The funeral crasher

Chiloe is like a world unto its own, a literal island in the heart of Chile. And it’s the churches of this region which are the pride and joy.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


The churches of Chiloe, Chile

In death, there can be a peace. There will be grief, undoubtedly, but also a comfort.

The life will not be judged in isolation but as part of a community formed around it. It’s the lives that were touched which say more than anything.

Dots, only when interconnected with lines, bring clarity and definition to the picture.

In Chiloe, an archipelago which serves as a stepping stone from the populated areas of Chile to its rugged and isolated Patagonian south, a funeral is starting.

In the island’s small town of Castro, the local community has filled the church. Some people stand at the back and others perch on the stone blocks which support the buildings solid wooden columns.

Chiloe churches, the World Heritage Churches of Chiloe, Castro, Chile
Chiloe churches, the World Heritage Churches of Chiloe, Castro, Chile

Your narrator sits awkwardly on the edge of the last row of pews.

I had come in as a tourist to have a look at the unique architecture of Chiloe’s churches, which fuse European and native styles. Now, unexpectedly, I am part of the congregation as the music plays and the service begins.

I am torn between the embarrassment of not belonging and a curiosity about the local culture. Curiosity wins.

Chiloe churches, the World Heritage Churches of Chiloe, Castro, Chile

The funeral in Chiloe

The music is not what I expect. It comes from a small band to the side of the altar, and sounds more like folk than church music.

Guitars twang and a female voice sings out with melodic Spanish. Sometimes parishioners sing along to a few lines of a chorus if they know the words. Mostly the lyrics come only from the band.

There’s a familiarity to the whole service, but there are also so many differences it feels strange. Like an old home with a fresh coat of paint.

It’s not just the music. The eulogies are given by men who look like local farmers, dressed as if they have come directly from the fields.

A family sits towards the back eating popcorn (seriously!), while in another row I see a middle-aged woman offering a bag of nuts to others near her.

Chiloe churches, the World Heritage Churches of Chiloe, Castro, Chile

Death is inevitable. The shock should not be in the passing but in the fact that so much was able to be made of the years before the end came. The day will be measured not by the circumstances which brought it, but by the times that delayed it.

So as I sit here in the church of Chiloe, wooden sculptures of Jesus and saints looking down at me from the walls of the church, I realise that this service is as much about the community as the deceased.

This is a chance for them to come together and show their strength in the very fact they can come together.

Chiloe churches, the World Heritage Churches of Chiloe, Castro, Chile

There are few tears during the funeral and the mood is more one of solemnity than grief. Perhaps many of the mourners didn’t even know the deceased well.

You have to assume that’s the case with the girl who walks out halfway through to answer her phone – or those who chat to each other at the back of the church, clearly catching up on news from lost weeks.

It doesn’t take away from the gravity of the event, though. In some ways it adds to it because it shows a comfortable sense of belonging.

Chiloe churches, the World Heritage Churches of Chiloe, Castro, Chile

When the service has ended the coffin is carried to the hearse, which begins to drive down the small roads of Castro towards the cemetery. The congregation follows.

Scores of mourners pour out from the church and walk down the streets behind the car, stopping the light traffic on the roads as they pass.

Chiloe churches, the World Heritage Churches of Chiloe, Castro, Chile

The men and women of Chiloe have been very proud of their faith since it was introduced by the Spaniards in the 17th century. The churches that remain from that time are heritage listed but there’s probably no need.

They would never be touched or allowed to fall into disrepair. They are the soul of this community and inside their walls the people show their grief, their celebration and their strength.


If you’re going to spend a couple of days exploring Chiloe, I recommend basing yourself in Castro for convenience.


You’ll get a wonderfully warm welcome at La Minga Hostel, along with comfortable beds and a good location.


The water views from the terrace are great at Alma Chilota, and the welcoming atmosphere and good value make it even better.


The interesting interior elevates your stay at Bledford Chiloé, while also has a huge balcony with sea and city views.


Admire the view and relax in the cozy and comfortable rooms at Hotel & Cafe Veliche, which also has a free delicious breakfast.


This site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
I'm on a mission to visit as many World Heritage Sites as I can. Only about 800 more to go... eek!

11 thoughts on “The funeral crasher”

  1. Hola M. Tortuga,
    Greetings from North Carolina. We’ve been following your travels since meeting you in Karumbé. The girls (just like Causita’s puppies) are growing up fast. Really enjoy your posts. Hopefully we’ll connect again soon.
    Cheers, ~Rocio

    • Hey there – lovely to hear from you! I hope the rest of your trip went well. Have the girls forgotten about the puppies or have you had to get a pet of your own now? 🙂

  2. In my experience, each funeral is unique. Everyone I have been to has been for someone I know well. Each was different. I can say, though, at each one I felt comfortable. I knew many of the people and with some of them you only nod as you pass them and others embrace you and want to hold a conversation. I guess what your experience and mine shows is that life continues even at a funeral. I think this is the way the deceased would want it to be. I know it is the way I want it to be when I pass on.

  3. Funeral services tend to be more somber in mood then memorial services. There is quite a difference from my experience of having attended both. Although this one appears to be more somber, I believe its out of their respect in honoring the deceased and bereaved family. Regardless of what the mood is at the ceremony, what’s important is that it brings comfort to the family and the deceased person’s life they lived is remembered and celebrated.

  4. Very valuable share. I must say that the info you shared about the churches of Chile is totally unique for me. This city is truthfully enriched with remarkable history and if someone wants to explore the world’s most historical and churches, this place is a must.

  5. I’m literally at Castro right now and must say, wow, you have a unique story about the churches to tell! Not sure if it’s fortunate or unfortunate (that it is a funeral).


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