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Catafalque of Krzysztof Opalinski, 17th century Krzysztof Opalinski dead Sierakow.jpg
Catafalque of Krzysztof Opaliński, 17th century

A catafalque is a raised bier, box, or similar platform, often movable, that is used to support the casket, coffin, or body of the deceased during a Christian funeral or memorial service. [1] Following a Roman Catholic Requiem Mass, a catafalque may be used to stand in place of the body at the absolution of the dead or used during Masses of the Dead and All Souls' Day. [2]


According to Peter Stanford, the term originates from the Italian catafalco, which means scaffolding. [3] However, the Oxford English Dictionary says the word is "[o]f unknown derivation; even the original form is uncertain; French pointing to -fald- or -falt-, Italian to -falc-, Spanish to -fals." The most notable Italian catafalque was the one designed for Michelangelo by his fellow artists in 1564. [4] An elaborate and highly decorated roofed surround for a catafalque, [5] common for grand funerals of the Baroque era, may be called a castrum doloris .

Papal catafalques

Large processions have followed the catafalques of Popes. The households of the cardinals carried the catafalque of Pope Sixtus V in 1590. The bier, decorated with gold cloth, was followed by "confraternities, religious orders, students of seminaries and colleges, orphans and mendicants". [6] In 1963, a million people filed past the catafalque of Pope John XXIII, which had been carried in procession to St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. [7] In Catholic Liturgy, the catafalque is either an empty casket or a wooden form made to look like a casket that is covered by the black pall and surrounded by six unbleached (orange) candles (when they are available); it is a symbolic representation of the deceased or a monument erected to represent the faithful departed. When it is present, the priest sings the absolution for the deceased as if the body was present. The body was the Temple of the Holy Spirit and must be shown the greatest respect, even symbolically, the catafalque is thus this symbol of hope in God and in His promise to raise our bodies and that of our departed ones in glory like the Risen Body of His Son seated at His right hand.[ citation needed ]

Notable catafalques

Voltaire's catafalque Voltaire cercueil funerailles Pantheon.jpg
Voltaire's catafalque

Other than religious leaders such as Popes, famous people have lain in state or been carried in procession to their burial place on a catafalque.


Thirteen years after his death, the remains of Voltaire were transferred on a catafalque to the Panthéon in Paris, a building dedicated to the great men of the French nation. It bore the inscription: "Poet, philosopher, historian, he made a great step forward in the human spirit. He prepared us to become free." [8]

Abraham Lincoln

The Lincoln catafalque in the United States Capitol LincolnCatafalque.jpg
The Lincoln catafalque in the United States Capitol

The Lincoln catafalque, [9] first used for United States President Abraham Lincoln's funeral in 1865, has been used for all those who have lain in state in the Capitol Rotunda since Lincoln's death, the most recent of which was civil rights leader and U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings on October 25, 2019. When not in use, the catafalque is kept on display in the Exhibition Hall at the United States Capitol Visitor Center. Commentators noted that the structure of the original pine timbers and boards has been reinforced, albeit being left 'original'. [10]

See also

Related Research Articles

Funeral ceremony for a person who has died

A funeral is a ceremony connected with the final disposition of a corpse, such as a burial or cremation, with the attendant observances. Funerary customs comprise the complex of beliefs and practices used by a culture to remember and respect the dead, from interment, to various monuments, prayers, and rituals undertaken in their honor. Customs vary between cultures and religious groups. Common secular motivations for funerals include mourning the deceased, celebrating their life, and offering support and sympathy to the bereaved; additionally, funerals may have religious aspects that are intended to help the soul of the deceased reach the afterlife, resurrection or reincarnation.

Embalming Method of preserving human remains

Embalming is the art and science of preserving human or animal remains by treating them to forestall decomposition. The intention is usually to make the deceased suitable for public or private viewing as part of the funeral ceremony, or keep them preserved for medical purposes in an anatomical laboratory. The three goals of embalming are sanitization, presentation, and preservation, with restoration being an important additional factor in some instances. Performed successfully, embalming can help preserve the body for a duration of many years. Embalming has a very long and cross-cultural history, with many cultures giving the embalming processes a greater religious meaning.

State funeral Public funeral ceremony held to honour people of national significance

A state funeral is a public funeral ceremony, observing the strict rules of protocol, held to honour people of national significance. State funerals usually include much pomp and ceremony as well as religious overtones and distinctive elements of military tradition. Generally, state funerals are held in order to involve the general public in a national day of mourning after the family of the deceased gives consent. A state funeral will often generate mass publicity from both national and global media outlets.

