Definitions

Catafalque

Catafalque

[kat-uh-fawk, -fawlk, -falk]

A catafalque is a raised bier or platform, often movable, that is used to support the casket, coffin, or body of the deceased during a funeral or memorial service. Catafalque decorations are known as castrum doloris.

The term originates from the Italian catafalco, which means scaffolding. The most notable Italian catafalque was the one designed for Michelangelo by his fellow artists in 1564.

West Norwood and Kensal Green Catafalques

London's West Norwood cemetery catacombs were constructed with a hydraulic catafalque to lower coffins from the Episcopal Chapel to the vaults. The single-pump hydraulic lift was installed in 1839 and could swivel to make unloading the coffins easier.

In 1844 a dual-pump version was installed in the Kensal Green cemetery catacombs. This catafalque could both raise and lower coffins from the Anglican Mortuary Chapel. The lift at Kensal Green has been restored, while the lift at West Norwood fell into disrepair and no longer works.

Lincoln Catafalque

In the United States, the Lincoln catafalque, first used for Abraham Lincoln's funeral in 1865, has been used for all those who have lain in state in the Capitol Rotunda. When not in use, the catafalque is kept below the Crypt in a small vaulted chamber called Washington's Tomb, which was originally intended, but never used, as the burial place for George Washington.

The Lincoln Catafalque is a simple bier of rough pine boards nailed together and covered with black cloth. Although the base and platform have occasionally been altered to accommodate the larger size of modern coffins and for the ease of the attending military personnel, it is basically the same today as it was in Lincoln's time. Presently the catafalque measures 7 feet 1 inch (216 cm) long, 2 feet 6 inches (76 cm) wide, and 2 feet (61 cm) high. The attached base is 8 feet 10 inches (269 cm) long, 4 feet 3-1/2 inches (131 cm) wide, and 2 inches (5 cm) high. The platform is 11 feet 1 inch (338 cm) long, 6 feet (183 cm) wide, and 9-1/4 inches (23.5 cm) high. Although the cloth covering the catafalque has been replaced several times, the style of the drapery is similar to that used in 1865.

Lincoln's catafalque was most recently used at the State funeral for U.S. President Gerald R. Ford. It was noted by commentators that the structure of the original pine timbers and boards have been reinforced, albeit being left 'original'.

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