If you’re looking for a respectful place to keep a loved one’s ashes, or you’re thinking of your own future arrangements, a columbarium might be the answer. While they’re much more popular in Europe than they are here in the UK, columbaria do offer a good alternative to scattering ashes and keeping them at home.

But what is a columbarium used for, where can you find one, and how much does space in a columbarium cost? Let’s take a look …


What is a columbarium?

A columbarium is a wall, room, or building ­used to store urns holding the ashes of people who have died and been cremated.

The columbarium at Woking Crematorium
The columbarium at Woking Crematorium.

The name “columbarium” comes from columba, the Latin word for dove, because columbaria usually have niches to hold the urns that resemble those in dovecotes (dove houses). Columbaria date back at least as far as Roman times; the Columbarium of Pomponius Hylas near Rome, with its lavish and beautiful internal decoration, is one famous example.


What is a columbarium niche like?

A columbarium niche is often simply a shelf with room for one to five urns on, usually with a plaque above or underneath to describe who is resting there. On some columbaria memorials (particularly those that stand outdoors) the plaque might be a stone that covers the niche entirely. There’s often a place in or by the niche to leave flowers or personal tributes, as well.


Why use a columbarium?

You might choose a columbarium due to your faith. For example, while cremation is now an option for Catholics, the Catholic church has ruled that ashes should be kept in a “sacred place”, and not scattered or kept at home. This might make a columbarium niche attractive for someone who wants to be cremated but not buried underground.

The columbarium at Golders Green crematorium.
The columbarium at Golders Green crematorium.

Columbaria memorials are widespread in Europe and parts of the United States, and Buddhist temples in China and Japan house ashes in similar structures, so culture and family tradition might play a part in choosing the columbarium as a final resting place. In some cases, families can reserve up to four or five niches together.

You might also choose one for practical reasons. If you don’t want to keep a cremation urn in your house but you hate the idea of scattering ashes and still want to be able to “visit” a loved one who has passed away, a columbarium niche could be an ideal solution.


Where can I find a columbarium?

Christian churches from sects that allow cremation sometimes have their own columbaria attached to them – perhaps in a room at the back of the church, or in the crypt, or in separate buildings on the grounds. Your local church authority should be able to tell you where the nearest church columbarium is.

Sacred Stones' columbaria are inspired by ancient long barrows.
Sacred Stones’ columbaria are inspired by ancient long barrows.

Some columbaria are attached to a crematorium: the Woking Crematorium is home to the first custom-built columbarium in the UK, and there is also one at the Golders Green Crematorium in London. They are designed to be serene spaces attached to some kind of garden, chapel or memorial room, where loved ones can spend time in quiet contemplation.

Sacred Stones, an organisation that builds traditional barrows in rural sites across the UK, is one particularly beautiful example of a secular columbarium. Their columbaria are designed to inspire a celebration both of the landscape and the life of the person who’s resting there, and they are very flexible around how many sets of ashes can be stored in one niche and how they are displayed.


How much does space at a columbarium cost?

A columbarium niche is usually leased for a number of years rather than bought outright. Prices tend to start at around £400 to £700 for a period of 10 to 25 years. After that, you can usually extend the lease for an additional fee.

The entrance to Sacred Stones' long barrow columbarium in Cambridgeshire.
The entrance to Sacred Stones’ long barrow columbarium in Cambridgeshire.

Columbarium niche prices can vary according to what type of organisation provides them and where in the country they are. As with any other type of space or land, prices are likely to be higher in areas of high demand, such as major cities or sought-after spots like historic churches. Different elements, such as plaque carvings and additional urns, are also likely to affect the cost.

The best way to find out about the cost of columbarium space and the length of the lease is to ask the administrators there.


Alternatives to the columbarium

Not quite sure if a columbarium niche is the right choice? There are plenty of other options for ashes. Take a look at our list of things to do with ashes and our guide to keeping ashes at home for advice and inspiration.


Are you thinking of arranging a niche at a columbarium? Which one? Email us to share your thoughts.

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