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Hearses as one component of a death ritual



Hearses doubled as ambulances for a period in history due to their ability to accommodate bodies on stretchers. The term “hearse” itself dates to the 1300s. “It originally described a framework for candles which hung over the coffin. It also has roots in the French word “herse” (formerly “herce) which described a large flat rake used for breaking up soil.  The word ‘hearse’ began to be used in the 1640s as a designation for funeral transportation.  Experts believe the word was used because transports resembled the rakes used in that they were flat and simple in construction as well as being similar in design as the traditional candle framework already in use for funerals.” (See source 1 for full article)

Hearses have been in use, in various forms such as horse-drawn to automobile-based since the 1600s. “In the death care industry, it is more commonly called a Funeral Coach. A title that is a bit more formal, and a little less spooky and macabre. In North American culture, hearses are among the most identifiable symbols of death.”  Funeral Coaches are not the only names used to refer to this method of transportation. “These can also be called “church trucks” in their more modern usage.” (See source 3 for the full article)

According to one on-line article (see source 1 for the full article), the colour of the hearse is significant. Black is the standard colour as it represents mourning, at least for the Western culture. However, some hearses can be grey in colour or even white, but these tend to be rarer. White hearses represent a “new life”, and to me, resemble a white limousine. In Eastern culture however, these white and even gold-coloured hearses are very common.

“The style of hearse changed to a combustion-engine vehicle in the Victorian era when undertaker H.D. Ludlow commissioned one. This vehicle was a hybrid that fused a bus chassis with a horse-drawn hearse. Motorized hearses gradually grew in popularity and were somewhat of a status symbol, though only the wealthiest people could afford a hearse for their burial… funeral homes had to pay around $6,000 for a motorized hearse, whereas a horse-drawn one cost around $1,500.” (See source 2 for full article)


In conclusion, hearses and their roles in a funeral procession are just one component of a death ritual for some. Hearses have come a long way since their introduction. Today, these vehicles are an iconic part of many funeral processions, regardless of socioeconomic status. The funeral procession allows family and friends to pay their final tribute to their loved one by accompanying them from the funeral to their final resting place.



Source 1: 5 facts you probably didn’t know about hearses

Source 2: History of the Hearse, August 19, 2020, by Whitney Russell

Source 3: Driving the dead. a history of the hearse, by Rachel Osolen, September 22, 2021

Source 4: Rituals & Traditions Around the Globe, Learning from other cultures can help you honor your loved ones. By Julie Kirk, January 6, 2023




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