If you think you’ve never seen a mausoleum, you’re probably incorrect. Chances are you have seen images of the Great Pyramids of Giza. You probably have also seen photographs of the Taj Mahal. These famous landmarks are also great examples of large-scale mausoleums.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Is a Mausoleum Entombment?
- What's the Purpose of a Mausoleum?
- Different Types of Mausoleums
- Average Cost of a Mausoleum
- Pros and Cons of Mausoleums
- What's Typically Inside a Mausoleum?
- Common Mausoleum Rules
- Is a Mausoleum Burial Right for You?
- Famous Mausoleums From Around the World
- Frequently Asked Questions: Mausoleum Burials
Mausoleums aren’t only available for Egyptian kings or an emperor’s wife. Anyone can choose to be entombed in a mausoleum. Here’s what you need to know about this form of burial.
What Is a Mausoleum Entombment?
A mausoleum is a freestanding structure that is built to enclose a crypt. Crypts are compartments that hold caskets. So a mausoleum is a structure that usually holds multiple bodies lying in caskets.
Since the remains of the dead aren’t buried in a mausoleum, it’s proper to say that the body is entombed instead of buried. Most mausoleums are found in cemeteries, but you may also find some near religious buildings and on private land.
What's the Purpose of a Mausoleum?
A mausoleum is designed to hold the bodily or cremated remains of someone who died. It's typically chosen by those who prefer above-ground burial (as opposed to underground burial). However, there are other reasons people choose entombment in a mausoleum over other eternal resting places.
First, a mausoleum may be necessary for areas where burial is not a practical option. New Orleans, famously, is one such location. Areas with a lot of snow and freezing weather sometimes have difficulty with burials.
Second, a mausoleum also provides families, friends, and other mourners a place to reflect on life, death, and the deceased. Some mausoleums offer an indoor space for those mourning the death of loved ones. Other mausoleums can only be visited when standing outdoors.
Next, a mausoleum can be a part of the legacy of the deceased. These beautiful structures can be designed to reflect the family's beliefs, values, and tastes. A private family mausoleum can celebrate the family's contributions to their industry, community, or country.
Finally, even though a mausoleum can hold cremated remains, it is another option for those whose religion prohibits cremation. In addition, you may see mausoleums dedicated to members of particular faiths.
Different Types of Mausoleum Entombments
Here are some of the types of mausoleums that you may consider when planning for your or your loved one’s funeral. They vary in size and cost.
If you’ve visited the unique cemeteries in New Orleans, you are familiar with family mausoleums. These somewhat small structures were initially built to entomb members of the same family. This process is necessary due to New Orleans's geography.
The water table in this area, and in other parts of the world, makes it safer to entomb the deceased rather than bury them.
Since not every family can afford to build a mausoleum, there are public ones available as well. These are typically indoor structures that allow visitors to come in to meditate or pray while viewing the sealed crypt of their loved one. Some of the larger mausoleums can hold thousands of bodies.
Garden mausoleums are also open to the public for interment, but they do not have an indoor space where mourners can gather and reflect. The door of each crypt opens to the outdoors.
Lawn crypts or in-ground mausoleums
Although mausoleums are typically above-ground structures, a lawn crypt is buried. The reason it is called a crypt is that many bodies are entombed within that single structure.
A columbarium is a place to store urns containing the remains of loved ones. This above-ground structure is similar to mausoleums but holds urns instead of caskets.
Average Cost of a Mausoleum
Private mausoleums can be extremely expensive. They start around $25,000 for an outdoor mausoleum, but they can cost hundreds of thousands for walk-in varieties.
The average cost to entomb a body in a public mausoleum is about $4,000. The price varies and can be as low as $2,000 or as high as $10,000.
Garden mausoleums are typically less expensive than indoor, public mausoleums. Indoor mausoleums often include benches and skylights, and they are climate-controlled. Visitors to garden mausoleums have to brave the elements, much like visitors to a cemetery.
The cost of entombing a body also depends upon where the crypt is located within the structure. Upper-level vaults, which can’t be touched from floor level, are less expensive than lower crypts.
For additional costs, you can also purchase crypts that hold multiple numbers of bodies. Sometimes married couples or families choose this form of entombment.
There are additional costs to entombing a loved one in a mausoleum. You may need to pay entombment fees, which means the staff will open the crypt, place the casket inside, and reseal the crypt.
You will also need to pay for the plaque and its engraving, as well as the cost of having it placed on the front of the crypt.
There are plenty of other costs associated with laying a loved one to rest. Besides paying for a casket and flowers, you also need to pay the embalming costs. You will also be responsible for the fees associated with having a service. These costs will be paid whether you choose to bury your loved ones or entomb them in a mausoleum.
