The beauty of the vigil

Charles 4 Comments

st faith


Posted by Richard Rawlinson

When Charles Darwin died in 1882, he was brought to Westminster Abbey the evening before his huge funeral. His coffin was borne through the cloisters, his five sons following, into a small, bare vaulted side chapel (St Faith), which had until recently been used as a storeroom.

Architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, involved in the restoration of the Abbey, described this overnight resting place as a picturesque and beautiful room. Seen by the dim light from lanterns, it seemed tomb-like in contrast with the lofty interior of the Abbey. It was an intimate, contemplative place, different in mood to the public ceremony the next day, when the building was peopled with the living, when Darwin’s friends served as pallbearers in the procession to the Abbey’s communion rails.

A friend’s husband died suddenly a couple of years ago. The night before the requiem mass, he was removed to the Lady Chapel of Westminster Cathedral, the Catholic one just down Victoria Street from the Abbey. This Lady Chapel had been the scene of the couple’s wedding several years before. My friend recalls how special (painful and soothing) it was for her to sit there with him through the evening in silent, solitary vigil before funeral the next day.

I’m told the removal to the church the night before is becoming less common, even in Ireland. How common are such removals and vigils in hospital chapels or at home?  


  1. Charles

    Round here, a lot less common than they used to be. One reason for this is that churches are no longer comfortable taking custody of the body overnight. They are ‘unable to guarantee its safety’
    That says it all, really.

  2. Charles

    I think it’s a lovely thing to do and it still happens round my way. However, it is possible the charge may put some people off, typically undertakers charge £250 – 600 for this as an extra on the funeral bill.

  3. Charles

    Is there a difference between a vigil and a wake, in the old-fashioned sense of the word? I was led to believe the wake involved staying awake, keeping vigil, prior to the funeral. Nowadays, people seem to refer to the social gathering after the funeral as a wake.

  4. Charles

    Not so common in my experience, although recently did a service for a guy whose wife had him home for the day the day before the service where I’m assuming she sat, cried and did all the things she felt the need to do bless her heart.

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