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Cremation Niches & Choosing an Urn for a Columbarium

by J. Malec

 Cremation urns housed in niches at the Jonava columbarium.

Jonava cemetery columbarium*

Columbarium Burial and Choosing an Urn for Cemetery Cremation Niches

When it comes to choosing a final resting place for your lost loved one, you may consider choosing a columbarium niche to host their cremains or ashes. To explain briefly to the unfamiliar, a columbarium is an above-ground space for storing ashes at a cemetery. These types of cemetery cremation niches offer a dignified and restful location to host their ashes, one that can be easily viewed and come in many unique types for the family of the departed. If you’ve decided cremation is right for you or a loved one but are less sure about keeping ashes in your home, a columbarium burial may be the solution for you – combining the peaceful tranquility of a cemetery with the desire to be cremated.

What is a Columbarium?

A columbarium is an above-ground structure, similar to a wall with niches and plaques. This 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. Due to the construction of cemetery cremation niches and columbaria, an urn can easily be moved from one columbarium to another if a family relocates. As a result, cremation niches offer 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 mementos, but may not provide access to visitors. Other columbaria still will be placed in locations where the names and lives of loved ones can be viewed, similar to a tombstone. The size, shape and style of the columbarium will vary from one cemetery to another. There are even some indoor columbariums, which offer maximum shelter to visitors and protection to the urns.

Columbaria have been used for centuries to host the ashes of the recently departed. 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. The niches in a columbarium are sealed with stone and can only be opened by the groundskeeper with special equipment.

What Are Cremation Niches?

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. These plaques act similar to gravestones and will display the name of the individual, their lives and any other details you choose to add. 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 columbarium designs. There are often wire holders built-in to the exterior of the niche that allows 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 columbarium niches vary in pricing within a relatively small geographical area. When inquiring about pricing, ask what each cemetery includes in terms of cleaning and maintaining the columbarium cremation niches.

According to an article on Cremation.com:

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 a 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. Beyond the requirements of the columbaria, choosing the right urn depends on the preferences of a recently lost loved one as well as your own – much like selecting a cremation urn in general.

Once you have the specific details of the columbarium and any requirements that may be important, consult with your family about the type of urn that’s best for your loved one. If you don’t expect the columbarium to be the final resting place of your loved one’s ashes, you may want to consider an urn that can easily transition from one environment to another, or even keepsake urns for small amounts of ashes.

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 families when the loss actually occurs. Columbaria are located in publicly accessible spaces, so anyone can visit the remains when needed. When keeping the ashes inside 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. Cemetery cremation niches also allow you to transport a loved one’s ashes if the need to move arises. When selecting a columbarium near you, you can contact your local cemeteries to see what your options are – most will either be able to assist you or guide you in the right direction.

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. For more information on columbaria read our helpful guide which goes into more detail.