What’s Inside a Mausoleum? 11 Things You’ll Encounter

Updated

What might you find inside of a mausoleum? There are many reasons this topic may interest you. Maybe you’re considering interring family members (or even yourself!) in one someday, and you want to familiarize yourself with mausoleums for practical purposes. Or, maybe you simply have an interest in the various ways we bury and store the dead.

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Regardless, although every mausoleum is unique, there are certain features and items a typical mausoleum may include. This list will cover some of the more commonplace and noteworthy. If you’ve always wanted to know what’s inside (and outside) of a mausoleum, keep reading!

What You’ll Find on Inside of a Mausoleum 

Keep in mind that one of the reasons you won’t necessarily find all the same items inside every mausoleum is that mausoleums have existed for millennia.

For example, the Egyptian pyramids technically qualify as mausoleums, and their interiors look dramatically different from those of a mausoleum you might store a loved one in today. Thus, this list will primarily focus on what you might find inside of a modern mausoleum. Here’s what you might find:

1. Coffins

It’s not uncommon for the inside of a mausoleum to openly feature coffins on display. This has sometimes been the case throughout history when a mausoleum is home to the body of a noteworthy person who others may wish to visit, such as a religious figure. 

These coffins generally remain protected in some capacity. However, when they’re on display to a degree, people who would like to visit them have the opportunity to do so.

2. Crypts or tombs

Not all mausoleums include coffins on display inside of them. In many cases, families instead choose to store coffins inside of enclosed niches/vaults in the walls of the mausoleum, which we sometimes refer to as crypts or tombs. This ensures they’re protected from the elements, vandals, and anything else that might endanger them.

This form of entombment mirrors a traditional burial in some ways. For example, the spot in a mausoleum’s wall that marks the crypt or tomb for an individual’s coffin might feature an engraving of their name, date of birth, date of death, and various other types of text that usually appear on headstones in cemeteries.

3. Urns

A mausoleum doesn’t need to merely serve as a storage vault for coffins. Families who cremate loved ones may choose to keep their urns in mausoleums. They typically do so by placing an urn in a columbarium, a small indent in the mausoleum wall.

You might wonder why someone would choose such a large storage space for an urn. People might do so because a mausoleum doesn’t only serve a practical purpose. Along with being a storage space, a mausoleum can give mourners a way to honor and remember a lost family member or loved one by serving as a monument.

Again, the Egyptian pyramids are mausoleums. So is the Taj Mahal. The impressive design of these landmarks proves their purpose was to not only store the dead, but celebrate them. Today’s mausoleums often play the same role.

4. Bodies

Some mausoleums display the coffins of prominent individuals so members of the public can visit them. However, some mausoleums go a step further by also displaying their preserved body. A glass enclosure or similar feature will usually protect the body while giving visitors a chance to look directly at the corpse of a famous historical figure.

For instance, Hanoi, Vietnam, is home to a mausoleum with the body of Ho Chi Minh on display. You can also see the bodies of various saints. Of course, displaying a body in this way usually only occurs when the body is that of someone famous or important. A private family typically won’t use a mausoleum to display the bodies of loved ones.

5. Funerary art

A gorgeous mausoleum technically is a work of funerary art in and of itself. That said, inside a mausoleum, you might find various other types of funerary art as well.

The types of funerary art you’d find inside of a mausoleum can range widely. Funerary art may consist of ornamental flowers, religious figures, wall paintings, and even unique lighting designs. These features once again highlight how mausoleums serve as both monuments and storage spaces.

Additionally, if a family chooses to store an urn in a columbarium, they might place small keepsakes and similar items inside these columbariums along with the urns. These items may also qualify as funerary art.

6. Catacombs

This example is less common than some of the other features this list highlights. That’s because catacombs and mausoleums are two different ways of storing the dead. Mausoleums are above ground, while catacombs are underground.

That said, some mausoleums also include entrances to underground catacombs. This may be the case when space in the above-ground sections of a mausoleum isn’t sufficient to store all the bodies it may be home to one day. Such mausoleums are usually public and serve more than one family in a given area. They’re essentially miniature public cemeteries in that regard.

ยป MORE: Instead of ashes, create a beautiful stone. Parting Stone helps you keep your loved ones close.

 

What You’ll Find on the Outside of a Mausoleum 

What you might find outside of a mausoleum can vary in the same way what you find inside of a mausoleum can vary. For example, you may find:

7. Impressive architecture

This may seem like a vague or general feature to include on this list. However, architectural style plays an important role in a mausoleum’s exterior and function. Remember, mausoleums are monuments to the dead. That means those who purchase or commission them will usually choose an architectural style that properly honors the memory of a lost loved one.

That also means the exterior design of a mausoleum can vary greatly on a case-by-case basis. For instance, some mausoleums are old stone buildings that almost look like they belong on the property of a grand castle. Others feature columns that illustrate a Greek influence on the architecture. Some are modern, minimalist buildings with square angles and little in the way of decoration. Others may feature elaborate religious imagery.

