What Is a Columbarium Niche?

A columbarium niche is a display vault in a wall or structure specifically designed to hold cremation urns. It’s a stately choice for a final disposition available at many cemeteries, churches, and funeral homes.

In this article, we’re going to answer the question, “What is a columbarium niche.” In doing so, you will learn everything you need to know about columbarium niches.

But before we get to the niche part, let’s talk define the first word: Columbarium.

What is a Columbarium?

A columbarium is a wall, room, or building with niches that store cremation urns.

Similar in purpose to a mausoleum (which holds non-cremated remains), the columbarium is a sacred final resting place and should be treated with the same respect.

What is a Columbarium Niche?

Also known as a cremation niche, a columbarium niche is a single compartment within the columbarium that holds a person’s cremated remains.

The niche can be part of elaborate, decorative structures or a simple room with shelves. It can be indoors or outside. The front can be clear glass to display the urn or tucked away behind a metal door.

Columbarium niches vary in size as well. One standard size measures about 9″ cubed, though most cemeteries offer several sizes for individuals, couples, or families. There may also be larger, fancier (and more expensive) niches and smaller, simpler (and more budget-friendly) niches in the same columbarium.

The specific sizes and options will vary with each location and design.

Why Choose a Columbarium Niche?

Columbarium Niches - Outside
These outdoor columbarium niches are nestled into triangular structures surrounding a beautiful fountain on the cemetery grounds.

Cremation – as opposed to traditional embalming and burial – is gaining traction in the United States. As with any market, with demand comes supply, and this includes within the funeral industry. We therefore have many options available to us today when it comes to choosing our final dispositions and how we wish to be interred.

Read more: Burial or Cremation: Which is right for you?

Should you choose to be cremated upon death, a columbarium niche may be the more practical choice. As more people populate the earth, more people of course die. Each person will still require (mainly, though there are many alternatives) either cremation or burial.

It’s true that as cities are becoming more and more populous, so are their cemeteries. So we are now having to think outside of the box (pardon the pun) when it comes to our final resting places.

Cremation solves the problem of cemetery over-population. Even if you would choose to have your remains kept forever in an urn rather than scattered, there is always space to be occupied as long as you’re willing to build up.

Indoor Columbarium Niches
Indoor columbarium niches line the back of this small chapel.

Enter the columbarium niche! Above the ground and found not only in cemeteries, but also in churches, indoor crypts and outdoor monuments, a columbarium is a practical, economical, and beautiful memorial perpetually dedicated to the safekeeping of cremated remains.

The design possibilities for the niches of the future are limitless, too, as opposed to traditional cemetery plots.

Other Considerations for Columbarium Niches

Choosing a cremation niche may be considered a wise investment in “vertical” real estate.

Other things to consider when deciding upon your niche is, as with any real estate, location, location, location. Do you want your niche to be eye level and easy to see? Or do you prefer that it be high and out of reach from possible damage?

(It helps to know that, if you are on a budget, the lower the columbarium niche, usually the lower the price.)

Maintenance of columbaria are also easier and less costly than traditional burial grounds, which are an added bonus.

Choosing cremation and inurnment in a columbarium niche is also an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional burial in a cemetery. A big plot of the ground is kept unearthed, no harsh embalming chemicals are placed in the ground, and only a small amount of space is utilized.

How Much Does a Columbarium Niche Cost?

Columbarium niches are available for purchase for the family member who wishes to be cremated upon death, and can also be purchased in advance of passing. But how much does a niche cost?

Generally speaking, a single-space (9x9x9-inch) columbarium niche will run you, on average, between $500 and $800. But varying details will, of course, affect the price.

For starters, it’s good to understand that cremation niches can be purchased not only in single units, but also in double or even family units. Some locations may also allow you to lease a space for a certain time period, usually for a decade or longer. This gives the family some flexibility if they decide they would rather not keep their loved one’s cremated remains at a certain location.

What do you need to buy from the funeral home?
Turns out, not very much.

Also, depending on who you ask, the price you pay may vary depending upon whether the niche will be inside or outside (indoor columbariums may cost more due to the fact that they are protected from the weather and are generally more comfortable to visit).

What’s the Difference Between a Columbarium and a Mausoleum?

The terms mausoleum and columbarium can be used interchangeably (and often are). But the two words actually have two separate meanings.

A mausoleum is a sacred final resting place, usually above ground and in a designated building, for casketed, whole body interment.

A columbarium, on the other hand, is a sacred final resting place, also above ground, for inurned cremated remains.

Both mausoleums and columbarium niches serve as everlasting memorials to the dead.

Here’s an image that shows the difference between a columbarium and a mausoleum:

FAQ about Columbarium Niches

On the left side, in the foreground, you can see a mausoleum niche. The face of the niche is approximately 2′ by 2′, and the the casket is stored lengthwise behind it. The photo shows one niche (plus the bottom part of another), and the entire wall is filled with them.

