It’s no secret now that for hundreds of years different flowers have been used to symbolise many different things, be it the roses from English history and the war of the roses or the symbols of places, towns and cities. Flowers are very deeply embedded into historic and modern day culture, giving roses on Valentine’s Day are hugely popular to symbolise love, flowers are given when someone is ill in hospital as a gesture of faith and the hope the person receiving them gets better soon.
Funerals are no different in the sense that flowers have a long history synonymous with grief but also displays of love and celebrating a life. The history of flowers at funerals is very interesting and a lot of it stems from a few key events.
The fragrance of flowers is particularly pleasant and carries with it even different connotations given the particular scent however, flower scents were used for different reasons during history. Whilst embalming, the art of preserving a recently deceased person and delaying the effects of the natural process of decomposition, was in its infant stages for a long period throughout history fragrant flowers were actually used to mask the stench given off by a decomposing corpse long enough so that a funeral could take place and the people attending the funerals would only smell the pleasant aroma of the flowers. Oftentimes back then, funerals could take place weeks after someone as passed away so as a result, the body has succumbed to natural elements more than it would say, after a couple of days and without embalming as we know it today there would be a larger amount of flowers needed the longer the person has been deceased.
One particular case is that of the death of former President, Andrew Jackson, there was a long period of time between his death and his funeral and as a result his body had decomposed much more than normal so the undertaker at the time had to use an absurd amount of flowers so the funeral goers wouldn’t be able to smell it. Whilst understandably a horrible situation for everyone involved this incident highlighted the greatness of flowers and that they are versatile in the fact they’re used not only for their marvellous colours and meaning, but also the aroma they give off.
Another case is that of what is believed to be an ancient funeral procession, in a Neanderthal cave in Iraq, ancient remains were found to have been surrounded by plants and flowers using a soil sample. This shows that even in ancient times flowers were used at early funerals, whilst it’s not known for what reason flowers were used, for their beauty or aroma, it’s clear that for thousands of year flowers have been synonymous with funerals and paying respects.
Flowers are truly very powerful, they can mean so much and hold a practical use as well, this history just shows that flowers at funerals can really shine and convey a message of peace, love and loss all at once.