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The bier is a flat frame, traditionally wooden but sometimes of other materials. In antiquity it was often a wooden board on which the dead were placed, covered with a shroud. In modern times, the corpse is rarely carried on the bier without being first placed in a coffin or casket, though the coffin or casket is sometimes kept open.
A bier is often draped with cloth to lend dignity to the funeral service. The modern funeral industry uses a collapsible aluminium bier on wheels, known as a "church truck" to move the coffin to and from the church or funeral home for services.
Biers are generally smaller than the coffin or casket they support for reasons of appearance. As a result, they are not particularly stable, and can tip over unless well-centered and undisturbed.
Ancient Egyptians depicted biers used in their embalming practices and to bear royal coffins in the tomb. They were fashioned to resemble the goddess Sekhmet, the fierce lioness who was the protector of the kings, displaying her head, feet, and often, her distinctive tail that in graphics is shown arching over the bier.
- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc., New York, 1973), s.v., "bier"