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There are many Gypsy traditions and superstitions related to death and the burial of their loved ones. Because Gypsies are very family orientated many family members and friends from miles around will visit the person who is severely ill and the patient will never be left alone. It is traditional for a dying person to be allowed to die outside so it has been known for hospital patients to be wheeled outside for their last moments of life. Customarily candles are lit near the bed of the dying person to light the way to their afterlife.

If the person died away from home it was customary to take the body home, if this was to a trailer the walls were hung with clean white sheets and decorated with fresh wild flowers.

Sometimes if a family were planning to travel for a long time they would be forced to lay their loved one to rest along the way. This was known as a Hedge Burial and these burials have been carried out all over the country and marked in such a way as to be found again only by the knowing.

Gypsies did not like to touch their own dead and often an outsider (Gorgio) was brought in to help prepare the body. The deceased person was dressed up in their best clothes and if it was a woman she would wear all her jewellery unless she had daughters to inherit them, money and valuables were often given away before the death. A vigil would be kept over the body until the burial.

The coffin would normally need to be considerably larger than the body as it would be buried with their possessions that would be useful in their afterlife such as their favourite musical instrument, knives, watches and money. Food was sometimes also included so that they had substance to last them on their long journey. It was very important that the deceased was sent comfortably on their journey.

Any remaining possessions of the deceased were burnt or buried including the wagon or bender, cooking pots and crockery. Horses or dogs were often slaughtered and any horse brasses or harnesses were destroyed. No possessions were supposed to be left to be used by the living in case the deceased soul came back to claim them. If the family were forced to sell any of the deceased’s belongings because they needed the money they would need to be sold outside of the family.

It is traditional to keep a small memento of the deceased to put away as a private memory or to give up something associated with the deceased such as something that they enjoyed eating and you would generally not tell anyone else what it was.

There would be a proper Christian burial which would be attended by many people, (sometimes hundreds) to pay their last respects, and distance would not be an obstacle. Funerals would always be elaborate and cost a fortune but all the family would try to contribute financially, these days a Gypsy funeral is no different

Traveller Funeral in Wilton, courtesy of Edward Cooper (75)


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