Ancient ornamented coffin in the form of a chest and lid. The term is from Latin words that mean "flesh-eating." This refers to the belief that a sarcophagus lined with caustic limestone would cause the body of the deceased to dissolve within forty days. Sarcophagi were made of stone, terra-cotta, wood, marble, alabaster, or metal. Etruscan sarcophagi have been dated from the sixth century B.C., and often had an image of the deceased person on the lid. The deceased might be portrayed as reclining on a bed. The "anthropoid" sarcophagus was shaped like a human being, and crowned with a mask. It spread from Egypt in the fifth century B.C. Greek sarcophagi date from the fourth century. They were decorated with ornamentation and figures. The earliest Christian sarcophagi have been dated from the end of the first century to the early third century. Sarcophagi were used by both Christians and pagans during this time. Sarcophagi with Christian designs have been dated from the fourth century. Christian sarcophagi often displayed biblical scenes, such as Jonah and the whale or the raising of Lazarus. Sarcophagi provide a significant record of the early illustration of Christian ideas and historical documentation of art in the late Roman empire.
Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from "An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians," Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.