The funeral

A funeral is the community's farewell ceremony. During funerals people demonstrate their gratitude and respect for the departed and give their condolences to the relatives.

The ceremony

  • There are two kinds of funerals:
    1. A burial/funeral. When the funeral ceremony has ended the casket is carried to the grave and placed in the ground in a cemetery or in an unconsecrated plot.
    2. Cremation. Following the funeral ceremony, the casket is cremated and the ashes of the departed are placed in an urn, which is either buried in a burial plot for cremation urns, placed into a pre-existing grave, or the ashes are scattered.
  • A funeral cannot take place unless the district magistrate has issued a confirmation that the office has received the death certificate.
  • When a private funeral takes place, only the closest relatives and friends are present. There is no announcement of death until after the funeral.
  • Funerals carried out by the national church take place according to the book of liturgy and the manual of the Icelandic church. Funerals in urban areas and in rural areas are basically similar, in accordance with tradition. A traditional funeral of a Christian individual could, according to the church's manual, proceed in the following manner:
  • Prelude, played on the organ and/or other musical instruments.
  • A prayer.
  • A psalm.
  • Reading from the scriptures.
  • A psalm or live instrumental music.
  • Gospel reading.
  • A psalm or live instrumental music.
  • Eulogy.
  • A psalm, solo singing, solo instrumental music or reading.
  • Prayers.
  • The Lord's Prayer.
  • A psalm or live instrumental music.
  • Commendation - takes place either in the church or in the cemetery.
  • If the commendation takes place in the church, this is followed by a psalm and then a benediction.
  • If the commendation takes place in the cemetery, it will only be followed by a benediction.
  • Postlude and exit.
  • In the case of the funerals of those who belong to other religious denominations, the mores and customs of the relevant religious association shall apply.
  • A civil funeral takes place without the participation of a religious minister or other representative of the church.
  • If the departed did not belong to any religious association, it is up to the relatives to decide how the ceremony shall be conducted.

Burial or cremation

  • By law, the caskets of all who have deceased must be buried in a marked plot of graves or in a consecrated cemetery. All cemeteries in use are consecrated. The Gufuneskirkjugardur cemetery has plots that are intended for other religious associations, and also an unconsecrated plot intended for those who do not wish to be buried in consecrated earth.
  • Cremation urns are either buried in a special burial plot in the Fossvogskirkjugardur cemetery, the Gufuneskirkjugardur cemetery or the Kópavogskirkjugardur cemetery, or placed in a pre-existing grave with the permission of the rights holder of the grave.
  • Homestead burial plots can be found in various places around Iceland and wherever they are in use burials may take place. As a rule, only the family members of homestead burial plot rightsholder will be buried there. The law does not permit the adoption of new homestead burial plots.
  • The current law permits the dispersal of ashes over the high barren ground in Iceland and over the ocean, although special permission is required from the Ministry of the Interior.
  • All graves have a protected status for a period of 75 years. This protected status can be extended if requested.
  • Information regarding cemeteries, burial plots for cremation urns and homestead burial plots can be found on the website of Cemeteries of Reykjavik Deanery.

Burial - funeral.

  • In the case of a burial/funeral service the casket is frequently carried by the relatives and/or friends from the church/house at the end of the funeral ceremony. The casket is carried by six to eight pallbearers.
  • The casket is placed on the hearse, which leads the funeral procession of relatives and friends, as it makes its way to the cemetery. Anyone is free to accompany the casket to the cemetery unless otherwise specified.
  • The casket is carried from the hearse by the pallbearers and then lowered into the grave. The minister performs the commendation and says a prayer. Then the relatives and friends bid farewell to the departed. At Christian funerals it is customary to make the sign of the cross over the grave as you file past.
  • Flowers and wreaths are carried with the casket from the church building and placed alongside the grave while the farewell ceremony in the cemetery is taking place. When the grave has been covered, the flowers and wreaths are placed on top of it.
  • In the case of burials/funeral services for those who belong to other religious denominations, the mores and customs of the relevant religious association shall be adhered to.


  • In the case of a cremation the casket is not transported into the cemetery after the funeral ceremony, but rather into the Bálstofan crematorium in Fossvogur.
  • A certificate from a district commissioner of police or district magistrate must be on hand before a cremation takes place. The certificate must be obtained by the funeral parlour or those organising the cremation service. Furthermore, a written declaration by the departed must be available, indicating the decedent's will to have a cremation service, or there must be a confirmed statement from the relatives that they were aware of such intention.
  • Anyone over the age of 18 may sign a declaration of cremation on the website of the Kirkjugardar Reykjavíkur. The required permits are then obtained and the wish registered with the Bálstofan crematorium.
  • It is common for several days to pass between the funeral and the cremation service. In accordance with international ethics guidelines for crematoria, relatives are not permitted to be present when the cremation takes place. The relatives decide in consultation with the funeral parlour when the cremation urn is to be buried. This, however, must take place within a period of one year.
  • The relatives frequently choose to have a minister present at the burial of a cremation urn. The minister will then say a prayer and give a benediction. Whether or not a minister is present, a minister must be informed that a cremation urn is to be buried, so that the minister can make an entry in the church register and send a notice to the National Registry concerning where the ashes have been buried.
  • In the case of cremation services for those who belonged to other religious associations, the mores and customs of the relevant religious association shall be adhered to.

Other ways

Civil funeral ceremony

  • A civil funeral ceremony takes place without a minister or other representative from a religious organisation, and religious symbols and rites at the funeral are not necessary.
  • Churches, chapels and the prayer rooms of the national church are open for civil funeral ceremonies with the prior approval of the parish priest. A civil funeral ceremony may also take place in community centres, other assembly places or private homes.

Farewell ceremony – memorial service

  • A farewell ceremony is a funeral service that takes place in the Reykjavik area, but where the casket is then transported to another place in Iceland for burial.
  • Farewell ceremonies are also frequently held in memory of the departed in private homes, work places, assembly halls and church buildings.
  • A memorial service is held when the departed has been buried far from his or her home country, for instance, in a foreign country, or if the body has not been found.

Atheist funeral

  • If the departed did not belong to any religious association it is up to the relatives to decide how the ceremony shall be conducted. The deceased is, for instance, transported directly from the mortuary to the cemetery, a burial plot for cremation urns, or for the scattering of the ashes over the barren highland or over the ocean.
  • The funerals of atheists can also take place in private, followed by a memorial service.

Customs in rural areas

  • Funeral rites in some rural areas differ from the norms in urban areas. At a home-farewell, the departed is bid farewell in his or her home. The departed is remembered, and psalms are sung before going to church.
  • Often the burial casket is moved to the church the day before the funeral. One bell is rung while the casket is carried into the church, and lights are lit and kept lit throughout the night.
  • Sometimes when a casket is transported to a rural area for a funeral, the procession stops at a place with a good view over the local area, or at the farmstead where the departed lived, before continuing to the church.
  • When the casket is carried from the church to the cemetery, it was a former custom to carry the casket clockwise around the church building. This custom is still active in many places.
  • The casket is never carried to the left when leaving the church, even if the grave is to the south of the church, but always to the right, to the north, then east, then south.

  • It is customary in many places, after the casket has been lowered into the grave and commended, for the congregation to return to the church to sing the last psalm or patriotic song.

Links of interest

Laws and regulations