Are you working on plans for your own funeral ceremony or organizing a service for a loved one? You’re probably facing a list of questions about caskets, flower arrangements, and other elements, such as funeral palls.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What’s a Funeral Pall?
- Who Uses Funeral Palls?
- Why Do People Use Funeral Palls?
- Types of Funeral Palls
- How Do You Fold a Funeral Pall?
- How Can You Make a Funeral Pall?
Funeral palls serve a religious purpose and are included primarily as part of Christian traditions for funeral ceremonies. Here, we outline important details to consider before buying a funeral pall.
What’s a Funeral Pall?
A funeral pall, or mort-cloak or death cloak, is a long cloth used to cover any type of casket during funeral ceremonies.
White-colored funeral palls cover caskets. Palls, historically black or multicolored, often contain decorations. Black is the color of grief and pain in experiencing death and loss and was seen as an appropriate color for the pall.
Today, many funeral palls are white to symbolize purity — reminiscent of a person’s baptism ceremony.
Though most people prefer white palls, there is no hard-and-fast rule regarding which color you can use and many funeral supply stores offer several colors.
Symbols and designs
Depending on the type of funeral you’re hosting or organizing, you may not find specific symbols and designs for a pall. However, Catholic tradition states that the Order of Christian Funerals determines the guidelines for funeral ceremonies, including funeral palls.
The guidelines offer very few restrictions on the type and style of funeral palls. They don’t forbid the use of a nation’s flag or symbols when covering a casket. Any palls that have symbols should be removed before entering the church and placed back after the casket exits the church.
The Order of Christian Funerals states that palls bearing symbols should have no part in the funeral liturgy.
Symbol of equality
Palls are used by many to demonstrate that death makes everyone equal. A country’s flag or a pall with symbols is not allowed during the funeral service or liturgy due to this reason.
Demonstration of belief
Only Christian symbols are allowed during the funeral liturgy to avoid issues and misunderstandings about the person who passed away. You must exclude national flags or palls with symbols that have no religious connection during the liturgy itself.
The type of funeral may play a significant part in determining whether a flag is appropriate for use as a pall. You see flags in military funerals but some churches prefer no flags as a pall because a pall is a symbol of Christian beliefs.
Consult with the priest or official directing your loved one’s funeral for specific guidelines on flags and palls with symbols.
Who Uses Funeral Palls?
Catholics and Christians in the U.S. and Canada use palls for religious purposes, but there are no restrictions as to who can use a pall for a funeral ceremony.
Originally, palls were used during medieval times to cover dead bodies of those who had no access to caskets or other containers. As time progressed, palls were adopted by the church and tied to religious symbolism, including baptism and Jesus’ death.
Why Do People Use Funeral Palls?
Today, a funeral pall symbolizes a connection with Christianity and more specifically, baptism and the burial of Jesus. It also serves as a symbol of equality in death. Before purchasing a funeral pall for your loved one, be sure his or her wishes and desires would be in line with having one.
Funeral palls hold specific meanings and are rich with historical tradition, ritual, and symbolism. We list several reasons why people choose to incorporate funeral palls into their ceremonies.
A reminder of the baptismal garment
According to the Christian Order of Funeral guidelines, a pall serves as a reminder of the garment the person was baptized in. Baptism symbolizes cleansing and the adoption of Christianity for life. It is for this reason that many people opt for a white pall that resembles purity and the absence of sins.
Because of the tie-in to baptism, a funeral pall becomes a symbolic demonstration of the person’s belief and adherence to Christianity.
Connection with Jesus
A pall also represents a connection with Jesus’ death. For some people, a pall represents the grave clothes Jesus wore when he was buried. In this way, the deceased declares his belief in Jesus.
A symbol of equality
Funeral palls cover luxurious or expensive caskets. Many churches encourage palls for to bring a sense of equality into the funeral.
Palls alone can range anywhere from $150 to nearly $1,000, depending on the material, design, and craftsmanship. Keep these costs in mind as you plan out the cost of a funeral.
