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North American Mennonites largely followed the general American practice of using custom-built coffins until the 20th century, when commercially manufactured ones were introduced. In each community, a carpenter or cabinetmaker specialized in the production of coffins, keeping various sizes of planed boards on hand so that when a coffin was ordered, it could be delivered the next day. They were generally shaped to the body, becoming wider between the head and the place for the shoulders and narrowing down to less than ten inches at the foot end. Various degrees of ornamentation were used, although generally severe simplicity was practiced in styling the coffin. In some instances bleached muslin was used for lining. Earlier no handles were attached; the coffin was carried with the aid of wooden bars of boards, as was still the case among the Paraguay Mennonites in the 1950s. At the beginning of the 20th century a homemade coffin of this type may have cost from ten to fifteen dollars, although by the 1950s the cost has advanced to perhaps forty or fifty dollars. Coffins of this type were generally placed inside vaults or "rough boxes" made of one-inch lumber. The Old Order Amish who use the custom-built coffin and casket exclusively pay much less for the entire expense of a funeral in contrast to the average expense of a North American Mennonite funeral. The practice of using homemade coffins is still followed not only among the Old Order Amish, but also among other conservative Mennonite groups in Canada, Mexico, and Paraguay. European Mennonites earlier followed this practice. In Russia the Mennonites adhered to it throughout their history.

See also CemeteriesBurial customsFunerals

Author(s) Melvin Gingerich
Date Published 1953

Cite This Article

MLA style

Gingerich, Melvin. "Coffins." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 13 Jul 2020.

APA style

Gingerich, Melvin. (1953). Coffins. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 13 July 2020, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 633. All rights reserved.

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