Between EARTH and SKY

by Lina Vergara Huilcamán

“I started 45 years ago. When I was 13 I already used to help my father making coffins” says Gianni Gibellini “a pure-blooded native of Modena” as he proudly shows me around his building which is also a dream coming true.
TERRACIELO. Six thousand square metres of funerary items. It is impossible to overlook it as you drive from Modena to Bologna on the via Æmilia.
Gibellini – President of the EFI (Italian Funeral Excellence) – had to wait twenty years for a city plan allowing him to create a private structure that included morgues without being a hospital.
Twenty years to build the excellence of which he is President. TERRACIELO. A big bright space that gives hospitality to corpses and their families. A bridge between the EARTH and the SKY that deals with all the details and helps families to give the final farewell to their beloved ones.
For someone like me who has never attended a family funeral and therefore ignores all the little rites, passages and services involved in a funeral, it was a fascinating experience: a real trip inside the whole commercial, business and oneiric activity that a funeral home can encompass.
The managing of deaths in the business and design office and the arrangement of corpses in the farewell rooms, which have relaxing and natural but evocative names such as Room of the Roses, the Palms, the Sun, the Moon, the Stars, the Rivers, the Sunflowers, the Olive trees and the Orchids. A room for the preparation, rearrangement and make-up of corpses, with devices and materials, and a room with a big fridge. A garage for shining hearses and a showroom where people can choose coffins or urns. A bar and a restaurant. And, at last, the huge TERRACIELO room, which can accommodate up to 700 people during religious as well as lay ceremonies, offering the possibility of performing live music.
I used to believe everything was going to be simple after death, a simple passing of the hand on the eyelids and joining the corpses’ hands on their chest… whereas an entire world of activities exists, including training and updating courses to learn how to arrange a corpse, with teachers arriving from Spain. And, among high-sounding words like autopsic, embalming and thanatopraxis, you also find politics, legislation, city plan and cooperative. The memory of Mr Gibellini’s blue eyes is still vivid, like the SKY (cielo) included in the name of his marvellous dream, eyes that look at the horizon as he speaks and where you can perceive, in a not too distant future, a private cemetery with all those little details necessary to welcome our beloved ones for ever, in a proper and modern way.
So, after Gibellini – while arranging the folds of a coffin lining with loving care – explained to me how western funeral ceremonies work in Emilia, I do now hope that one day I will be able to attend the Japanese aesthetic ceremony of the nokanshi, which can be seen in Takita Yojiro’s movie Departures (Okuribito) and of which you can get an idea by watching the following video:

Terracielo Funeral Home - via Emilia Est, 320 - 41126 Modena - tel. 059 28 68 11-