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When you go to a funeral in the UK, the coffin is usually closed. But sometimes you might attend a funeral where the coffin is left open. This is called an open-casket funeral. 

Why have an open-casket funeral? 

People often choose to have an open casket for religious or cultural reasons. For example, it’s much more common to see an open coffin at a Catholic funeral. But you might also choose one so that mourners can see the person one last time. 

Can you have an open-casket funeral in the UK? 

Yes, you can have an open-casket funeral in the UK. The only exception is if the person died from certain infectious diseases. When this happens, the coffin may need to stay closed to protect people from infection. 

If you’re choosing an open casket, it’s a good idea to make sure other family members are comfortable with this too. 

Are open-casket funerals common in the UK? 

Most funerals in the UK are closed casket. Today, you’re most likely to see an open coffin at a Catholic funeral. 

What countries have open-casket funerals? 

Open-coffin funerals are quite common in other parts of the world, including Russia and the United States. This doesn’t mean that all funerals in these countries have open caskets, though. Traditions can vary between regions, religions and cultural groups within the same country. 

What religions have open-casket funerals? 

It’s not unusual to see the casket opened at a Hindu or Buddhist funeral. Depending on local customs, it can happen at some types of Christian funerals too. Open-casket funerals are a Catholic tradition but tend to be rarer in Protestant branches of Christianity. 

Are Jewish funerals open-casket? Generally, no. Displaying a body is forbidden in Judaism. 

Open-coffin funerals are also very rare in Islam. At Muslim funerals, the body is wrapped from head to toe in a piece of cloth called a Kafan. 

What is the history of open-casket funerals? 

The history of open-casket funerals likely goes back to prehistoric times. Early humans probably viewed the bodies of their loved ones as a way to cope with death and come to terms with it. 

Since then, different countries have developed their own open-casket funeral traditions. In Ireland, for instance, it’s common to hold an open-casket wake, where friends and relatives view the person who has died at their home. In the States, meanwhile, open caskets have only become popular fairly recently. 

While open-coffin funerals are now rare in the UK, this wasn’t always the case. They were more popular during the Victorian era. 

What happens at an open-casket funeral? 

One of the biggest differences between open- and closed-casket funerals is the viewing. This is an open-casket funeral tradition where people can take turns to view the body and pay their respects. 

After the casket is brought to the funeral venue, the funeral director will remove the lid. People at the funeral will then file past the coffin. If you’d like to you can stop to look at the person who has died. If you’re not comfortable, it’s perfectly OK not to look at the coffin. 

At the end of the funeral service, the funeral director will put the lid back on the coffin. It will then be taken for burial or cremation. 

How are bodies prepared for open-casket funerals? 

The person will be dressed in clothes chosen by their family. The funeral home will have prepared them to look smart – for example, by styling their hair or applying make-up. 

Keep in mind that the person might not look exactly how you remember them in life. 

Can you have an open casket and then be cremated? 

Yes. You can ask for the coffin to be open before a cremation. 

Can you have an open casket without embalming the body? 

Yes. There’s no law in the UK that says a body must be embalmed and you can view the person who has died without choosing embalming. However, you may have to hold the funeral sooner if you decide against embalming. 

How much does an open-casket funeral cost? 

In 2021, the average cost of a funeral in the UK was £3953 (SunLife, 2023). An open-casket funeral doesn’t have to cost more than a closed-casket funeral. However, there are a few additional costs you might want to consider. 

  • Coffin design. At an open-casket funeral, people will get closer to the coffin and spend more time looking at it. While you don’t have to, you might decide to spend a bit more money to have a nicer coffin. It’s also possible to find a low-cost coffin in a design you like. Learn more about choosing a coffin. 
  • Preparing the body. The funeral home will spend time making the person who has died look smart for the funeral. This could include hairstyling and make-up. You might also want them to embalm the body, although this isn’t a requirement for an open casket.  
  • Longer funeral service. Some crematoriums recommend that you book a longer timeslot for an open-casket funeral. This is to allow time for opening and closing the coffin and allowing mourners to file past.  

If you need more support planning an open-casket funeral, a funeral director can help. You can use our directory to find local funeral directors in your area.