Speed and style to win it for gravediggers

2016-06-03 22:11
A worker takes part in the first national grave digging competition at the public cemetery of Debrecen, Hungary. (Zsolt Czegledi, AP)

A worker takes part in the first national grave digging competition at the public cemetery of Debrecen, Hungary. (Zsolt Czegledi, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Debrechen - Digging their way to the top, 18 two-man teams of Hungarian gravediggers displayed their skills on Friday for a place in a regional championship to be held in Slovakia later this year.

Participants in the contest held in plot 37A of the public cemetery of the eastern Hungarian city of Debrecen were being judged on their speed but also getting points for style - the look of the finished grave mounds.

Janos Jonas, 63, who teamed with his son, Csaba, saw the competition as a sort of last hurrah as he was just a few weeks from retirement.

"We didn't have to prepare in any special way because we do this every day," said Jonas, from the nearby village of Hosszupalyi. "This is good earth, quite soft and humid, just right for the event."

Organiser Iren Kari said they hoped the race would help increase respect and recognition for the gravediggers' profession and attract more people to the job, which is under threat, for example by the increasing popularity of cremations.

"These men see death every day. Sometimes people joke about them while they work, but gravediggers are human, too," said Kari, who is advocating for gravediggers to get access to psychological support to better handle the strains of the job. "We are having difficulties finding replacements for our retiring employees. Young people today don't like to dig and work."

All contestants had shovels, rakes, axes and pickaxes to dig graves 0.8m wide, 2m long and 1.6m deep, but no two teams seemed to use the same technique.

Some preferred to dig simultaneously, while others had one man digging while the other formed the dirt into neat piles around the grave site. For safety reasons, like the collapse of a grave wall, only one member of each team was allowed to work in the grave after reaching a depth of 1m.

After every team finished digging - the fastest time was just over 34 minutes - there was a short rest and then the dirt was shovelled back into the graves, each topped with a burial mound about the size of a large casket.

"We take special pride in the burial mounds, on which we place the flowers and wreaths at the end of the funeral," Jonas said, relating how while drinking on the job was strictly forbidden, relatives often gave gravediggers a bottle of palinka, a traditional Hungarian fruit brandy, as a gratuity.

Some teams wore white shirts, ties and elegant vests, while others were in T-shirts or overalls. One pair wore plastic coveralls, but everyone was sweating by the end of the race on a warm spring day.

"The hardest part of the job is to deal with the mourners," said Debrecen gravedigger Laszlo Toth, part of one of the fastest teams. "But it's a good job, with good colleagues and a good environment."

Read more on:    hungary

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.