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'. [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 that fire in 1871. If true, it could not have been used in the state funeral of Gerald Ford. However, Lincoln had funeral ceremonies during stops at several major cities as his remains were taken for burial by train from Washington to Springfield, Illinois. 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. ]


* [ West Norwood Cemetery Catacombs]
* [ Architect of the Capitol]


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  • catafalque — [ katafalk ] n. m. • XVIIIe; « échafaud » 1690; it. catafalco, du lat. pop. catafalicum ♦ Estrade décorée sur laquelle on place un cercueil. ♢ Décoration funèbre au dessus du cercueil (cf. Chapelle ardente). Dresser un catafalque au milieu d une… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Catafalque — • Derived from the Italian word catafalco, literally means a scaffold or elevation, but in its strictly liturgical sense the word is employed to designate the cenotaph like erection which is used at the exequial offices of the Church, and takes… …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Catafalque — de Manuel Quezon +1944. Le catafalque désigne une estrade funéraire, supportant le cercueil, érigée provisoirement ou définitivement dans une église. Le terme provient de l italien catafalco, signifiant échafaudage. L un des catafalques les plus… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • catafalque — CATAFALQUE. s. m. Décoration funèbre qu on élève au milieu d une Église, pour y placer le cercueil ou la représentation d un mort à qui l on veut rendre les plus grands honneurs. On éleva pour ce Prince un magnifique Catafalque …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française 1798

  • catafalque — (n.) 1640s, from Fr. catafalque (17c.), from It. catafalco scaffold, from V.L. *catafalicum, from Gk. kata down, used in Medieval Latin with a sense of beside, alongside + fala scaffolding, wooden siege tower, said to be of Etruscan origin …   Etymology dictionary

  • Catafalque — Cat a*falque , n. [F., fr. It. catafalco, scaffold, funeral canopy; of uncertain origin; cf. Sp. catafalso, cadahalso, cadalso, Pr. casafalc, OF. chafaut. Cf. {Scaffold}.] A temporary structure sometimes used in the funeral solemnities of eminent …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • catafalque — ► NOUN ▪ a decorated wooden framework to support a coffin. ORIGIN Italian catafalco …   English terms dictionary

  • catafalque — [kat′ə falk΄, kat′əfôlk΄] n. [Fr < It catafalco, funeral canopy, stage; prob. < VL * catafalicum, scaffold < cata (< Gr kata, down) + * falicum < L fala, wooden tower] 1. a wooden framework, usually draped, on which the body in a… …   English World dictionary

  • catafalque — (ka ta fal k ) s. m. Estrade élevée, par honneur, au milieu d une église, pour recevoir le cercueil ou la représentation d un mort. •   La mort a prêté le catafalque d un empereur romain à la dépouille d un Tartare, CHATEAUBR. Génie, IV, II, 3.… …   Dictionnaire de la Langue Française d'Émile Littré

  • CATAFALQUE — s. m. Estrade, décoration funèbre qu on élève au milieu d une église, pour y placer le cercueil ou la représentation d un mort à qui l on veut rendre les plus grands honneurs. On éleva pour ce prince un magnifique catafalque …   Dictionnaire de l'Academie Francaise, 7eme edition (1835)

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