receive fava beans as presents (neither pastry nor vegetables, as was originally done). In Cherso, a ciambella (a ring shaped cake) was given to them as a present, calledoblia, round, without the hole, with a figure of a rooster in the middle (the rooster, waking up the people with its call, a recall to life), on which the eyes were formed by two pepper seeds. To this offer of oblie is attributed a magical meaning: a wish for long life for the living, and for life in eternal peace for the dead.

On November 21, in Istria, as in Venice and in Trieste, everyone would worship the ‘Madonna della Salute’ (Mother Mary of Good Health), who had become, after the plague of 1630 [the plague described by Manzoni in his novel I promessi sposi], the national Madonna for all the territories of the Republic of Saint Mark. If in Pirano, at around the half of the seventeenth century they had raised a beautiful church in honour of the Virgin, worshipped under this title, in lower Istria, the rural church of the Our Lady of Good Health of Cregli, enjoyed the status of a sanctuary. In the one in Barbana, to which devotees would flock to from all the neighboring areas, not only to attend the procession with the statue of the Madonna adorned from head to toe with a multicoloured ribboned veil, as the local custom was for the brides, but also attracted by the feastly [?] ‘Sagra Campestre’, with vigorous tastings of the new wines and with abundant consumption of capuzi garbi (saurkraut).

The next day, November 22, all the musicians, choir members, and "musicanti" (bandsmen) remembered their patron, St. Cecilia, which they celebrated at pleasant and convivial gatherings. 

English translation by Enrico Savorelli


  • Giuseppe Radole, Folclore Istriano, MGS Press (Trieste, 1997), "I Morti", p. 156-7.

Main Menu

This page compliments of Marisa Ciceran and Enrico Savorelli

Created: Sunday, October 27, 2002; Last updated, Monday, March 12, 2007
Copyright © 1998, USA