A Funeral at Rouen

While clearing out some cupboards here in Christ Church we came across bound copies of The Scottish Churchman, which seems to be the 1937 version of Inspires. What an interesting periodical it is too. Letters from Bishops; Scottish Church News; Letter from a Library; Our Book Shelf; Our Serial Story; Bible Studies; Chanda Notes; Obscure Scottish Poets; Aspects of Scottish Church Work; the Children’s Page; and Churchwomen’s Missionary Association are all there. I may share some of the articles with you.

This one, in particular, caught my eye…

A Funeral At Rouen

The whole of the outside of the west door at St Ouen was hung with heavy jet-black curtains, edged with broad white braid, and behind the High Altar three great black panels had been set up, which filled nearly the whole of the spaces between the pillars. The High Altar was also hung with black, and lit with innumerable candles, both electric and wax. An immense black catafalque was erected at the foot of the chancel steps, a great many candles burning round it. At the south-west corner of the church, just inside the door, a “Chapelle Ardente” had been constructed, all very black and sombre looking, in this the coffin had lain all night. At the appointed time a procession came down the south aisle from the sacristy, headed by young men and boys carrying a cross and candles, followed by choir-boys and men, and priests vested all in black, all chanting psalms in Latin, and proceeded to the “Chapelle Ardente”. The procession then preceded the coffin up in the middle aisle, with a great many mourners following. The coffin, which was of oak – the only bright spot! – was deposited in the catafalque. The priests said a Low Mass at the High Altar, the choir continuing to chant all the time. During the offertory a priest and a verger both came down the church and took a collection. When the Mass was over the procession came down into the chancel and the officiating priest walked twice round the catafalque, first sprinkling it with holy water, then incensing it. This ceremony concluded, the choir and the clergy preceded the coffin down the aisle to the west end of the church; there it was deposited on trestles just outside the “Chapelle Ardente” (which by this time had been almost dismantled!). One of the priests now turned round and addressed the mourners for a short time, after which he again sprinkled the coffin with holy water. The choir and priests then returned to the sacristy, except one little acolyte with the holy water vessel and sprinkler, then nearly all the friends and relations of the deceased went up and sprinkled the coffin with holy water. At last it was taken up and put into the hearse, and the mourners entering the waiting carriages. Fortunately the hearse and carriages were motors, for a funeral procession in France with horses is a very doleful sight. The black horses, with flowing tails and manes are draped with enormous black cloths which nearly touch the ground, while on their heads tall black plumes wave, the hearse also had several waving plumes, and the coachmen wear very deep mourning.


Now that’s what I call a funeral. Love the idea of everyone coming to sprinkle holy water on the coffin.  Although I have noticed of late that the family and friends will often come forward at a burial to put a shovel-ful of earth in.

6 thoughts on “A Funeral at Rouen

  1. We spent some time trying to get into St Ouen when we were staying in Rouen (no. 2 son taught in the uni there for a year). A gardener told us when we should come back, and sure enough, there was a shivering young man with a small electric fire doing his studying at a wee table at the back of this massive but very dead church. It seems it is only rarely used these days.

  2. Do you still see the horses with black plumes? we have had them for funerals in the south: and strange they look, rather appropriate that the funeral director is in a black top hat. The strangest contrast was for a funeral where most of the people had come on motor bikes, and filled the church yard, plus a marquee, the street of the tiny village was packed with vehicles, and then along came the horses…

  3. You don’t often see horses at funerals here, just very occasionally. They are rather splendid though. I know in the north of England, especially in pit villages, they are used all the time.

    Such a shame when churches fall into disuse. I saw many like that when in France – neglected, dusty, uncared for. Very sad.

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