EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


March 10, 2013

Wake table served the needs of dearly departed

I was told this table was made in England from burr-walnut. The legs are a puzzle to me because they look like horse hooves. The table is 94 inches long and 66 inches wide when both the drop leaves are open. I have been told it is called a “coffin table,” whatever that is. What can you tell me about its age and value?

Let us start with the idea that this is a “coffin table.” We scratched our heads over this one for a while and then we found a reference to a “wake table” that was designed to hold the coffin for the “guest of honor” at a traditional Irish/Celtic wake.

Today, we tend to view the deceased at a funeral home where he or she has been prepared for burial. But in earlier times, when someone died — particularly in a home with Celtic heritage — a window was opened so the spirit of the departed could leave the house. It was considered bad luck to stand between the deceased and the open window — thus impeding his or her spiritual departure.

After about two hours the window was closed to prevent the spirit from returning to its earthly body. All the clocks were stopped and women gathered to bathe and dress the deceased. The body was then laid out on a wake table — or as expressed to the owner — a coffin table.

However, in most cases the body would not actually be placed in a coffin until after the undertaker arrived, which was the morning after a night (or two) of vocal lamentations about the passing, and stories about the life of the dearly departed. Yes, there was also food, music, dancing, drinking and even a few games to make the Irish/Celtic wake seem something like a party.

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