There is the account by Bishop Evodius
, a friend of Augustine, of the mourning and burial of one of his priests.
And there is a brief description of the burial of Augustine in the Life of Augustine
Two beliefs made African Christian rituals of death distinct from those of the pagan Roman culture: the Christian belief in the resurrection of the body, and the claim that the pagan cult of the dead was a form of idol worship.
The first is evident in the nature of the care given by Christians to the corpse. The body was washed, and then wrapped with oil and spices.
Following Jewish rather than Roman tradition, the body was buried instead of cremated.
Burial happened in a separate area within a public cemetery, or in a separate Christian cemetery.
With Christians there is no evidence of a more elaborate embalming as if to show belief in a continuing existence after death within the same physical body.
Christians believed that a dead person would receive a new glorified body that was incorruptible.
The Christian rejection of the cult of idols is evident in the refusal to place garlands or crowns on the corpse, and in the denial of the offering of sacrifices to the dead.
The sermons of Augustine do indicate, however, that some nominal Christians were following funeral practices which reflected pagan rather than Christian ideals.
In these instances, the corpse was wrapped in expensive robes, and carried to the grave on an elaborate bed. It was followed by crowds of mourning dependents, and placed in an expensive tomb.
He specified that this was the Italian custom and thus implied that it was not also the practice in Africa.
By the time Augustine wrote the Confessions
, the African bishops had forbidden the celebration of the Eucharist in the presence of a corpse.
This prohibition had become necessary to stop the occasional practice of placing the eucharistic bread in the mouth of the dead, as a viaticum that replaced the pagan tradition of placing a coin in the mouth of the corpse to pay the fare of Charon.
(Continued on the next page.)