Vanishing point – what’s the best method?

Charles 13 Comments


Guest post by Steve
Every funeral at a crematorium will have a point at which the coffin is removed from the sight of the mourners, usually during the committal. 
To start off with, is there an optimal speed of removing the coffin from view? Some curtains close in just 10 seconds, which may be too fast for some. Yet a slow 90 second curtain closure may allow time to contemplate for some, or too long to suffer for others. 
Curtains – this is the most common form of the coffin “vanishing point”, especially in newer crematoria. The fact that the coffin does not move may make this method more acceptable, but it could also be seen as a rather boring or sterile method saying goodbye. Some European crematoria have moving screens instead of curtains, in some cases with colour changing lighting!
Conveyer/doors – this method is common in older UK crematoria (such as Golders Green and Woking), but rare in new builds. The coffin moves along a conveyer or rollers through a wooden or metallic door into a curtain lined receiving room. Since the infamous James Bond crematorium scene, many mourners probably think that coffin is moving straight into the cremator! Opinions may vary as to whether this method is more dignified that curtains. Certainly the “conveyer belt” method of 30 minute funeral slots at crematoria would not be in keeping with conveyers for the “vanishing point”. Some European crematoria use a combination of a moving catafalque on a floor track and curtains or screen. 
Lowering catafalque – this was also common in older crematoria, especially if the crematory was below the chapel. The catafalque lowers at the committal, in keeping with a burial. This may be seen as traditional or tacky. In some cases the coffin can be moved half-way down for flowers to be placed on the coffin, before it is lowered further to a receiving room (or even conveyer belt) below. In a few cases, it is just for show, and the coffin is raised back up again after the mourners have left the chapel. 
Do nothing – this is common in European crematoria. The coffin is not removed from sight, but mourners must remove themselves from the coffin at the end of the chapel service. Turning your back on a loved one may be harder than having them removed from you. 
Straight into the cremator – in Japan where the cremation rate is 99%, and many other cultures, it is traditional to view the coffin going into the cremator. This may be a bit traumatic for UK audiences, but it may be a more “final” way of saying goodbye. In Singapore, mourners view from a balcony as what can only be described as a robotic forklift moves slowly along a floor track, and places the coffin into the cremator. A You Tube video of this is shown below.  

Given that all mourners will likely have a different idea of what is an acceptable method of removing the coffin from view, is there a perfect method of the “vanishing point” to suit everyone?



  1. Charles

    Great post Steve. Some people (usually men) will ensure that the moment when the curtains close is not boring or sterile by requesting a piece of music designed to add drama to the occasion or make people smile. Examples of this are Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor; Queen’s ‘Another One Bites the Dust’; and the random ‘Crazy Horses’.
    It can backfire of course with mourners thinking WTF?

  2. Charles

    Surely the conveyor/ opening door method is best.. especially if accompanied by the theme from Thunderbirds.

    Ideally, the coffin would tilt once through the doors, a bit like Scott’s journey to the cockpit of Thunderbird 2!

  3. Charles

    Nice one David….

    I’ve often “toyed” with what piece of outrageous music I could have at mine.
    I’m very tempted with “Asteriod” whilst the curtain close with a flourish. For those of you scratching your heads, thats the proper name for the old Pearl and Dean theme from the cinema adverts!

  4. Charles

    At Wilford Hill in Nottinghamshire they have a pair of golden gates, huge things. The coffin sits beyond them on a catafalque, on committal the officiant presses a button and they slowly close with a clunk of finality. Quite impressive they are all marked up with alpha and omega.

  5. Charles

    Of course ideally I would also want the catafalque lined with palm trees that fold away.. and a crazy coffin in the shape of Thunderbird 2 – and the dome shaped pod would conceal my corpulent figure 🙂

  6. Charles

    I would be interested in seeing photos of the gates that Lol Owen mentioned at Wilford Hill. There are a few other examples of gates being used instead of curtains (such as at Torquay), but in these cases you can still see the coffin through the gates after closure.

  7. Charles

    Different methods for different people I reckon. The Singapore method, whilst very interesting, is cold and ever so slightly brutal I feel. However, the moment is a big one and accepting what is going to happen is key – but it can be delivered in so many different ways that it is surely our job to let them know their choices in the locality? Too many people choose the local crem because it is convenient for the fd and because they don’t know they have a choice.

    Liking the Thunderbird launcher though,…..

  8. Charles

    I agree Quokkagirl, it was a bit ‘efficient’ but then Singapore is clinically futuristic. I’d prefer to see real hands and real people moving the coffin…
    Only the celebrant/ minister sees the person winding the pulley at Woking.
    A dangerous moment if you catch his/her eye! The congregation sees the coffin gliding through the golden door …. People seem evenly split between being terrified at the thought of anything moving ie: coffin, curtains or screens, and insisting that that the coffin must disappear from view…. Maybe not quite ‘vanish’ – they know it’s there, maybe they just don’t like to think about what happens next.

  9. Charles

    Just on the outskirts of Ipswich in Suffolk, we have a new Crematorium located in Nacton called Seven Hills, Stunning location in beautiful woodland style grounds, What is different here is the Coffin is placed on the catafalque at a Angle, with many coffins nowadays having a theme to them, most of the coffin including the side and the rear can be seen by all the mourners, eventually the curtains will come round but this can be excluded if the family request it.

  10. Charles

    That sounds like a lovely crematorium GMT – nice to have windows – most of the ones in my area have high up windows….. Darlington crem places the coffin sideways on to the congregation too – I thought that seemed more inclusive somehow.

  11. Charles

    Interested by this comment – “Only the celebrant/ minister sees the person winding the pulley at Woking. A dangerous moment if you catch his/her eye!”
    Why don’t you want to catch their eye? Is it the Grim Reaper winding the pulley?

  12. Charles

    Steve, I don’t know what it is about making eye contact – they’re turning the crank handle like mad as the coffin seems to glide effortlessly through the golden door – I suppose it’s part of the divide- this side and ‘the other side’ , somehow making eye contact feels like it lessens the magic (drama?!?) for the congregation I suppose! I feel the same about the nod to the funeral director at the end – I don’t like it- that somehow makes me feel that I’m ‘with him/her’ and ‘finished’ with the mourners… maybe that’s just me !

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