Columbarium – Part 1: What is It and Why?

A columbarium is a place where the cremated remains of a person are kept. It comes from the Latin word for dove (columba) because doves build their nests in niches in a wall and cremains are frequently placed in niches.

Burning a body has been a human tradition for millennia because of their health hazards of a decomposing body. Cremated remains are completely safe to handle. Early Christians, who were within one generation of Jesus, were cremated. The catacombs of Rome have thousands of niches where urns with cremains (both Christian and non-Christian) were placed.

Churches have always been a favorite place for putting the dead. In America with its large open spaces, graveyards are common. In Europe, bodies are stacked in mausoleums or cremated. In other parts of the world where space is scare, cremation is the standard. Increasingly, people in the US want to be cremated; they don’t want their bodies taking up space forever.

This presents an option for churches in urban and suburban settings. They can convert one of the church’s gardens or patios into a columbarium. The purposes are several:

  • It keeps generations of the family attached to the church and visiting their deceased loved ones at the church
  • It provides a revenue stream if done properly. The revenues can pay for the perpetual maintenance of this part of the church grounds.
  • It tells the current members that the church honors the lives of the saints by giving them an eternal location.

When the subject of a columbarium comes up, do some research and consider having one. I’ve built two columbaria and each church has loved having it.

Lead On!

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