Thursday, November 1, 2012

Your final address

Lets say you're a dead. Dead in Spain. No foul play. Natural causes. The ceremony to celebrate your life has been held and it is time to say goodbye to your earthly remains. Just as in the UK you have various options. Lets start with interment.

There are basically two routes - owner occupier or tenant. You may have a family vault handy or, perhaps, if you're titled or something, a family chapel. Then again you may have chosen the more proletarian English style burial – a grave dug deep into the ground for your coffin with a nice slab and headstone above. So long as you have the land bought and your structure in place then Bob's your uncle. You'll want to pay a management fee too to keep everything ship shape. After all we are talking a long term contract; an eternity.. 

The much more common, route in Spain is more akin to living in a block of flats than buying your own house. Your coffin won't be dug into the ground or walled into a crypt but parked in a deep recess in a wall, a sort of shelving system called nichos. A couple of brickies will seal up the entrance. Nichos can be bought but normally they are rented. The niches higher up in the wall, those which can only be reached by ladder, are cheaper than the lower ones. Just like buying a flat in a block without a lift.

Cremation is reasonably new in Spain but it's now a common option to burial. If you go for cremation your ashes can be sprinkled anywhere you had a fondness for, they can be added to a common burial site or they can be popped into a pigeon-hole like structure called a columbario. These columbarios are a bit like the lockers in Mercadona and like the nichos they are rented. Bedsits rather than flats maybe.

 Each Town Hall has a cemetery where your can rent a nicho or columbario. Once your contract expires your remains can be moved to a common burial ground. Each cemetery has different procedures, periods and prices and it is often possible to extend the rental period on your niche. The Town Halls try to balance resting in peace with the costs of exhumations and building extensions. Sometimes putting you out on the street as it were, popping you in a hostel, with all the other lost souls, just makes sense.

Recently, in Zaragoza, there was a bit of a fuss because the local authority put stickers on over 2,000 niches saying that the rent was due and that unless someone paid up the remains would be taken to a communal mass grave. The council hadn't been able to find the families, the rent hadn't been paid, in some cases, since the seventies and the cash strapped Town Hall saw another way of making a few extra Euros. This was their last ditch attempt to get the rent paid before the bones got the old heave ho. The stickers were put on the nichos just in time for November 1st All Saints Day, when Spaniards traditionally visit family graves to spruce them up.

I bet those stickers were a bit of a talking point.

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