17th Century Funeral Practices

17th century funerl practices

Funeral practices of the 17th century were far from we know of them today. Our funeral practices are also far from what they originated as. We have some of the same traditions as European 17th century but for different reasons. Our reasons are different probably because over the course of time the real originating reason as to why we did them was lost.

  • Mourners wore clothing as a disguise so that any returning spirits would hopefully not recognize them, leaving them confused so they would be overlooked.
  • Wakes were started for mourners to watch over the deceased body in hopes that they would return to life.
  • Eating after a funeral was started as offerings of food being made to make the spirits happy after death.
  • The flowers we all order today for the family were originally used to gain favor with the spirit of the deceased.
  • During the 17th century the ringing of bells and lighting of candles Is to protect the living from returning spirits.


Though we do a lot of the above still we are not following those traditions with the same idea that virtually everything being done on the day of a funeral is to keep spirits from returning or hovering around the deceased and the mourners.

Since there were medical examiners at the time and nobody considered someone who was a doctor to be dedicated as to who decided the cause of death they used someone called a “searcher”. This searcher is who decided the cause of death, and they were not qualified in the study of medicine at all. At this time nobody did post mortem exams they were considered taboo.

Most coffins were oak wood painted black and were covered in a thick layer of bran to soak up the bodily fluids. This was to hopefully reduce the smell of death especially during the summer months. When someone died they were to lay in a house in a dark black room lit by candles.

After someone died in this time everything in the room was draped over water bowls, mirrors, and windows. They covered these items because they thought if they kept the reflective surfaces covered the spirit f the dead would not be stuck on earth.

People had to be dressed differently after a death also. Men were expected to wear mourning clothes including servants for at the least three months and these clothing items were bought by the deceased family. Women often wore their mourning clothing for 1 year but were permitted to wear purple or white after 6 months time.

In the 17th century funeral practices guards were present when graves were to dug to be sure no fresh ones would be dug up where people would steal jewelry or clothing.

After the services just like today people were invited back to the house for refreshments. Often times these wine and biscuit parties’ people would fight after too many spirits.