What Is a Mausoleum? Significance and Purpose

Published September 24, 2020
row of mausoleums

If you have seen or heard of one, you may have wondered what is a mausoleum? Mausoleums are free-standing, outdoor buildings or monuments that house one or more tombs above ground or just beneath the structure. There are various reasons why an individual or family would choose to be buried within a mausoleum.

What Is a Mausoleum?

A mausoleum is an independent structure that will vary in size that houses burial chambers where caskets and/or urns may be placed. Mausoleums may be built on private properties, or are otherwise located in cemeteries. The different types of mausoleums include:

  • Public mausoleums: mausoleums that can hold thousands of deceased individuals that may be open to the public for visitation
  • Columbarium: a mausoleum built to house urns
  • Vestibule: a small mausoleum that looks like a house with a door for entry
  • Garden mausoleums: a mausoleum built within a garden that can house urns and caskets
  • Family mausoleums: private mausoleums that house individuals from a family

Mausoleum Crypt

A crypt is an area, or chamber, created to hold the casket or urn within the mausoleum. Crypts are typically made of stone or concrete. When the casket is placed within the crypt, it is known as entombment.

Cemetary Mausoleum

A cemetery mausoleum is an above-ground structure placed on a cemetery site. There may be both public and private mausoleums on a cemetery site.

Family entering mausoleum for funeral service

How Do Mausoleums Look Inside?

Mausoleums will vary in size, but they may look like:

  • A large building with crypts within the walls that may hold up to thousands of deceased individuals
  • A private mausoleum with crypts within the walls that only hold members of a family
  • A large or small building with crypts both within the walls and placed in above-ground tombs

Mausoleums may have one or multiple entry points depending on the size. Typically, the only light source is natural, although some large mausoleums may have some internal lighting. Mausoleums are typically made mostly of concrete.

What Is the Difference Between a Tomb and a Mausoleum?

The tomb is where a deceased individual is buried, and a mausoleum is a free-standing monument with one or more burial chambers housed within it. A mausoleum may be considered a large tomb, and/or a tomb may also be placed in a mausoleum.

row of mausoleums

Mausoleum Burial

An individual or family may choose a mausoleum burial:

  • To be buried with their family within the same building
  • To be buried above ground
  • To have a more private visitation experience when paying respects to loved ones
  • May want sheltered access when visiting a loved one, especially if weather tends to be cold, rainy, or snowy
  • May want to hold the funeral quickly after a loved one passes away- mausoleums make this possible when the ground is too frozen for burial

How Is Someone Buried in a Mausoleum?

Burial in a mausoleum may take place after a funeral, memorial, or celebration of life service, but the specifics will depend on the unique wishes of the deceased individual's loved ones. When ready:

  • The casket may be carried through the mausoleum entry point and placed in the designated crypt
  • The mausoleum's roof may be lifted by a crane, and the casket lowered down into the mausoleum

How Are Caskets Placed in a Mausoleum?

Caskets or urns are placed within the walls of the mausoleum in designated spaces called crypts. Some caskets may also be placed in above ground tombs or just below ground tombs on the bottom of the mausoleum.

What Happens to a Body Buried in a Mausoleum?

Bodies buried in a mausoleum will eventually decompose, even if the deceased individual was embalmed. Factors that impact the amount of time it takes for a body to decompose include:

  • Moisture and oxygen levels
  • Material of casket
  • The outside temperature

Do Mausoleums Stink?

Mausoleums may have an odor if there isn't appropriate ventilation moving through them. Newer mausoleums may be sealed completely or have the tombs sealed to prevent odors and leakage from human remains.

What Is the Point of a Mausoleum?

Mausoleums may vary in size, appearance, and cost depending on several factors. Choosing a mausoleum burial may be a personal or familial preference, or be more of a necessity in places that have weather that makes burial difficult or impossible.

What Is a Mausoleum? Significance and Purpose