Paying for mausoleum entombment: If you need some help paying for entombment in a mausoleum, consider creating an online memorial to your loved one with fundraising. Cake's online memorial pages make it easy to set up a fundraiser and ask visitors for donations in lieu of flowers or sympathy gifts.
Pros and Cons of Mausoleums
Why would you choose entombment over burial? Here are some things to consider.
- Stay drier. Entombment in a mausoleum is drier than burial. If a body is entombed in a mausoleum, it does not come into contact with water the same way a buried body will.
- Sit above ground. Some people who are planning their funeral may not like the idea of being put under the ground. Mausoleums provide this above-ground option.
- Protection from weather. If you purchase a crypt in an indoor mausoleum for your loved one, you will be able to visit the site, rain or shine.
- Feeling of prestige. Some people feel that being entombed inside a beautiful structure is more prestigious than being buried underground.
- Save space. Since crypts in a mausoleum are stacked on top of each other, this process saves space and resources compared to a traditional burial. If this idea appeals to you, you may want to consider other green burial options.
- Easy to access. In cold climates, opening and closing a burial site is extremely difficult. Mausoleums can be accessed no matter the temperature.
- A necessity in some environments. New Orleans isn’t the only place in North America with a low water table. If you live in an area that has a low elevation and is too wet to bury a casket, you may have no other option than to buy crypt space in a mausoleum.
- Feel peaceful. Indoor mausoleums can be comfortable, peaceful places to visit. You may hear softly-playing music as you sit comfortably on a bench reflecting on the life of your loved one.
- Costly. Entombing a body in a mausoleum is typically more expensive than burial. Both of these options are usually more expensive than cremation. The location of the mausoleum is a major determining factor in how much it costs.
- Foul odors. Even bodies that do not come in contact with groundwater will eventually decompose. This process can cause an unpleasant odor that is not noticed when a body is buried in a cemetery plot.
- Decomposition. Again, bodies that are entombed in a mausoleum still decompose. This process produces gases, and those gases can cause explosions. Exploding caskets and leakage at the site of the crypt have caused survivors’ emotional trauma in the past.
- Deteriorating structures. Most mausoleums aren’t built to the standards of the Taj Mahal or the Great Pyramids of Giza. They will eventually crumble, as will the crypts inside of the structure.
Mausoleum Entombment Process
There are so many decisions to make when a loved one dies. Hopefully, your loved one made their preferences around burial known while they were still able. Making those hard choices in a time of grief can be overwhelming.
If you have decided to entomb your loved one, first look through your family member’s papers to see if they have already purchased a crypt in a nearby mausoleum. If no paperwork is found indicating this purchase, you will need to look for a mausoleum with available crypts near you.
The next part of the process is the same, no matter the type of burial you choose. You will need to purchase a casket for a crypt or an urn for a columbarium.
Besides picking out funeral flowers, guest books, and funeral program covers, you will also need to choose the location of the services. Some indoor mausoleums have small chapels that can be used for services. Or you can choose to have the wake or funeral at another location and have the body transported to the mausoleum later.
When it is time to entomb the body, the casket is placed within the crypt, and the vault is sealed.
What's Typically Inside a Mausoleum?
As you have learned from previous sections of this article, there are different types of mausoleums.
Some, like garden mausoleums (or wall mausoleums), are not meant to be entered by the living. Instead, they're structures created to hold the bodily or cremated remains of the dead.
However, some cemeteries have public, indoor mausoleums. Those entering these facilities will see the doors to crypts and columbarium niches, behind which the remains of the dead are entombed. These facilities may also have benches, chairs, and small tables. Some may have altars or places for worship. There may also be sculptures, stained glass windows, and plants for decoration.
Individuals and families sometimes build a private mausoleum to hold an individual's, couple's, or family's remains. These mausoleums can be custom-built. Thus, the family can design the structure's interior to best suit their preferences and needs.
Regardless of the type of mausoleum, visitors will typically see plaques or monuments displaying the names of those entombed within the structure. Those plaques typically include birth and death dates, other brief biological information, and an epitaph or quote. You may also see flowers or small gifts that mourners left behind.
Common Mausoleum Rules
Just as cemeteries have rules on flower placement and visiting hours, so do mausoleums. Make sure you’re aware of these rules before you entomb your loved one. Just as you don’t own the land on top of a burial plot, you don’t own the crypt either.
Even if you go to the expense of building a family mausoleum, you’ll need to follow the rules if it’s built within the boundaries of a cemetery.
Although some mausoleums are outdoor structures, they may post specific visiting hours. Some mausoleums are only open during daylight hours, and others have set hours no matter the time of year.