Types of Funeral Palls
Funerary palls typically have the design of a crucifix in the middle of the cloth, decorated with braids.
You must decide on fabric, length, and decorations:
- You can choose between a pall that covers only the casket or a longer one that covers anything below the casket during the funeral ceremony and the vigil.
- You don’t need to choose a particular material, braiding, cross designs, or color. If you’re having a difficult time deciding, simply go with a priest’s recommendation or a pall that makes you think of your loved one.
- The price range of the pall varies depending on whether you have a preference for a particular fabric, design, or maker. Let’s go over several types of palls commonly available at funeral homes and funeral supply stores.
1. Pall with a plain design
A plain design is the simplest type of funeral pall. It’s usually made of white or cream cloth with a small- to a medium-sized crucifix in the middle.
Given its simple style and minimal decoration, this funeral pall is widely available, affordable, and can ship quickly. You can opt for polyester or polycotton.
2. Embroidered funeral pall
Embroidered funeral palls are either handmade or machine sewn. If you want a handmade design, you’ll need to order well in advance of the funeral. Embroidery is delicate work and can take days to complete when using a machine or weeks if hand-embroidered.
Embroidery work can include variations on popular Christian symbols, including a crucifix and a silhouette of Jesus' face or other symbols as well.
Customized embroidered palls give you the option of choosing from fabrics such as silk, cotton, damask, and linen.
3. Funeral pall with braids
If you prefer a design that adds more decoration to the whole canvas of the pall, consider a pall with braids.
The braids cross the pall vertically and horizontally, resembling a large crucifix. You could forgo the crucifix symbol on the fabric itself if you choose a braid.
The price of the pall depends largely on the size, material of the braid, the colors, and method of weaving.
4. Tailored funeral pall
A tailored funeral pall is one of the most customizable options available, but is more expensive and takes more time to craft. When deciding on the elements of a tailored funeral pall, you’ll choose each element from fabric, symbols, and braids to color, design, and length. You’ll also have a chance to include extra items such as emblems and appliques in the corners of the pall.
If deciding on a customized tailored funeral pall, you’ll need to plan well in advance, as machine-tailored palls can take up to a week and hand-tailored palls take even longer.
5. Lined or unlined funeral pall
The lining on a pall has more to do with the preferred make-up and feel of the funeral pall, not the design.
Lighter funeral pall fabrics such as satin are often lined to produce a heavier pall that stays in place better. If budget is an issue, choosing an unlined pall is more affordable than a lined option. When looking up prices, the lining may not exist within the quote, so it’s best to ask for pricing for both lined and unlined funeral palls.
6. Funeral urn pall
If your relative prefers cremation, you can purchase a small funeral urn pall for use in the funeral service. Urn palls look similar in design and style to regular funeral palls.
They often have the symbol of a cross included on the cloth and can include braiding. Sized to specifically cover an urn instead of a casket, they’re often much more affordable than full-sized funeral palls.
If you wish to have a regular size funeral pall even if your relative will be cremated, you can rent a casket for the service in order to use the pall. You can then keep the pall as a reminder of your loved one.
How Do You Fold a Funeral Pall?
Folding a funeral pall can be done with one person as long as you have a long table to lay the pall out. If no table is present and you plan on folding it directly after removing it from the casket, you’ll want an extra pair of hands or two to help you. Either way, whether folding alone or with another person to help, the process is largely the same.
First, lay out or hold the funeral pall so there are no wrinkles.
Next, you’ll want to fold the pall into thirds. Take the right side and fold it so the edge rests just beyond the middle of the pall. Smooth it out again to make sure there are no wrinkles. Repeat this action with the left side of the pall. You should now have the pall folded by thirds.
Now, you’ll want to fold the pall from the bottom upwards. Aim to fold it in fourths, while avoiding any embroidery work in the middle. Position your folds so the embroidery work is centered rather than folded. This may mean your pall is folded slightly off, but that’s okay. Folding it this way will protect the embroidery work for years to come.
