Funeral Customs Around the World

Funeral Customs Around the World Spain

Last Updated: 27th March 2022

The Spanish are, by and large, traditional in their approach to death and funerals with many customs still being practised today.

Whilst Spanish funerals are similar in many ways to a British funeral, the one main difference is the speed in which a person is buried after their death in Spain.

In Spain, burial or interment is done as quickly as possible after a person’s death, usually between 24-48 hours, and no later than 48 hours.

It is often that, in Spain, death occurs in a person’s home.  The dying person is nursed in their dying moments by a close relative and their death is prepared for, whether or not it is weeks or just days before their death is expected, by the dying person being given their last rights or offered communion.

The local police are called once death has taken place who, in turn, contact the deceased person’s doctor so they can attend to the deceased.  It is at that time the family will choose which funeral director they wish to use for the forthcoming funeral arrangements.

Once the funeral director has been appointed, they take over the funeral arrangements which reduces the stress of the deceased person’s family and loved ones.  The responsibility is removed from the deceased person’s next of kin or close family at that stage.

The funeral director arranges for the deceased person’s body to be transferred from their home in which they died to a chapel of rest which is known as the ‘tanatorio’.  The death is registered within 24 hours at a civil building by any one of the family, funeral director or police, who remains involved in the death arrangements. 

The news of a person’s death is often spread through word of mouth rather than through a more formal obituary and it is often in this way that a loved one of the deceased person learns of their death.  This is mainly due to the funeral service taking place so soon after death that an obituary would not be read before the funeral service takes place.

Once the deceased person is in situ in the ‘tantario’ (or chapel of rest), their coffin is often placed behind glass so that a viewing can take place, however, should the deceased person’s family members not wish to view their deceased loved one, there are curtains that can be drawn so they do not have to.

During the time in which the deceased person is at the chapel of rest, someone sits vigil with them until the funeral service.  This could be one person only, perhaps the deceased person’s spouse or friend, or it might be that several people who were close to the deceased sit with them, maybe even rotating between who sits with them.

When it is time for the funeral service, the deceased body is moved from the ‘tantario’ to the cemetery at which the funeral ceremony is to take place.  Those in mourning, including family and well-wishers, pay their respects by walking behind the coffin during the procession.

It is a Spanish tradition, upon death, that during a burial or interment, the body of the deceased person is placed in a niche (known in Spanish as ‘nicho’) that are usually rented for a specific time within a cemetery for a certain number of years. 

The deceased person is then, at a later date, buried in a common burial ground unless the family of the deceased has paid to rent the niche again for a further period of time.

It is not common in Spain for the deceased to be cremated, it is within these niches or ‘nichos’ that the deceased are laid to rest.

Anyone attending a Spanish funeral is likely to wear dark coloured clothing that is not elaborate or overly formal and it is of personal preference as to what happens after a Spanish funeral.

Some Spaniards believe that a wake, at which drinks are served and stories are told should take place so people can share memories of the deceased person they have recently laid to rest.

There are others that find this practice offensive and prefer to return to their family home directly after the funeral in a more quiet manner.

Traditionally, nine days after death, a ceremony which is called a ‘rosario’ takes place that the family of the deceased person organises.  Memories of the deceased are shared at this event and prayers are said, candles are lit and flowers decorate the venue.

After this, the ‘rosario’ takes place annually on the anniversary of the deceased person’s death.

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