What is a State Funeral?

by MSO
soldiers walking beside a casket on a portable bier

Algirdas Brazauskas was Lithuania’s first directly-elected president. He died at the age of 77 on June 26, 2010. His state funeral allowed two days of visitation by the public.

State funerals are public funeral ceremonies, observing strict protocol, that honor heads of state or other important public figures. Generally, they contain standard religious practices as well as elements of military tradition. The purpose they serve is to allow public involvement in a national day of mourning and as such they often have significant media coverage. Practices differ by location and some of these are outlined below

Canadian state funerals honor former governors general, prime ministers and members of Cabinet with a standard ceremony with religious and military tones. While provinces and territories can enact their own state funerals, the vast majority occur in the capital city, Ottawa. The state funeral of Pierre Trudeau, one of the largest state funerals in Canadian history had guests ranging from Fidel Castro to the Queen to Leonard Cohen as well as all of the current political leaders at the time of his death in 2000.

American state funerals are granted primarily to sitting and former presidents of the United States of America but are also granted to high-ranking members of the Armed Forces. Held in the nation’s capital, it is the highest posthumous honor that can be granted. The decision to hold a state funeral, as well as planning, is handled by the President and first family.

United Kingdom state funerals consist of a military procession from the private resting chapel to Westminster Hall, where the body usually lies for three days. After this, a funeral service occurs at Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral. State funerals in the UK are mostly only granted to members of the royal family who have served as head of state, but they have been held for such distinguished individuals as Sir Isaac Newton and, the most recent non-Royal funeral, Sir Winston Churchill. The only difference between Churchill’s funeral was a two-shot difference in the gun salute (19 for prime ministers, 21 for heads of state).

Some people who have received state funerals in their respective countries

* Mother Theresa (in India)

* Victor Hugo (in France)

* Charles Darwin (in England)

* Peter Brock (in Australia)

Some people who have refused state funerals either directly in their will or by their family include

* Steve Irwin (in Australia)

* David Lange (former Prime Minister of New Zealand)

* Prince Philip (Duke of Edinburgh in England)

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