Yesterday morning, seven o’clock, and the village church bell started tolling. It was not the cheerful festive ringing of Sundays and feast days, but a slow rhythmic peel announcing death. It filled the air and echoed from the rocky crags of Monte San Costanzo. A more melancholy sound is difficult to imagine.
We all knew who had passed away. It was not a surprise and there was no guessing. The end of a long illness and another of the village icons was on his way.
The dead are buried quickly here, 48 hours maximum. Black and white posters with the funeral arrangements soon appear on the village notice boards, on strategic walls and even on lamp posts along the roads, the name in bold standing out. There is not enough time for a newspaper insert and relatives living further afield will often be unable to get home in time.
Meantime the body, clad in its Sunday best, lies in bed surrounded by friends and relatives paying their respects. The women sit at the bedside, their rosary beads clicking, murmuring a litany of prayers. The men stand by the door, or just outside, reminiscing in hushed tones of times gone by.
The coffin is delivered, the body placed inside and the lid closed. From outside you can hear the hammering, and the sobbing of the ones left behind. The priest arrives and a procession forms heading for the church. The bells start tolling.
The shops’ shutters are lowered. The village falls silent.
Again the bells. Mass is over. The police stop the traffic, as the pall-bearers carefully negotiate the steps up into the village square and onto the main road before heading out of the village. A long, long procession of people follows behind. Some carry wreaths of flowers, others just walk, heads bowed, ready to say their final “arrivederci” before the coffin is placed in the hearse for the last stage of its journey up to the cemetery at Santa Maria della Neve.
The shops’ shutters rattle back up, the traffic begins to move, mopeds weave in and out, the SITA bus gets stuck, horns start blowing and life quickly reverts to normal.