The burial shroud

By Susanne Duijvestein, sustainable funeral director of Bijafscheid

Photo: Denim death shroud from Wikkelgoed

Did you ever think about what you will wear when you're dead? In Holland it used to be the custom to make your own shirt and keep it in your cupboard, because you never know. Although this tradition has perished, the burial shroud rises makes a comeback in the 21st century as a more sustainable alternative to the coffin.

Burial Shroud For centuries, the linen closet was a status symbol in the Netherlands. Young women often spent years preparing all their linens: their trousseau for getting married. This beautiful industry was culturally praised. Part of this collection was often also her burial shroud. The young women often handmade this garment for herself and for her future husband.

The shrouds had simple designs, often a straight long shirt with three-quarter sleeves. The fabric was almost always linen, as the Netherlands was once the largest flax producer in the world. The shroud was provided with embroidered initials and the wedding year. Once finished, the needle was ritually burnt out of superstition. Poking yourself with the needle did not bode well either.

Worn twice

The shrouds were worn twice: the first time on the wedding night and then the hopefully love-filled rugs were put in the back of the closet, in the hope they wouldn't be needed in the close future: in the coffin.

The tradition has existed for a long time, but was lost after second World War. After these terrible years, everything that had to do with death and destruction was pushed out of daily life in many ways. This also applies to the 'memento mori' of the shroud. Sometimes you can come across an old linen shroud at an antique shop or thrift store. Many regional museums also have shrouds in their collection, as shown below.