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Bier Coffin for Funerals: What Is It & Do You Need It?

Tom May
Decorative and ornate funeral bier

A box used for viewing or keeping a corpse is called a coffin. There are many types of coffins, and most are easily understood: a steel coffin, a wooden coffin, even a wicker coffin, but you may not have heard of a bier coffin. Discover the history and uses of the funeral bier.

Understanding the Funeral Bier

During a funeral where a casket is on display, the piece of furniture underneath the casket is called a bier. Technically a bier is the stand upon which a corpse or coffin containing a corpse is placed before burial. The word traces to the German root of the English word "to bear" giving the meaning "to carry." Terms become confusing because there are slight differences between a coffin and a casket.

A Synonym for Bier

Most people use the terms "bier" and "catafalque" in a synonymous manner. The chances are slim that catafalque helps the understanding of bier. A catafalque denotes an ornamental structure sometimes used in funerals for the lying in state of the body. They are used at requiem masses. Catafalque is from the Latin catafalicum (meaning "scaffold") and has been in used since the 15th century. Today the Italian catafalco is most often used figuratively to mean a bulky object.

Complicating the Meaning

The reason for the confusion around the word becomes more obvious. Without a bier, the casket would be sitting on the floor. The bier and the coffin are used together so often that many people refer to the coffin and the stand together as a bier. The word bier commonly described just the stand.

The Bier Used Alone

While the casket is not used without a bier, there have been times that the body of the deceased is placed directly onto a bier rather than in a coffin. An example of this can be seen for Pope John Paul II. The body of the Pontiff seen lying in state in Saint Peter's Basilica had been placed directly upon the bier. Though this contradicts the definitions of the word, the bier has been used in similar fashions on several occasions.

Even More Confusion

Some people mistakenly confuse the funeral bier with a funeral pyre. The funeral pyre is a pile of wood upon which the deceased is placed where the corpse is burned. Not a cremation, the funeral pyre constitutes a part of the typical Viking funeral. The burning of the body is a part of the ceremony.

Purpose of the Bier Coffin

Over the years, the bier coffin has been used as a wagon to transport the casket from one location to another. Modern biers are called "church trucks." They are lightweight and make it easy to move a heavy casket from one place to another. They usually collapse down to make storage and transportation easier. The church truck is often transported in the hearse with the casket when moving the casket from the location of the funeral to the cemetery. The bier can be used in many funerals because it is not buried with the casket.

Cloth covered funeral bier

Different Types of Biers

Many different kinds of casket biers fill the shelves of a funeral supply warehouse. Most of the biers have a common look. The casket biers made from wood occur most often. Usually the bier contains concealed wheels. Fabric drapes the bier to give a more distinguished appearance.

Do You Need A Bier?

If the casket will be on display, a bier is a necessity. Since a funeral home reuses biers, a family does not need to purchase one as they order a casket. Today the bier would add another $2,000 to the expense of the cost of the casket.

The Nature of Planning a Funeral

There are so many things to consider when planning the funeral for a loved one, it can become overwhelming. Although the bier coffin is a part of the process, it is not an item that needs to be purchased by the family. The funeral director takes care of the detail of the funeral bier without mention. The family can concentrate on remembering their loved one.

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Bier Coffin for Funerals: What Is It & Do You Need It?