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Sunday, November 01, 2020

The origin of the annual visit to the cemetery

Santa Lastenia Cemetery in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Photo: Jose Mesa. Some Rights Reserved

In Spain it has been a tradition, since ancient times, to visit dead relatives, decorating their tombstones with flowers, going on an annual pilgrimage to the cemetery, celebrated on November 2, which until very recently, was a holiday. Masses are celebrated in all churches in memory of these loved ones that serve to shorten the supposed years of purgatory in the afterlife. Closely linked to this festivity is the one of the previous day, not only because of its proximity in time, but also because of its meaning; November 1 is "All Saints Day."

What is the origin of this holiday, in principle Catholic?

Some consider that the creator of the feast of "All Saints" was the English scholar, clergyman, poet, Alcuin of York, in the eighth century. It is in the year 798 when Alcuin writes and congratulates the Archbishop of Salzburg for setting this holiday within the Roman calendar of November, as he suggested. Others, including the Catholic Church itself, believe that it was a decision of Pope Boniface IV, on May 13, 609 or 610, when he consecrated the "Pantheon of Agrippa" to the cult of the "Virgin and the martyrs", beginning a feast to commemorate those anonymous saints, unknown to the majority of Christendom, but who for their faith and works are worthy of recognition and veneration.

Pope Gregory III (731-741) changed the date from May 13 to November 1

But why this change? We have the answer in the conversion to Christianity of the peoples of pagan tradition. Catholic leaders thought that by establishing new festivals, which coincided in date and with a similar doctrinal appearance, with the old ones or those typical of these peoples, it would be easier for these new believers to abandon their old beliefs, without this implying discarding their culture and identity. The eve of November 1 coincided with that of "Samhain", a pagan festival marking the end of the harvest season and beginning of winter or "darker half" of the year. On that night it was believed that the god of death made the dead return, thus allowing them to communicate with their ancestors. 

This practice was also common among the Romans, as on February 21 they celebrated the feast of "Feralia" helping with their prayers for peace and rest for their dead.

Origen de la visita anual al cementerio

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