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Catafalque of nobleman Krzysztof Opaliński, 17th century Poland

A catafalque is a raised bier, box, or similar platform, often movable, that is used to support the casket, coffin, or body of a dead person 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[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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 were Capitol Police Officer Billy Evans on April 13, 2021, and U.S. Senator Bob Dole on December 9, 2021. It has recently been used at the memorial for Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the rotunda of the Supreme Court of the United States on September 23, 2020. It was later moved to the portico of the Court for public viewing. 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[edit]


  1. ^ Jobson, Christopher (2009). Looking Forward Looking Back: Customs and Traditions of the Australian Army. Big Sky Publishing. pp. 71–. ISBN 978-0-98032516-4.
  2. ^ Empereur, James; Eduardo Fernández (12 October 2006). La Vida Sacra: Contemporary Hispanic Sacramental Theology. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 294–. ISBN 978-1-4616-3855-1.
  3. ^ Stanford, Peter (23 May 2013). How to Read a Graveyard: Journeys in the Company of the Dead. A&C Black. p. 244. ISBN 978-1-4411-7977-7.
  4. ^ Cornelison, Sally J. (2012). Art and the Relic Cult of St. Antoninus in Renaissance Florence. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 276. ISBN 978-0-7546-6714-8.
  5. ^ Bull, George (15 July 1998). Michelangelo: A Biography. St. Martin's Press. p. 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 978-0-7546-6524-3.
  7. ^ "Millions of people pass by the catafalque bearing the body of Pope John XXIII in ...HD Stock Footage". YouTube. 18 June 2014. Archived from the original on 22 December 2021. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  8. ^ "Voltaire's funeral procession". Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  9. ^ Coggeshall, William Turner (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.

External links[edit]