is brick or stone structure (indoors or outside) with niches in which the urn containing ashes from a deceased person are inurned. Columbaria can take various forms. They can be in an interior wall of a church building (usually in the worship space). They can be constructed in the churchyard, in various shapes and sizes. In some the niche is permanently sealed; in others the face front panel is unlocked. The name of the deceased is usually inscribed into the face.
A memorial garden is usually a church garden with a set-apart section in which the cremated ashes are poured directly into the ground, and covered by grass or a ground-cover vine; these ashes are commingled with other ashes and with soil, in a tangible symbol of the communion of saints. In memorial gardens, there is usually a plaque somewhere nearby on which the names and dates can be inscribed. It is common to install a fountain in the memorial garden, which symbolizes our Baptism in living water and is often comforting to the bereaved. It is also common to have some benches, so people can sit and meditate.
Why would anyone choose cremation over burial in a casket? In Genesis 3:19, the Lord God said to the man: "By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken: you are dust, and to dust you shall return." On Ash Wednesday, ashes are imposed in the form of a cross on our foreheads as the pastor says: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." And as a coffin or ashes is inurned in a columbarium niche or in the earth, the presiding minister prays: "...we commit his/her body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust...." Earth, ashes, dust: our end is the same. It is even clearer when the body is cremated and the ashes placed in the earth.
All of this provides the context of meaning of a columbarium or memorial garden. As the number of cremations rises, more and more churches are considering the installation of columbaria or memorial gardens. In 1970 there were only 88,096 cremations in the United States, while in 1999 there were 606,307 cremations. It is projected that by 2010, there will be close to a million cremations. (Information courtesy of the Cremation Association of North America.)
It is usually best to enlist the help of a columbarium firm to help design, place, and build the columbarium. There are two major firms in the United States, and both work all over the country. Eickhof Columbaria can be reached at 1-800-253-0457 or www.EickhofColumbaria.com. Armento Liturgical Arts can be reached at 1-866-276-3686 or www.Armento-Columbarium.com.
Churches usually impose a fee to be inurned in a columbarium or interred in the memorial garden. This covers the cost of the niche or garden, inscribing the name and birth and death dates, and maintenance and upkeep. This fee is usually less than the cost of a coffin and of a cemetery space. Sometimes, before installing a columbarium or memorial garden, a non-binding statement of intent is circulated in the congregation, to give the planning committee an idea of how many niches will be needed. It is best to build more niches than that number, to plan for the future.