Friday, August 26, 2011

Mausoleums, Crypts, and Tombs (Oh My!)

Mausoleums, crypt and tombs.   So what is the difference between the three? A mausoleum is an independent aboveground structure built to hold the remains of a person or persons. 

A crypt is a burial spot, built to hold a casket in a concrete or stone chamber.

And a tomb is a container which holds the deceased’s remains.
Each one offers us a different manner in which to bury and memorialize our dead.  Today we’ll take a look at all three options.

Mausoleum of Halicarnassus
Mausoleums came about when Queen Artemisia II of Caria, in Asia Minor, had a special structure built to house the remains of her husband and brother, King Mausolus, when he died in 353 B.C.  This is where the word derived.  The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, near Bodrun, Turkey, is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Pyramid Type Mausoleum
Mausoleums were originally built to be impressive  and elaborate structures, housing the remains of the important - nobility and leaders. After the 10th century, Christians didn’t support the practice of burying the dead in such complicated structures, so mausoleums fell out of favor.  The Europeans constructed somewhat smaller mausoleums, with an interior chapel and area for visitors, making them more accessible to the gentry.  Mausoleums can be located on private grounds, in churchyards or in public cemeteries in Europe.  

Family Mausoleum
In the United States, family mausoleums became popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. New Orleans is known for their above ground burials and mausoleums.  Over 90% of all burials in that city are aboveground due to their location and the cemeteries are known as “Cities of the Dead.”

Inside a 6 Tier Mausoleum
Broken Mausoleum Window
Types of mausoleums include the vestibule, the sarcophagus, and those large, public mausoleums that are cemetery owned.  A vestibule mausoleum is a small structure, resembling a house or small ornate building with a door in the middle.  Upon entering, crypts may be stacked up to three high on each side.  Flowers and mementos may be placed inside the mausoleum.  A small window, usually crafted from stained glass, is usually located opposite the door on the back wall.

Interior View
A sarcophagus mausoleum is partially above ground but has no windows or doors.  The roof is lifted off and the casket is placed inside before it is sealed.  A sarcophagus can be a single width, double width, or have room for coffins to be stacked up to eight high. The main part of the sarcophagus is above ground, but only one burial is visible above ground.  The rest are in a large concrete structure below ground.

Public Mausoleum
A cemetery owned mausoleum may have an interior area available for visiting or it may consist of crypts stacked together with only outdoor access.  Seating, lighting and a place for flowers is usually provided.

Classical Style
Modern Style
Mausoleum architecture varies from the very ornate to the simple structure.  Many times you’ll find mausoleums built in the  Classical style, Gothic, Egyptian or Modern styles.

Taj Mahal
Lincoln's Tomb
Famous mausoleums include the Taj Mahal in India, the mausoleum for the Duchess of Kent in England, Lincoln’s Tomb in Springfield, Illinois, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, D.C.

Floor Crypt
Wall Crypts
A crypt is built to hold a casket in a concrete or stone chamber.  Many times it is placed beneath the floor, or in the wall, of a church, chapel or cathedral.  Crypts were originally located beneath churches as early as 600 A.D.  One of the most famous crypts is Old St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.    The concrete or stone chambers in a mausoleum, where the caskets are placed and sealed, are called wall crypts

Lawn Crypt
A lawn crypt, also known as an underground mausoleum, consists of pre-installed vaults that allow for single or double depth (stacked) burial in a cemetery lawn space.  A lawn crypt may be made up of several double depth vaults laid horizontally to allow for family members to be buried together.

Tomb of the Unknown
Tomb of James Whitcomb Riley
A tomb is basically a container for the deceased’s remains.  It can be any size of enclosed compartment….an urn, a burial vault, a crypt or a mausoleum, and as simple or elaborate as desired. In modern day it is usually a burial vault that is typically lined with stone or brick.  The ceiling is usually vaulted, hence the name.

Glowing Stain Glass Window
Now, with all of this in mind – Would you prefer to be interred in the ground, in a tomb or crypt? Or entombed above ground in a mausoleum?
Sunlit Mausoleum
My preference?  I’d choose entombment in a mausoleum.  There’s just something comforting about knowing I’d still be close to the elements, and the seasons, that holds an appeal for me.

What would your choice be?

~ Joy


  1. I want to be buried at sea... I would prefer marine life to consume my body than mold, decomposition, and insects...

  2. How timely: I was just trying to figure this out the other day. :)

  3. Alright, so tell me this... What's a sepulcher?

    1. Number9, A sepulcher is a cut-out place in a rock used for burial. It's usually found in the Christian or Jewish faiths.

    2. A sepulchre is just a burial place that is either cut into rock or constructed of stone.

  4. This is a great article! It's made me remember a question I have about things that look exactly like the picture you have labeled "Family Mausoleum" but that don't have any family name (or any signage/plaques/plates at all on them). I'm going to do a post on my blog with the pictures of what I'm talking about. I'll come back an post the link here, and maybe you'll be able to clear up my mystery for me!

    1. Thank you White PineLane! I'm intrigued by the family mausoleum without any signage. Please post your link and let's see if anyone knows more about it.

    2. Only 8 years late, but -- that is the Price Family mausoleum in Lexington Cemetery, Lexington KY. There is sort of a "valley" behind the building at the main entrance, and there are 3 or 4 of this hillside mausoleums there.

  5. I have always prefered the idea of cremation, until recently that is, which must sound rather odd coming from someone who enjoys spending so much of their 'life time' in cemeteries. But now I am really quite taken with the whole woodland burial idea and providing nourishment for the natural world around me.

  6. Joy,

    Thank you for this enlightening post. It clarified the differences between the many options regarding burial. With today's uncomfortable trend toward preferring cremation, I am even more adamant about burial whether in ground, above ground, mausoleum or crypt. The cost of such options, however, is something few talk about.

    1. Lydia,
      As you know, I took your suggestion and turned in into the blogs for March 9 and 15, 2012. I've done some research into the cost of a traditional funeral and burial, and the cost of cremation. The difference is astounding indeed!

  7. WOW! I never had any clue about all these details! Fascinating! I"ve always been fascinated with cemeteries and I love going to them. I probably go at least once per week because I find them beautiful.

  8. Thanks to all of you for your comments!!

  9. Thank you for this very informative post!!! It answered so many questions for me, and was much more fun than my Wikipedia definition searches.

  10. Do you know what type of locks they use on Mausoleums or crypts? ( especially the older ones.)?

  11. Thanks for the article. Can't make up mind rather to buried in a crypt or a mausoleum. Of course (hopefull) it will be awhile before I have to decided. LOL

  12. Buried in the ground. It's the best I could afford, That or cremation, but don't want cremation unless it was garenteed my loved ones would spread my ashes somewhere, and not just leave me in a jar to display in homes of surviving loved ones.

  13. I have very few remaining family members,none of which are children. Years ago I paid for my own cremation and that my ashes be put out to the sea. Knowing my siblings both live in different states on the west coast, I've chosen to never burden them with my passing. I'd much prefer they have memories of the sweet times we shared together. My ten acres, home, and contents will be gifted to those that can make good use of them. I much prefer to be remembered as an asset than a burden to those around me.

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