Scenes and stories from a small town in the hills of Italy's Le Marche region

Life after death in Camerano:
The cemetery's role in local culture
By Caroline Powers

CAMERANO, Italy -- At the bottom of a hill on the edge of town sits what may be the most significant place in Camerano: the cemetery. Behind the tall iron gates are rows of mausoleums that entomb some of Camerano’s most esteemed citizens, like former nobles and Carlo Maratti, the famous Baroque painter.

The cross in the cemetery

“The cemetery plays an important role in the community,” notes funeral director Idreno Miccolini. “You could compare the number of people meeting in the cemetery to those who meet in the piazza. The same number of people come and go, and sometimes there are more in the cemetery than are in the piazza.”

Life in Camerano intermixes with death, especially when a townsperson dies. In the predominantly Catholic community, the priest, who in Italy is called “Don” instead of “Father”, remains close to the sick to prepare them for death and to comfort the family.

A towering white cross greets visitors to the tombs. Photos by Jamie Barsana Don Aldo visits frequently, always prepared to perform the traditional sacraments that Catholics believe ensure passage to heaven. “I don’t talk about death, I talk about life,” Don Aldo Pieroni says.

“We believe that death is about starting a new life. Jesus says, ‘If you are tired or weary, I will give you rest.’” Dealing with death, is a “walk of faith,” Don Aldo says. “As Jesus visited the ill, so does the priest.”

After someone dies, the church bell clangs slowly to spread the news of the recent death. Funeral director Miccolini posts large notices on bulletin boards to provide more information around town and in neighboring cities where the person who died is known. But Don Aldo notes that at the first sounds of the “Agony” bell, dozens of people flock not to the posters, but to the church. “They all want to know, ‘Who died, who died?’”

“The community participates a lot in the funeral process,” Don Aldo says. “The body is never left alone.” If a person dies at home, for every hour up until the funeral, visitors constantly come in and out of the home, praying for the deceased and his or her family and reading the Bible. The casket is left open so that those who wish to say their final goodbyes are free to kiss the person’s cheek and pray over the body.

The entire town turns out for a funeral: “People don’t go to work if there is a funeral,” says Don Aldo. “Even factory owners in other towns close their factories to attend.”
“When a person from Ancona dies,” funeral director Miccolini says of the nearest large city, “there are half as many people at that funeral as there are at a funeral of someone from Camerano.”

Priest Don Aldo
  The ceremony includes a Mass for the deceased with special prayers, a benediction and waving incense over the coffin.
Don Aldo, the local priest, is the spiritual hub of the community. Photos by Jamie Barsana

After the ceremony, people follow slowly on foot behind the hearse as it carries the casket to the cemetery.

 The church bell clangs until the procession reaches the cemetery, so that everyone in the neighboring cities knows of the ongoing funeral.
The church bell clangs until the procession reaches the cemetery, so that everyone in the neighboring cities knows of the ongoing funeral.

The procession is slow and heartfelt because “in a small town,” Don Aldo says, “people respond and participate more because everyone knows everyone.” According to Catholic tradition, the people of Camerano remember the deceased at a Mass eight days after his or her death. “We remember them again a month later, a year later and every year after that,” Don Aldo explains.

Though life must often center on death, Don Aldo remains optimistic. “Saints call the day of death the day of birth,” he says. “Death is something relating to the body but not to the soul.”

The pain of death can be great, but the Cameranesi struggle through the hurt together, and through shared faith and experiences, strengthen the bond among the living.

Tour the cemetery


the cemetery crypts

the cross in the cemetery

Camerano's funeral director

Don Aldo, the local priest



View the process of burial for the local Camerenese


the burial process

In the cemetery in Camerano, bodies are stacked to form larger buildings. Video by Katie Clayton

Home | About Camerano Project | Contact Us

Arts & Entertainment | Sports | Family & Faith | Commerce | Community Life | Index

Copyright ©2006 The Institute for Education in International Media