What Entombment Is and How It Works

Published August 26, 2020
Family Mausoleum

Entombment is when a body or remains are put into a specific place above ground rather than buried in the ground. Entombment is one of the options during funeral planning.

What Is the Entombment Process?

When planning a funeral, whether your own or a loved one's, you may have the option to select entombment. Not all cemeteries or funeral planning services offer entombment, so if it is something you desire, you'll need to find a cemetery and service that offers this option. If you have a family mausoleum and plan to be entombed in it, you'll need to be sure your loved ones and your funeral planning service knows your desires and where it is located. Basic steps for the entombment process:

  1. Select entombment when planning the funeral. If the location is out of the area, also arrange for remains to be transported to the other location.
  2. Choose whether to have the deceased person's body cremated and entombed or the deceased person's body placed in a casket and entombed.
  3. Pick out the plaque or other marker so friends and relatives know where the remains are located.
  4. Determine services; you can have a traditional funeral, memorial, or celebration of life before or after entombment.
  5. Let immediate family members know when and where the entombment will take place so they can attend.

Entombment might be more costly than burial, depending on your location and entire service package. Note that special caskets with pressure valves need to be used for entombed bodies to ensure proper ventilation and release of gases as the deceased's body decomposes.

Entombment in a Mausoleum

A deceased person's body in the casket is entombed in a mausoleum. The mausoleum is a building for holding the remains of deceased individuals. It is built above ground and people can enter the space to pay their respects to the deceased. A mausoleum could be for a family or simply a larger public space for many people who choose this option. People may also use the term crypt, which more specifically refers to the space with the deceased's bodies within the mausoleum.

Empty mausoleum in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond

Entombment in a Columbarium

Cremated remains can also be entombed. They are located in a building or part of a building and are called columbariums. Each space for the ashes is known as a coumbarium niche. Columbariums may be part of larger mausoleums or churches, or they might be their own free-standing building or wall-like structure dedicated to this purpose. Ashes may be in urns place on open-air shelves (usually inside a larger building) or they may be behind plaques and within the wall.

Columbarium at a cemetery, public storage of cinerary urns

What Is the Difference Between Burial and Entombment?

The main difference between burial and entombment is location. A burial places the deceased person below ground, while entombment keeps their body (or ashes) above ground.

Entombment vs. Interment

Interment usually refers to the burial of a body, but it can also mean entombment or inurnment. It's referring to what happens to the deceased's remains.

Why Choose Entombment?

Various factors go into choosing entombment over burial or spreading ashes.

  • Cost - Building a private mausoleum may be extremely cost prohibitive. Public options are more affordable, but you should still compare costs with traditional burial spaces and cremation.
  • Location - Having cremated remains placed in a columbarium offers loved ones a place to visit. Some people may prefer to visit a climate-controlled building over an open-air cemetery. Others might find the concept of entombment too gothic.
  • Weather and time - Buried bodies may be affected by flooding or, in the future, no maintenance. However, mausoleums can burn down or be flooded as well. Both headstones and mausoleums are subject to vandalism and general wear-and-tear.
  • Tradition - If family traditionally is buried or entombed, you may not want to change things.

Paying Your Respects at an Entombment

When someone is entombed, paying your respect and following etiquette is similar to a traditional burial and cemetary visit. There are a few things to note, however:

  • The actual entombment may only be witnessed by immediate family due to space concerns.
  • Public mausoleums and columbariums that are open-air do not generally close, but if they are in a modern, climate-controlled building, visiting hours may be enforced.
  • Rules for leaving flowers and gifts will vary at each location; there is usually not much room for items so check before bringing something.
  • Benches or seating may or may not be provided.
  • A family-owned mausoleum or columbarium may be locked at all times; to enter, you may need to contact the family for permission.

Entombment for Your Loved Ones

The choice to have someone (or yourself) entombed rather than buried is personal. Look at the various burial, cremation, and entombment options and make the decision that suits your family best.

What Entombment Is and How It Works