When it’s all folded and you’re ready to store it, you can keep it displayed on a quilt rack or place it in a keepsake chest. As with anything fabric, keep it away from direct sunlight. If you’re planning to display it, make sure sunlight won’t hit it during the day. Even a few hours of direct light each day will cause the fabric and embroidery to fade where it is exposed.
If you plan to store it in a chest or keepsake box, wrap it in tissue paper and place packets of moisture absorber to guard against any moisture damaging the pall.
How Can You Make a Funeral Pall?
While there are many places to purchase a beautifully made funeral pall, you may find it particularly meaningful to make a pall for your loved one. If this is the case, these instructions are for you.
As with any sewing project, it’s always best to purchase a pattern. These instructions are for informational purposes and to help you get started. Click through to the links provided for more thorough instructions when you’re ready to start.
A funeral pall is a long piece of fabric that is meant to completely cover a casket during the funeral service. As such, when you purchase materials, it’s important to keep the size of casket in mind. If your casket is 6 to 6.5 feet long, purchase a piece of material that is 8 feet wide by 12 feet long. This will provide enough material to completely cover the casket. For caskets 5 to 6 feet long, you can purchase a piece of material that measures 6 feet wide by 10 feet long.
Now that you know the approximate length to purchase, what type of material should you buy? Funeral palls are made out of many types of material including silk, cotton, linen, and damask. Naturally, the fancier the material, the more your supplies will cost.
If you plan on embroidering a design onto the funeral pall yourself, you’ll also need to purchase sewing supplies including embroidery thread. Choose a pattern for your design and consult the instructions to determine how much thread you should purchase and in what colors.
If you’re creating the pattering yourself, then you’ll want to purchase as much thread as you think you’ll use. If you have thread left, you can always return unused spools of thread. Always purchase the full amount you’ll require to avoid colors changes in different batches of thread.
Hem the edges
Before you start with the design work, use a sewing machine to hem the edges of the pall. If you purchased material from a supply store, you might need to recut the material to create straight edges all the way around. After you hem up the edges, cut off all loose threads.
If you purchased a blank pall from a church or Catholic supply store, this step will be done for you. You can skip ahead to picking out your design and completing the embroidery work.
Pick your design
You can choose nearly any type of design for your own or your loved one’s pall. When picking a design, consider the personality, interests, preferences, and beliefs of the deceased. Keep in mind that if the pall has a symbol on it that doesn’t relate to Christianity most Catholic churches will request that the pall be removed before the casket enters the church.
If you want the pall to remain on the casket the entire time, inquire with your church to determine which designs are appropriate for the pall to remain on the casket during the funeral.
Embroider the design
Using a fabric pen, lightly trace the embroidery design you’ve chosen onto the middle of the fabric for a prominent design or around the edges for a border design. If you’re planning to embroider the fabric by hand, start this project well ahead of the funeral to provide enough time to finish the project without feeling rushed.
Once your design is finished, go back and add any embellishments desired such as adding highlights around the design with gold or silver thread. Finally, check the underside of the design and weave all loose threads into the underside of the design so there are no dangling thread pieces.
Rich Symbolism of Funeral Palls
Funeral palls hold a rich tradition of meaningful symbolism for many Christians. If you or your loved one desires to demonstrate Christian beliefs or a sense of equality before God, a funeral pall is a beautiful way to do so.
If you're looking for more funeral planning advice, read our guides on Catholic funerals and Catholic funeral songs.
- Contributing Editors. “Must a Pall Replace the Flag at a Funeral Mass?” Catholic Answers, Catholic Answers, 23 February 2019. catholic.com.
- McNamara, Father Edward. “Funeral Palls.” Funeral Traditions, Global Catholic Network, 26 July 2016. ewtn.com.
- Order of Christian Funerals with Cremation Rites. Catholic Book Publishing, Totowa, NJ, 1998.