Riderless horse

A riderless horse is a single horse, without a rider, and with boots reversed in the stirrups, which sometimes accompanies a funeral procession. The horse follows the caisson carrying the casket. A riderless horse can also be featured in military parades to symbolize fallen soldiers. In Australia for example, it is traditional for a riderless horse known as the 'Lone Charger' to lead the annual Anzac Day marches.

Funeral and burial of Abraham Lincoln

After the April 14, 1865 assassination of Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States, a three-week series of events mourned his death and memorialized his life. Funeral services and lyings in state were held in Washington, D.C., and then in additional cities as a funeral train transported his remains for burial in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois. Lincoln's eldest son Robert Todd rode the train to Baltimore and then disembarked and returned to the White House. Lincoln's wife Mary Todd Lincoln remained at the White House because she was too distraught to make the trip. Robert took a later train to Springfield for his father's final funeral and burial.

Lying in state public funerary custom

Lying in state is the tradition in which the body of a dead official is placed in a state building, either outside or inside a coffin, to allow the public to pay their respects. It traditionally takes place in the principal government building of a country, state, or city. While the practice differs among countries, a viewing in a location other than the principal government building may be referred to as lying in repose.

Funeral of Pope John Paul II Certain aspects of a persons life

The funeral of Pope John Paul II was held on 8 April 2005, six days after his death on 2 April. The funeral was followed by the novemdiales devotional in which the Catholic Church observes nine days of mourning.

Christian burial Funeral in Christian traditions

A Christian burial is the burial of a deceased person with specifically Christian ecclesiastical rites; typically, in consecrated ground. Until recent times Christians generally objected to cremation because it interfered with the concept of the resurrection of the body, and practiced inhumation almost exclusively. Today this opposition has all but vanished among Protestants. Catholics are now able to be cremated also, and this is rapidly becoming more common, but the Eastern Orthodox Churches still mostly forbid it.

United States Capitol rotunda Component of United States Capitol

The United States Capitol rotunda is the central rotunda of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., built 1818–1824. It is located below the Capitol dome, built 1857–1866; the later construction also extended the height of the rotunda walls. It is the tallest part of the Capitol and has been described as its "symbolic and physical heart."

Lincoln Catafalque support for the casket of Abraham Lincoln while his body lay in state

The Lincoln catafalque is a catafalque hastily constructed in 1865 to support the casket of Abraham Lincoln while the president's body lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C. The catafalque has since been used for all those who have lain in state in the Capitol Rotunda. When not in use, the catafalque is kept in the United States Capitol Visitor Center in a small vaulted chamber. It was previously kept in an area called Washington's Tomb, which was originally intended, but never used, as the burial place for George Washington, the first President of the United States.

A Catholic funeral is carried out in accordance with the prescribed rites of the Catholic Church. Such funerals are referred to in Catholic canon law as "ecclesiastical funerals" and are dealt with in canons 1176–1185 of the Code of Canon Law, and in canons 874–879 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. In Catholic funerals, the Church "seeks spiritual support for the deceased, honors their bodies, and at the same time brings the solace of hope to the living." The Second Vatican Council in its Constitution on the LIturgy decreed: "The rite for the burial of the dead should express more clearly the paschal character of Christian death, and should correspond more closely to the circumstances and traditions found in various regions."

A funeral procession is a procession, usually in motor vehicles or by foot, from a funeral home or place of worship to the cemetery or crematorium. In earlier times the deceased was typically carried by male family members on a bier or in a coffin to the final resting place. This practice has shifted over time toward transporting the deceased in a hearse, while family and friends follow in their vehicles. The transition from the procession by foot to procession by car can be attributed to two main factors; the switch to burying or cremating the body at locations far from the funeral site and mainly the introduction of motorized vehicles and public transportation making processions by foot through the street no longer practical.

Absolution of the dead is a prayer for or a declaration of absolution of a dead person's sins that takes place at the person's religious funeral.

State funerals in the United States Special funerary rites to honor the passing of notable Americans

State funerals in the United States are the official funerary rites conducted by the Federal government of the United States in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C. that are offered to a sitting or former President of the United States, a President-elect, and others who have rendered distinguished service to the nation. Administered by the Military District of Washington (MDW), a command unit of the Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region, state funerals are greatly influenced by protocol, steeped in tradition, and rich in history. However, the overall planning as well as the decision to hold a state funeral, is largely determined by a president and his family.

State funeral of John F. Kennedy state funeral

The state funeral of John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States, took place in Washington, D.C., during the three days that followed his assassination on Friday, November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas.

Death and state funeral of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk presidential funeral in Turkey

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, first President of the Republic of Turkey, died at the Dolmabahçe Palace, his official residence in Istanbul, on 10 November 1938. His state funeral was held in the capital city of Ankara on 21 November, and was attended by dignitaries from seventeen nations. His body remained at the Ethnography Museum of Ankara until 10 November 1953, the fifteenth anniversary of his death, when his remains were carried to his final resting place at Anıtkabir.

