Maltese Funeral Rites

Malta's history and culture inform its funeral customs.
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Malta is a small European country located south of Sicily in the middle of the Mediterranean. Citizens speak the language Malti and share an elaborate culture that reflects Italian, British, French and native traditions. Malta's funeral customs are known for their detailed rites. These customs are rooted in a Catholic tradition and are similar to those of nearby Sicily.

1 Celebration

Death is not a taboo subject in Maltese culture. Citizens celebrate death and several daily routines reflect the Maltese respect for death. Every Maltese village has a high concentration of churches, which ring their bells at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. to mark the beginning of funerals. Funeral processions are elaborate, with large flower-covered coffins that shut down traffic in the city regularly. Obituaries are announced over the radio each morning.

2 Salt

One of the oldest traditions is the practice of placing salt on the stomach of the deceased, known as being "salted for the pit." In the pre-modern period, families often preserved bodies in a saline solution, but many families simply placed a small amount of salt in a dish and laid it on top of the body, believing this helped preserve it. Many families still follow the practice today as a tradition.

3 Covering Mirrors

Prior to the funeral, the body is kept in the family's house. According to the Journal of Folklore, Maltese people traditionally cover all mirrors in accordance with the traditional belief that mirrors are supernatural portals for spirits. Some families will remove mirrors from their rooms altogether and extend the practice to paintings in the death chamber where the body lies. Similarly, family members often remove furniture from the room to avoid tainting it with the presence of the dead.

4 Other Traditions

Maltese citizens follow a number of other traditions that reflect the various cultures that passed through the country at different times. Family members often wash the body of the deceased before covering it with a shroud. They also close the eyes of the deceased if left open and raise the chin with a white kerchief. Finally, family members remove all knobs and knockers from their doors and leave their doors shut for several days, and neighbors follow suit by leaving their doors half-closed.

James Stuart began his professional writing career in 2010. He traveled through Asia, Europe, and North America, and has recently returned from Japan, where he worked as a freelance editor for several English language publications. He looks forward to using his travel experience in his writing. Stuart holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and philosophy from the University of Toronto.