We’re seeing the word “catafalque” tossed around in the press quite a lot these days, as if any of us had the slightest idea what it meant. Let the OED explain:

1. A stage or platform, erected by way of honour in a church to receive the coffin or effigy of a deceased personage (Littr); a temporary structure of carpentry, decorated with painting and sculpture, representing a tomb or cenotaph, and used in funeral ceremonies (Gwilt).

1641 EVELYN Diary (1871) 36 In the middle of it was the hearse or catafalco of the late Arch-Dutchesse. 1643 Mem. (1857) I. 46 In the nave of the church lies the catafalque, or hearse, of Louis XIII. 1766 Ann. Register 58 The supposed corpse was deposited upon a magnificent catafalco, or scaffold, erected from the bottom to the top of the church and illuminated all over with wax candles. 1760 POCOCK Tour Scotl. (1881) 242 A sort of small wooden Catafalch placed over the tomb. 1831 LANDOR Fra Rupert Wks. 1846 II. 579 Never drops one but catafalc and canopy Are ready for him. 1834 Gentl. Mag. CIV. I. 104 A rich catafalque was erected in the centre, in which the remains of the Marshal were deposited during the service.

2. A movable structure of this kind; a kind of open hearse or funeral car.

1855 BROWNING Statue & Bust 57 The door she had passed was shut on her Till the final catafalk repassed. 1864 Daily Tel. 16 Sept., The open hearseone of the most extraordinary catafalcoes ever seen upon wheels.

3. transf. (humorous.)

1876 GEO. ELIOT Dan. Der. I. iii, The black and yellow catafalque known as �the best bed�.

The best articles on the Queen Mother so far have come from Christopher Hitchens and (surprisingly?) from Deborah Orr. Francis Wheen said a few useful words on the occasion of her centenary, and Nick Cohen wrote in prescient detail (even down tho the catafalque) about this week’s events last year.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *