Friday, 20 June 2014

Venetian Life in 1867


 William Dean Howells

"Anciently there was great show of mourning in Venice for the dead, when, according to Mutinelli, the friends and kinsmen of the deceased, having seen his body deposited in the church, "fell to weeping and howling, tore their hair and rent their clothes, and withdrew forever from that church, thenceforth become for them a place of abomination." Decenter customs prevailed in after-times, and there was a pathetic dignity in the ceremony of condolence among patricians: the mourners, on the day following the interment, repaired to the porticos of Rialto and the court of the Ducal Palace, and their friends came, one after one, and expressed their sympathy by a mute pressure of the hand.
Death, however, is hushed up as much as possible in modern Venice. The corpse is hurried from the house of mourning to the parish church, where the friends, after the funeral service, take leave of it. Then it is placed in a boat and carried to the burial-ground, where it is quickly interred. I was fortunate, therefore, in witnessing a cheerful funeral at which I one day casually assisted at San Michele. There was a church on this island as early as the tenth century, and in the thirteenth century it fell into the possession of the Comandulensen Friars. They built a monastery on it, which became famous as a seat of learning, and gave much erudite scholarship to the world. In later times Pope Gregory XVI. carried his profound learning from San Michele to the Vatican. The present church is in the Renaissance style, but not very offensively so, and has some indifferent paintings. The arcades and the courts around which it is built contain funeral monuments as unutterably ugly and tasteless as any thing of the kind I ever saw at home; but the dead, for the most part, lie in graves marked merely by little iron crosses in the narrow and roofless space walled in from the lagoon, which laps sluggishly at the foot of the masonry with the impulses of the tide. The old monastery was abolished in 1810, and there is now a convent of Reformed Benedictines on the island, who perform the last service for the dead.
On the day of which I speak, I was taking a friend to see the objects of interest at San Michele, which I had seen before, and the funeral procession touched at the riva of the church just as we arrived. The procession was of one gondola only, and the pallbearers were four pleasant ruffians in scarlet robes of cotton, hooded, and girdled at the waist. They were accompanied by a priest of a broad and jolly countenance, two grinning boys, and finally the corpse itself, severely habited in an under-dress of black box, but wearing an outer garment of red velvet, bordered and tasseled gayly. The pleasant ruffians (who all wore smoking-caps with some other name) placed this holiday corpse upon a bier, and after a lively dispute with our gondolier, in which the compliments of the day were passed in the usual terms of Venetian chaff, lifted the bier on shore and set it down. The priest followed with the two boys, whom he rebuked for levity, simultaneously tripping over the Latin of a prayer, with his eyes fixed on our harmless little party as if we were a funeral, and the dead in the black box an indifferent spectator Then he popped down upon his knees, and made us a lively little supplication, while a blind beggar scuffled for a lost soldo about his feet, and the gondoliers quarreled volubly. After which, he threw off his surplice with the air of one who should say his day's work was done, and preceded the coffin into the church.
We had hardly deposited the bier upon the floor in the centre of the nave, when two pale young friars appeared, throwing off their hooded cloaks of coarse brown, as they passed to the sacristy, and reappearing in their rope-girdled gowns. One of them bore a lighted taper in his right hand and a book in his left; the other had also a taper, but a pot of holy water instead of the book.
They are very handsome young men, these monks, with heavy, sad eyes, and graceful, slender figures, which their monastic life will presently overload with gross humanity full of coarse appetites. They go and stand beside the bier, giving a curious touch of solemnity to a scene composed of the four pleasant ruffians in the loaferish postures which they have learned as facchini waiting for jobs; of the two boys with inattentive grins, and of the priest with wandering eyes, kneeling behind them.
A weak, thin-voiced organ pipes huskily from its damp loft: the monk hurries rapidly over the Latin text of the service, while
    "His breath to heaven like vapor goes"

on the chilly, humid air; and the other monk makes the responses, giving and taking the sprinkler, which his chief shakes vaguely in the direction of the coffin. They both bow their heads—shaven down to the temples, to simulate His crown of thorns. Silence. The organ is still, the priest has vanished; the tapers are blown out; the pall-bearers lay hold of the bier, and raise it to their shoulders; the boys slouch into procession behind them; the monks glide softly and dispiritedly away. The soul is prepared for eternal life, and the body for the grave".

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Protestant Bethany Homes babies ignored - Irish Examiner

Protestant Bethany Homes babies ignored 
Irish Examiner
"The Dublin Foundling Hospital which was established by Royal Charter had a death rate of over 90% in the 19th century, as Joseph Robins records in his brilliant study of Irish children living on charity, The Lost Children: a Study of Charity Children in Ireland, 1700-1900 (Institute of Public Administration). If this book were reissued now we might begin to get some perspective and some historical context to the Tuam babies episode.

At the Dublin Foundling Hospital, the gate porter had the duty of disposing of the bodies of the dead infants, as Joseph Robins writes:

“For the sake of convenience burials were confined to three days a week. Between burial days, the dead infants accumulated and the porter stated that he had buried as many as thirteen at one time. Wrapped in grey blankets, the bodies were taken to a field at the back of the hospital and interred there. So frequent were the burials that the field was completely bare of grass.”

By Victoria White (Irish Examiner)

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Tuam and the British Press

The Daily Mail
(UK Paper)
"An expert survey of what is thought to be the burial site of 796 babies in Tuam has uncovered two areas of interest where anomalies in the soil indicate likely human activity beneath the surface. The survey recommends further investigation and experts say if we are to find out anything more a dig would be necessary. The Irish Mail on Sunday can also reveal that the Sisters of Bon Secours, who are at the centre of the scandal, had the remains of 12 members of the order exhumed and re-buried in a cemetery in Knock before they abandoned their base in Galway in 2001 – after selling property to the Western Health Board for a reported €4m."

Saturday, 7 June 2014

"Milltown archaeologist to advise on Tuam baby burials"

"Milltown archaeologist to advise on Tuam baby burials"

(Irish Mirror)
"A Northern Ireland archaeologist who helped find thousands of children buried on unconsecrated ground at Milltown Cemetery is to advise campaigners at the Tuam babies site. Toni Maguire, who spent several years carrying out excavations and detailed research at the well known West Belfast graveyard, will travel to Galway next month to help try and establish the full extent of burials at the former mother-and-baby home. Ms Maguire told the Mirror a meticulous trawl of state and holy order records would have to be undertaken alongside any excavation. The excavation, she added, could eventually see ground penetrating radar like that being used in the ongoing Madeleine McCann search being deployed. The bodies of hundreds of children and babies born to unmarried mothers were buried in unmarked graves at the home between 1925 and 1961".

Thursday, 5 June 2014

No Church records for Tuam

Tuam and Amnesty International

Amnesty International
(Read More)
"Disturbing revelations about an unmarked “mass grave” of up to 800 babies and children found in Tuam, a town in the west of Ireland, must prompt urgent answers from the Irish Government about the wider issue of past child abuse in religious-run institutions, said Amnesty International today".