Recently we had a few churches asks us questions about including an ossuary in their columbarium design. Since I’ve only been a part of the Columbarium Designers, Inc. team a few years, I didn’t know what an ossuary was. Dave, who has been helping churches, cemeteries and organizations with their columbarium programs for over 30 year’s explained it to me.
An ossuary is a large underground vault that has an opening above ground. Cremated remains are poured into the ossuary and co-mingled with other cremated remains. An ossuary takes place of a scattering garden where cremains are scattered on the ground. The advantage of the ossuary is the low cost for interment since there is no expense for property. A tribute tower or wall is nearby for memorial plaques with the names of the deceased on them. The cremated remains of most people are never buried, put are on shelves in loved one’s homes but eventually the generation of people who knew and loved them will pass. What happens to those remains then? An ossuary provides families with a dignified, secure, visible memorial that is environmentally friendly, permanently and easily accessible and economically affordable. Although the scattering of ashes is a romantic notion, many regrets surface later from not having a defined physical place to go and pay respects.
“Ossuary” practices date back to early Christian times when human remains were placed in limestone crypts after death. The combination of the dehydrating effects of limestone, the climate, and natural decomposition led to a rapid loss of flesh, leaving only bones in the crypt after a year or two. The bones were then removed from the crypt and placed in a large stone container or recess with the bones of many others. Once the container was full, it was permanently closed. The container that held the bones of many people in a common grave was called an “Ossuary”. The Sedlec Ossuary , is a small chapel located in Sedlec, in the suburbs of Kutna Hora, in the Czech Republic. It is also known as the church of bones. The Sedlec Ossuary is artistically decorated by more than 40.000 human skeletons. In 1870, a local woodcarver, Frantisek Rindt was given the task to decorate the chapel with the bones. It is unusual and is a very interesting. Ossuaries are still very common in Italy, France, Jerusalem and throughout many parts of the world.
In the United States, ossuaries serve as a final resting place for the group burial of cremated remains, rather than the final resting place for skeletal remains. One ossuary in the US is at Hillcrest Memorial Park in Hermitage, PA. They bury the cremated remains of veterans and their spouses among the 444 flags surrounding the War on Terror Memorial. Their cremated remains are not co-mingled, but instead are placed in velveteen containers which are lowered with full military honors into vertical cylinders set in the ground. The containers are adorned with an American flag on one side and the crest of the veteran's branch of service on the other. There will be separate cylinders for each of the five branches of service, with additional ones dedicated to specific wars and military units.
Omaha, NE opened its first Pet Ossuary last year called “Pets at Peace Gardens”. It is a place “pet parents” honor and remembers the lives of pets that have brought years of joy and emotional support to pet families.
An Ossuary is something you may want to consider for your columbarium program. It is a low cost benefit to offer to your members.