A quick Google Images search will give you the chance to browse photos of seemingly countless mausoleums. If you’re interested in what you would find both inside and outside of a mausoleum, it’s worth spending a few minutes doing so.

8. Outdoor vaults

Not every mausoleum’s tomb, crypt, or burial vault is inside the mausoleum itself. Some mausoleums feature outdoor vaults. Like interior vaults, these usually embed the mausoleum walls, but they face the exterior of the property, rather than the interior.

This type of vault is more common in private mausoleums. Some mausoleums allow mourners to share the space with other families. However, those who want a mausoleum merely for their own loved ones can purchase private space, although the cost of doing so can be fairly high depending on a range of factors. If you’ve ever wondered how cemeteries make money, this is just one way. 

Also, just as the interior of a mausoleum can provide space for both coffins and urns, so can the exterior.

9. Gardens

A garden mausoleum is a popular example of a type of outdoor mausoleum some families use to remember loved ones. As the name implies, the exterior of a garden mausoleum will typically feature gorgeous plant life and impressive landscaping design features.

For example, Lakewood Cemetery’s Garden Mausoleum in Minneapolis, MN, has long attracted interest from both architecture experts and the general public due to its gorgeous visual appeal. The outdoor space includes water features and sitting areas, allowing mourners and all other visitors to spend time remembering the deceased in a serene natural environment.

10. Other mausoleums

Some cemeteries are home to numerous mausoleums clustered together in close proximity. This is often the case when people choose to store their dead in mausoleums for very practical reasons.

Consider the example of various New Orleans cemeteries. The water table in New Orleans’ soil is very high. This makes burying the dead impractical. The high water table could put a buried body at risk of becoming dislodged. To guard against this, New Orleanians have historically entombed their dead in above-ground mausoleums. The result is cemeteries filled with many mausoleums standing nearly as close together as headstones typically would be.

11. Funerary art

Funerary art is common both inside and outside of mausoleums. The types of funerary art a mausoleum may be home to range from elaborate statues to small decorative tokens. 

Frequently Asked Questions About the Inside of Mausoleums

If you still have questions about the inside of a mausoleum, these FAQs may answer them. Popular questions about mausoleums include the following:

Do people typically put bodies inside of mausoleums? Why or why not?

In many parts of the world, it remains more popular to bury bodies than to store them in mausoleums. That said, the practice of storing bodies in mausoleums has been relatively popular at various points in history and among various cultures.

In some cultures, placing a body in a mausoleum was a way of showing respect for an important leader or celebrity. Additionally, various news reports on funeral practices indicate that storing bodies in mausoleums has become more popular once again.

Do bodies still decompose inside of mausoleums?

Storing a body in a mausoleum can slow the rate of decomposition, as a body may be less likely to be exposed to moisture and other elements that can promote decomposition. The type of casket and the way in which it’s sealed can also cause decomposition to occur more slowly than it would if a body was buried.

However, in general, bodies in mausoleums still can and will decompose eventually. Sometimes, when a body decomposes in a mausoleum, the natural buildup of gas inside the casket actually causes it to “explode,” although there are ways to guard against this.

How do people put caskets inside of mausoleums?

You can place a casket in a mausoleum fairly simply. When the crypt is low enough to the ground to reach without special equipment, pallbearers will carefully load the casket in themselves. If you can’t reach the crypt’s opening, they’ll use a lift. A specialist will transfer the casket from the lift to the crypt.

Can you actually go inside of mausoleums?

Whether or not you can actually go inside of a mausoleum depends on what type of mausoleum you wish to visit. Some mausoleums are public. As such, they operate the same way public cemeteries operate. During certain hours of the day, anyone can go inside and pay their respects to the deceased, even if they’re not family members.

However, that’s not the case with all mausoleums. For example, mausoleums that house the bodies of important figures from history may restrict the degree to which members of the public can enter them. Only family members of the deceased and other authorized individuals may enter private mausoleums.

Outside and Inside of a Mausoleum: Key Features

One of the most important points to remember from this guide is that few mausoleums are exactly alike, and thus, what you’ll find inside and out of them will be different in various ways. Hopefully, the few examples here have inspired you to research specific mausoleums, getting an even better sense of how each one is unique.


Sources

  1. Cichanowicz, Lily. “15 Famous Corpses You Can Still See Today.” Culture Trip, The Culture Trip Ltd., 25 October 2016, theculturetrip.com/europe/russia/articles/15-famous-corpses-you-can-visit/
  2. “Lakewood Cemetery’s Garden Mausoleum.” Architect, Hanley Wood Media, Inc., 05 March 2013, www.architectmagazine.com/project-gallery/lakewood-cemeterys-garden-mausoleum
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