Mausolea, Columbariums and Other Cemetery Monuments

Besides tombstones, monuments such as mausolea, columbariums and other markers can be found in cemeteries.

Mausolea are not a new invention, in fact, the word "mausoleum" comes from King Maussollos of Helicarnassis, whose burial monument was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. In fact, the pyramids are a type of mausoleum, which means, that 2 of the seven wonders of the ancient world were, essentially, mausolea.

Mausolea were common in Rome prior to the rise of Christianity, and the burial structures of wealthy and important Romans lined major streets of the city. When Christianity rose to prominence, mausolea fell out of favor for a time.

Eventually, mausolea became popular with the wealthy in many countries. Generally, the structures included a door that allows people entry into the burial chambers within, which may be have had large underground chambers. Some larger mausolea even include a chapel, and in some cemeteries, they include a columbarium. Often, a mausoleum will remain unsealed, as there are usually spaces for several generations of a family. A structure for a single internment might be permanently sealed.

Within the mausoleum there are niches or sarcophagi for bodies, though contemporary mausolea may also accommodate cremated remains.

Mausolea are often inspired by the architectural styles popular at the time they were built, which sometimes helps to pin-point the age of the structure.

While the mausolea found in current cemeteries are not in the same league as their namesake, they are still often impressive structures, usually among the largest found in any cemetery.


Columbariums are a type of mausoleum, built to inter cremated remains. Sometimes they are buildings, with interior hallways lined with small vaults labeled with the name and dates of the deceased. Some columbariums are free standing structures in the form of large walls, or large obelisks. In some cases, the niches are covered with a marble or bronze plates covering the recessed area for the cremains. In others, the niches are used to hold urns or other vessels that, in turn, hold the remains.

The word "columbarium" comes from Latin, and originally referred to a compartmentalized shelter for doves or pidgeons. "Columba" is Latin for dove. Roman columbariums were usually underground.

For centuries, in Buddhist temples, cremated remains have been housed in columbarium-type structures within temples or as part of Buddhist cemeteries.

Other Monuments: Boxes, Tables, Benches

You may be wondering a bit about sarcophagi. These are boxes made of stone and shaped like coffins. There is a separate "lid." Inside the stone sarcophagus, you would often find a coffin, which usually contained the body. The sarcophagus, and the coffin within, are usually kept above ground. The most famous sarcophagi are the coffins used for Egyptian mummies.

The term "sarcophagus" is often applied to the various types of "box" shaped stone monuments in cemeteries today. While the strictest definition of sarcophagus means that the body is interred within the stone, many people now use the term more broadly.

Box tombs are, predictably, box-shaped monuments built over a grave. These are the simplest forms of "sarcophagus-like" markers. The body is not inside the box, but buried underneath the it. Box tombs in this country are usually fairly simple structures, with minimal decoration. In England, these types of markers can be highly ornamented. Box tombs are more prominent and easier to spot in a cemetery than a simple headstone, but, aren't as expensive as a mausoleum.

Box tombs are also referred to as chest tombs.

Table tombs are ledgers stones raised on "legs" in the form of, you guessed it, tables. Usually, the tables have 4-6 legs. The "table" top is usually where any inscriptions my be found. I've not yet seen any of these in Colorado, but, they become more common as you move east in the U.S.

Sometimes, you will find markers in the form of a bench. A bench marker is more formally known as an exedra.

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