There may also be regulations regarding flower placement and other tributes that are placed in front of your loved one’s crypt.
Famous Mausoleums From Around the World
The way cultures and people throughout history have handled their dead is interesting. In fact, you may have visited interesting cemeteries and burial sites throughout the world. Perhaps you have seen some of these famous mausoleums on your journeys. If not, here are some to consider as you plan your next vacation.
1. Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal was commissioned in 1632 by an Indian emperor to house the tomb of his favorite wife. It later held the tomb of the emperor himself. The mausoleum is the centerpiece of a 42-acre complex surrounded by gardens and a wall.
2. Great Pyramids of Giza
The Great Pyramids of Giza were named one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It holds the tomb of the Pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty: Khufu. It was built in the 26th century BC.
3. The Panthéon
The name and design of The Panthéon make one assume this structure is located in Greece. However, The Pantheon can be found while walking through the streets of Paris. The construction of the building began in 1757, and its initial purpose was to replace an older church. Now it's a mausoleum and houses many famous graves, including Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Marie Curie, and many others.
4. Mausoleum of Hadrian
Initially, the structure, located in Italy, served as a mausoleum of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. However, Pope Gregory the Great, while praying for an end to the plague, had a vision of the archangel Michael placing his sword into its sheath above the building. The Pope interpreted this as a sign from God telling him the plague would end. As a result, a marble statue of the archangel was erected on top of the structure, and it is now called Castel Sant'Angelo.
5. Mausoleum of Mohammed V
King Hassan II commissioned the construction of the Mausoleum of Mohammed V to serve as the final resting place for his father in 1962. This mausoleum/mosque is located in Morocco and is one of the few Muslim holy sites open to the public.
6. Zhao Mausoleum
The Zhao Mausoleum was built between 1643 and 1651, and the tomb and the surrounding park cover a 50-acre area. It is located in the Shaanxi province in China and is the tomb of the second emperor of the Tang Dynasty. The Zhao Mausoleum is known as the largest royal mausoleum in the world.
Frequently Asked Questions: Mausoleum Burials
If you are new to the idea of mausoleum entombment, you may have a few questions about how it works.
Can you put ashes in a mausoleum?
Yes, you can put cremated remains (or ashes) in a mausoleum. This can be handled in many ways.
Most public mausoleums have niches, which are recessed compartments that are used for placing urns containing cremation ashes. Some of those niches are covered by a small door, which can be solid or glass. The door may include a small plaque with the name, birth and death dates, and epitaph for the deceased.
If you purchase or commission a private mausoleum, you can design the space to hold cremated remains. You may wish the remains to be kept in a stand-alone urn or within a niche. However, you could also hold the remains inside a bench or other decorative structure.
What happens to a body when it's buried inside a mausoleum?
A body entombed in a mausoleum eventually decomposes, but the decomposition process is much slower than when a body is buried. The decomposition process also takes longer if the body is embalmed before being entombed or buried.
As you can imagine, some unpleasantness is involved when a body decomposes. That unpleasantness is typically hidden when the body is buried. However, it may be more challenging to hide when entombed in a mausoleum.
It's worth noting that housing a corpse in a mausoleum that is well constructed and maintained may reduce the likelihood that you will experience some of that unpleasantness when visiting your loved one.
What's the difference between a mausoleum and a crypt?
A mausoleum refers to a decorative structure designed to hold the bodily or cremated remains of the deceased. The mausoleum's design can also provide a sheltered area for mourners to visit to reflect, pray, or meditate.
Generally, a crypt typically refers to the vault that houses the casket of the departed. They are often underground (or partially underground).
A mausoleum can house many crypts (or burial places). However, some mausoleums are designed only to hold one body.
Is a mausoleum burial cheaper than a traditional grave burial?
This question is difficult to answer. In fact, the best answer to this question is "it depends."
Mausoleum entombment and cemetery plot costs vary greatly depending on the location. Therefore, the prices might be comparable to the area's real estate values. However, generally speaking, mausoleum entombment is typically more expensive than burial.
Is a Mausoleum Burial Right for You?
Perhaps the idea of eventually being entombed in a mausoleum appeals to you because you don’t like the thought of being buried. Maybe you are choosing entombment because you feel it is the more eco-friendly option. It could be that you are forced to select entombment based on where you live.
No matter your reasons, make sure you visit the mausoleum before purchasing a crypt, whether it is for you or your loved one. Make sure there is no sign of leakage or strong smells. Make sure you understand the additional fees that will need to be paid at the time of death. Finally, look for facilities that are well-maintained and attractive. All of these details will make laying you to rest in the mausoleum an easier and more comforting process for your friends and family.