On the right side of the image, in the background, you can see the columbarium niches. These niches are approximately 1′ x 1′, and thus four cremation urns can be stored in the same amount of space.

Here’s a closer view of those same columbarium niches you see in background of the first photo:

Columbarium Niches

Now let’s look at what size urn you will need to fit into one of those smaller columbarium niches.

Niche Size Urns

Choosing the right columbarium niche is only one step you must take in planning for the final disposition of yourself or your loved one. You must also pick out an urn to go into the niche!

There are many types and styles of cremation urns out there. You can choose from various styles and themes. You will find metal urns, ceramic urns, wooden urns, and even biodegradable urns for natural burial or sea burial.

Cremation urns come in all shapes and sizes, from infant-size to over-size. There are fancy marble urns, glass urns, economical urns, and much more.

But will the urn fit into the niche? That’s the question.

Not all urns are designed to fit into a niche. That’s why we offer our Premium Wood Cremation Urn Designed for Niche. It was designed specifically to fit into the rather small niches at Arlington National Cemetery, which measure 9″ wide, tall, and deep.

You can actually fit two of these urns into one of those columbarium niches, meaning that both husband and wife can be inurned together.

Each urn measures 8.5″ tall, 8.5″ deep, and 4.25″ wide. You can personalize them with laser engraving and/or add military service emblems for Air Force, Army, Navy, or Marine Corps.

Wood urns are an extremely popular choice, not only for their timeless beauty, but also for their longevity. Take a look at our wood urns for columbarium niches and see for yourself!

We hope you found this article about columbarium niches helpful! If you were in the market for an urn right now, what theme or style would you pick? Let us know in a comment below.

Read next: Best-Selling Urns for Ashes

What is a columbarium niche

8 thoughts on “What Is a Columbarium Niche?”

  1. I am a member of the Stewardship Ministry at North Clinton Church in Wauseon, Ohio. We have received a request from one of our members to pursue the possibility of a small, simple columbarium wall or cabinet that would be water proof and could be placed on a cement foundation against a wall within our enclosed Memorial Prayer Garden. What we envision would be a stainless steel or brass cabinet with thirty six 6″X 6″X 14″ niches into which we could insert the cremains. The front would need to be made with removable metal plates that could be engraved with names and dates. These plates would need to be attached with some type of fasteners that would require a special tool to remove. If in the future additional units would be required we could set them side by side. This is our first experience with this option for our congregation but we do have some interest. We would desire to keep this option as reasonably priced as is possible for the members of our congregation. My phone number is [removed] if you would need to contact me. If you have no interest in something like this please advise me by phone or Email so we can look elsewhere. Thanks, Rod Nofziger

  2. My parents cremains are in a niche, inside a bldg. I’m the only one who visits. My brother lives in Virginia and my sister on the same state about 30 miles away
    There are more options these days for cremains and I’d like to take possession of them. My brother has been there once since 1984, that was in 2010, when my mom passed. The same with my sister. How do I go about taking possession of them? I’d like to make them either into orbs or a tree. What do I do with the niche afterwards and the brass plate that covers the niche?

  3. Hi Debra,

    That’s an interesting question. I think the place to start would be to talk to whoever owns and operates that location – probably a funeral home or cemetery. They’ll be able to give you access to the remains (if possible). I’d ask about your options for re-selling the niche, removing the name plate, etc.

  4. Is a dual niche designed for two urns (side by side) considered from a legal standpoint one or two graves?

  5. Hi Alan,

    That would depend on how your state, county, or city defines a grave in their laws or ordinances. Each area has different regulations, so this is where a good funeral director can be very helpful. It may also depend on why you’re asking the question – is this a matter of executing the will? Or insurance benefits? Or a prepaid funeral plan? Each of those will come with different stipulations based on previous agreements and definitions. Personally, I’d count it as two – if it is the final resting place for two people, practically speaking it’s the “grave” for two people and thus two graves. Hope this helps in some way!

  6. I have been tasked to gather information for either the construction of or acquisition of a Columbarium to be placed outside of the main church building, in a space already designated as The Memorial Garden, to serve as the final resting place of members of the church and/or certain family members. Previously, the church designated and constructed a covered walkway/colonnade outside on the west side of the main building and running between the main building and the church office building. Within each of the support columns for the colonnade are 8 niches (2 sections divided into 4 niches each, 2 across and 2 high) sealed with 2 polished Granite slabs which are engraved with the Name, birth year, and death year of the deceased in each niche. All of the niche’s have been sold, leading to the need for additional Columbarium space. The subject of placing of the Cremated Remains of companion animals with the Cremated Remains of the companion animals’ human owner in the same Columbarium Niche/Niches. Is this allowed or legal in California, Riverside County, and the City of Palm Springs?

  7. Hi Duane,

    Great question! You’d have to contact the county and city officials to discuss whether that is prohibited.

  8. I’ve been looking into a new type of remains which are placed under the water. They are interred in a structure which encourages protection and growth of the coral reefs.
    You can purchase a memorial ceremony and a .triip for the planting of the cremains.

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