What’s a Bier for a Casket? And What’s Its Purpose?

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If you are a logophile, you probably love learning the proper (but obscure) name for everyday items. For example, did you know that the space between your eyebrows is called a glabella? The dot at the top of a lowercase “i” and “j” is called a tittle. And the wired cage that holds the cork on a bottle of champagne is called an agraffe.

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Today, you are going to learn one of these rather obscure words for the name of a common item. You know by the title of this article that a bier is related to a casket or a coffin. We’ll tell you how it specifically relates if you keep reading. 

We will also discuss the different types of caskets and describe what items can be chosen when planning your own funeral.

Casket Biers Explained

The next time you attend a funeral where there is a casket at the front of the room, look at the item that is beneath the casket. This piece of furniture is called a bier. According to Meriam-Webster, a bier is “a stand on which a corpse or a coffin containing a corpse is placed before burial.”

A bier is similar to a catafalque. In fact, some sources say that “bier” and “catafalque” are synonyms. This may not be particularly helpful as catafalque is probably a more obscure word than bier. 

A bier sitting underneath a casket should not be confused with the German word “bier.” If you go to a German store and ask for a bier, you may (or may not) be disappointed to be handed a beer.

Purpose

Even though not many people know its name, a bier has an essential purpose. Without a bier, a casket would be placed on the floor or ground. 

Modern biers are called “church trucks.” Church trucks (like this church truck or trolley) are more industrial looking than decorative biers. They are lightweight and make it easy to maneuver a heavy casket. They also collapse down into a compact item to make storage and transportation easier. In fact, church trucks can be transported in the hearse with the casket when moving from the funeral location to the cemetery. 

To complicate the meaning of the word “bier,” some people refer to a coffin and stand together as being a “bier.” Although this is an approved usage, according to Meriam-Webster, it is an obscure one. The word “bier” is commonly used to describe just the stand. 

And to complicate matters even further, sometimes the deceased is placed directly on a “bier.” An example of this can be seen from images showing Pope John Paul II’s death. The Pontiff’s body was lying in state directly on the bier in Saint Peter’s Basilica. Even though this contradicts the dictionary definitions of the word, this usage will perhaps be found in a later edition of Meriam-Webster.

Do not confuse a casket bier with a funeral pyre. A funeral pyre is “a pile of wood on which a corpse is burned as part of a funeral ceremony in some traditions.” Funeral pyres are used for Viking funerals. The deceased is not placed in a casket, but instead, the body is placed directly on the wood. 

The language of death is complicated but interesting!

History

Although the original meaning of the word “bier” describes it as a platform for a casket on wheels, at some point, the word evolved to mean any type of platform for a casket or coffin. It goes back to the Germanic root of the English word “bear,” meaning “to carry.”  

The word “bier” was used for this purpose starting before the 12th century.

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Are There Different Types of Casket Biers?

If you were to look in a funeral supply catalog for a casket bier, you would see many similar-looking items. Most casket biers are made of wood. Most of them have somewhat-concealed wheels. They are also typically smaller than caskets, which is supposed to make the appearance “more dignified.”

Casket biers do not vary much in structure and size, but they do differ in design. 

Do You Always Need a Bier for a Casket?

If a casket is on display, you need some sort of structure on which it will sit. A bier is a necessary item for a coffin. 

Of course, a funeral home reuses biers, which is good since casket prices can be as high as $10,000. Having to pay an additional $2,000 for a bier would make already-expensive funerals outrageous.

Although biers are necessary, they are often draped with fabric to give a more formal appearance to the funeral setting. You may or may not be able to see the bier the next time you attend a visitation or viewing. 

Planning a Funeral Is About the Details

There is a lot to consider when planning a funeral for a loved one. Thankfully, choosing a bier does not have to be part of the process. In fact, you can probably assume that the funeral director will take care of this detail without even mentioning it.

But, if you have a viewing, you will need to pick out a casket. It would behoove you to understand a little about caskets before you purchase one for your loved one. 

Caskets can range in price from $1,000 to tens of thousands of dollars. They can be made of wood, metal, bronze, or other materials. A standard casket holds most bodies, but larger options are available if the deceased was above-average in size.

If you pre-plan your funeral, you may also consider having a fantasy coffin created. The fantasy coffin tradition originally came from Ghana, and they can be made in any shape you desire, such as a spaceship or a sailboat. 

Even if you do not have a fantasy coffin made for you or your loved one, you can personalize the coffin-buying experience by placing an emblem on the outside of the casket and picking the color of the material inside. 

Consider Pre-Planning Your Own Funeral

While learning new words is fun, we would be remiss in not mentioning the seriousness of the subject matter. Planning a loved one’s funeral may be one of the most challenging things you ever do in your life. 

To make it easier for your family members, consider taking care of the details for your funeral well before you plan to die. 

Choose and pay for your own casket. Pick the interior material’s color and choose a significant image to be placed on the outside.

Also, pick out your favorite sacred or secular songs to be played at your funeral. You may even choose to pre-pay a group of bagpipers to play “Amazing Grace.” 

If you want to make sure it’s done right, consider writing your own obituary. You can include details of your life that are important to you instead of what your kids will deem essential.

Pre-planning (and pre-paying) for your final expenses is a loving thing to do. Your family members will be so devastated at your passing they may not think to ask about the bier that will be placed under your casket. Thankfully, the funeral director will probably not have to be reminded about this detail. 


Sources

  1. “Bier.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bier. Accessed 25 Jun. 2020. 
  2. “Interesting and Ancient Burial Words.” Merriam-Webster.com. www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/word-origin-burial-words-cairn-cromlech-boneyard/cairn

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