New Jersey Avenue Station

The Washington Depot or New Jersey Avenue Station was a train station located in Northwest Washington, D.C., a block north of the Capitol. The train station was also called the B&O Depot as it was served by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. It operated from April 1851 until Union Station on October 26, 1907. During the American Civil War, the New Jersey Avenue Station was the major embarkation site for hundreds of thousands of Union troops. President Abraham Lincoln arrived there to be sworn in as President in 1861. It was from that station that his body along with his son "Willie" Lincoln began its long journey to his final resting place in Illinois after he was assassinated on April 14, 1865.

Death and state funeral of Liliuokalani

Liliuokalani, the last monarch of Hawaii, died at her residence Washington Place, at 8:30 a.m. on November 11, 1917, at the age of seventy-nine. According to her lady-in-waiting Lahilahi Webb, the Queen had been in rapidly failing health and diminished mental capacity during the weeks immediately preceding her death. Besides Webb, those who were with her at the end were her doctor William Cotton Hobdy, Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole, and his wife Elizabeth Kahanu Kalanianaʻole. Her private secretary and trustee of her deed of trust, Curtis P. Iaukea, immediately raised her royal standard (flag) over Washington Place to signal her death. Iaukea's wife Charlotte Kahaloipua Hanks, and two elderly royal retainers Wakeke Ululani Heleluhe and Onaala, were also in attendance at the Queen's death.

Immediately following a doctor's statement that life was gone, Rev. Leopold Kroll of the Hawaiian congregation of St. Andrew's Cathedral and Rev. Henry H. Parker, pastor of Kawaihao church were notified, and the bells began their sad tolling - 79 times they tolled, telling all Honolulu that Queen Lilliuolakani, 79 years old, was dead.

Old Bob Driving horse of Abraham Lincoln

Old Bob or Old Robin was a driving horse used by Abraham Lincoln during the period prior to his presidency of the United States. He later participated in Lincoln's funeral. Old Bob's exact fate and date of death are unknown; he was sold to drayman John Flynn by Lincoln in 1860.

Abraham Lincolns hearse

Abraham Lincoln's hearse was the purpose-constructed hearse built to carry the body of Abraham Lincoln during a cortège held in New York City on April 25, 1865, shortly after his assassination by John Wilkes Booth. It has been described as the most elaborate of the many hearses used to transport Lincoln's body during the two-week funeral tour which preceded his burial in Springfield, Illinois.


  1. Christopher Jobson (2009). Looking Forward Looking Back: Customs and Traditions of the Australian Army. Big Sky Publishing. pp. 71–. ISBN   978-0-9803251-6-4.
  2. James Empereur; Eduardo Fernández (12 October 2006). La Vida Sacra: Contemporary Hispanic Sacramental Theology. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. pp. 294–. ISBN   978-1-4616-3855-1.
  3. Peter Stanford (23 May 2013). How to Read a Graveyard: Journeys in the Company of the Dead. A&C Black. pp. 244–. ISBN   978-1-4411-7977-7.
  4. Sally J. Cornelison (2012). Art and the Relic Cult of St. Antoninus in Renaissance Florence. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. pp. 276–. ISBN   978-0-7546-6714-8.
  5. George Bull (15 July 1998). Michelangelo: A Biography. St. Martin's Press. pp. 3–. ISBN   978-0-312-18746-0.
  6. Schraven, Minou (2014). Festive Funerals in Early Modern Italy: The Art and Culture of Conspicuous Commemoration. Ashgate Publishing. p. 203. ISBN   9780754665243.
  7. CriticalPast (2014-06-18), Millions of people pass by the catafalque bearing the body of Pope John XXIII in ...HD Stock Footage , retrieved 2016-07-26
  8. "Voltaire's funeral procession". Retrieved 2016-07-26.
  9. William Turner Coggeshall (1865). Lincoln Memorial: The Journeys of Abraham Lincoln: from Springfield to Washington, 1861, as President Elect; and from Washington to Springfield, 1865, as President Martyred; Comprising an Account of Public Ceremonies on the Entire Route, and Full Details of Both Journeys. Ohio State Journal. pp. 277–.
  10. According to Robert Cromie in his book The Great Chicago Fire, copyright 1958, Lincoln's catafalque was in Woods' Museum in Chicago and was burned in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. However, Lincoln had funeral ceremonies during stops at several major cities as his remains were taken by train from Washington to Springfield, Illinois for burial. Cromie probably meant the catafalque used for ceremonies held at Chicago, rather than the one built for his state funeral in DC and retained at the U.S. Capitol.