How to Choose a Cremation Urn for a Columbarium Niche

by J. Malec

 Cremation urns housed in niches at the Jonava columbarium.

Jonava cemetery columbarium*

A columbarium is an above-ground structure, similar to a wall with niches and plaques. The structure provides a permanent resting place for a cremation urn, housing the remains of loved ones outside of the home. It can also be a transitional place of remembrance that accommodates a more mobile lifestyle as families often move from place to place. An urn can easily be moved from one columbarium to another if a family relocates. A niche offers an affordable alternative to interring for housing the deceased in a traditional memorial setting.

A columbarium niche shelters a cremation urn

A columbarium niche is generally located above ground in a freestanding structure similar to a mausoleum. Some are enclosed, offering a sanctuary for visiting with the departed. Other columbaria exist mainly as outdoor structures, which shelter cremation urns and personal mementoes, but not visitors. The size, shape and style of the columbarium will vary from one cemetery to another. There are even some indoor columbarium, which offer maximum shelter to visitors and protection to the urns.

Historically the Romans were the first to use a columbarium niche as a memorial site for the deceased. Following the Romans, columbaria were located within churches in the old world for hundreds of years. Today they are typically found in cemeteries in groupings that allow room for whole families to be put to rest. Columbaria are often made from granite or some other type of heavyweight stone, with space for cremation urns and memorial plaques.

What is a cremation niche?

A cremation niche is one of the spaces available for keeping the funeral urn in the columbarium. Each niche will eventually contain your cremation urn for ashes and perhaps a selection of personal items that speak to the life represented therein. A plaque displaying a little bit of information about the deceased is another nice addition. A permanently sealed stone or metal face, engraved with the name and dates of the deceased, is one type of niche. Another niche features a transparent glass door that opens with a key, depending on the design of the columbarium. There are often wire holders built-in to the exterior of the niche that allow for flowers to be left in remembrance.

What is the cost of a niche?

Costs and sizes vary from location to location, so be sure to inquire about the particulars with local cemeteries. You may also find that columbaria vary in pricing even within a relatively small geographical area. When inquiring about pricing, ask what each cemetery includes in terms of cleaning and maintaining the columbaria niches.

According to an article on

There are indoor and outdoor cremation niches available at most facilities. The indoor niches are always more expensive as they provide a comfortable place to visit, especially in bad weather. Costs vary by location and cemetery, but a typical 9″ x 9″ x 9″ size cremation niche, purchased pre-need (before death) averages $750 to $2,800. Expect to pay 20% to 25% more if purchased at need (at time of death) … Most columbariums [sic] and mausoleums will charge an additional $200 for a Saturday inurnment.

How do I select a cremation urn for a columbarium niche?

Before an appropriate urn can be selected for a niche, gather pertinent information from the leasing organization. The type and size of niche directly affects the choice of cremation urn. Possible variations of niches include:
Size - *be sure the size of the niche will accommodate the urn size
  • single adult or child
  • companion
  • family
  • pet
    Materials (to name a few)
    • marble
    • brass
    • or glass

    Display options including engraving

    The columbarium niche provides sanctuary for a cremation urn. Marble and stone cremation urns are an appropriate choice for placement in a columbarium because of the permanent nature of the material. Metal cremation urns are another favorable choice for the same reason. A more decorative urn would look best in a niche where it will be seen while a simple stone or wooden urn is suitable for a marble, stone or metal encased niche.

    What advantages do columbarium or cremation niches offer?

    The advantages of going with a cremation niche are many. By securing a space in a columbarium niche, a resting place for cremains can be decided upon in advance. This helps to ease stress amongst family when the loss actually occurs. Columbaria are located in publicly accessible spaces, so that anyone can visit the remains when the need arises. Keeping the ashes in a home, private visitation by others not living in the home can be more awkward to arrange. Cremation niches also allow for families to be grouped together, just as how family plots have traditionally been established over generations.

    Having a permanent memorial site for the ashes of a loved one provides comfort. The columbarium niche becomes a final home, resting place, and sanctuary for the loved one. It successfully bridges the gap between wanting a place for family members to visit with the deceased and with cremation wishes of the departed. In terms of price, a columbarium or cremation niche can be an affordable alternative to a traditional burial.

    *Image: . Creative Commons CC-Zero. This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

    J. Malec is a visual artist and writer whose work often deals with themes related to loss and healing. She lives in Minneapolis, and spends much of her time practicing permaculture in the city.


    excellent info

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