A columbarium (plural columbaria or columbariums) is a place for the respectful and usually public storage of cinerary urns (i.e. urns holding a deceased’s cremated remains). The term comes from the Latin columba (dove) and originally referred to compartmentalized housing for doves and pigeons; see dovecote.
Today's columbaria can be either free standing units, or part of a mausoleum or another building. Some manufacturers do produce columbaria that are built entirely off-site and brought to the cemetery by a large truck.
In some cases, columbaria are built into church structures. One example is the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (Los Angeles, California), which houses a number of columbarium niches in the mausoleum built into the lower levels of the Cathedral. The construction of columbaria within churches is particularly widespread in the Czechoslovak Hussite Church: an example can be seen at the Church of St Nicolas in Old Town Square (Prague).
In the Roman Catholic Church, although traditional burial is still preferred, cremation is officially permitted and the Church has become more and more open to the practice. However, cremated remains must be buried or entombed. As a result, columbaria can often be found within Catholic cemeteries. Catholic officials do tend to discourage the practice of building columbaria within church structures, due to concern over what would happen to the remains if the building were remodeled, replaced, or sold.
Columbaria are often closely similar in form to traditional Buddhist temples which from ancient times have housed cremated ashes. In Buddhism, ashes of the deceased may be placed in a columbarium (in Japanese Buddhism, a nokotsudo), which can be attached to or part of a Buddhist temple or cemetery. This practice allows for the family of the deceased to visit the temple for the conduct of traditional memorials and ancestor rites.