An Age-Old tradition of Christian Burial
Visiting the ancient cathedrals, parish churches, and abbeys in the British Isles and in Europe, you will find tombs and memorials both outside and inside the sanctuary. Catholics since early medieval times, and Anglicans since the 16th century, have dealt with all the major life events right there at their church, surrounded by their living Christian community and also by the visual symbols and reminders of the departed saints. Throughout Christian history, babies have been baptized at church, older children confirmed at church, young adults married at church, and their babies baptized at church. The sick and dying have been visited and anointed by the priest of the church; the funerals of parishioners have been held at church, and the actual burials, historically, have been on the church property, both inside and outside the sanctuary.
Intimacy in Church Columbarium’s
The tradition of church burial continues in our day in parishes that provide either church cemeteries or columbarium niches for the interment of ashes. A deep and beautiful intimacy is created in the sacred space for the departed with in the parish setting. Family members and friends can come to a familiar place to grieve, pray, and express gratitude for the life of the loved ones. A columbarium in the church complex also gives a sense to the entire living community that we are, as scripture notes, “Surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses,” because the niches remind us of the living souls of those who have passed from this life and have now joined “the angles and archangels and all the company of heaven.”
Church Columbarium’s in our Diocese
St. Thomas is just one of the Episcopal churches in the Diocese of Southeast Florida with a columbarium. St. Christopher’s on Key Biscayne, St. Gregory’s in Boca Raton, Bethesda-by-the Sea in Palm Beach, Trinity Cathedral, and St. Stephen’s in Coconut Grove all offer columbariums as part of their provision for the faith community.
The Resurrection Chapel
Before the old Rantz Hall was demolished, a beautiful new columbarium area was created along the walls in the Resurrection Chapel in the west end of the sanctuary. In that chapel, a small altar stands in front of an Italian-carved wooden statue of the Risen Christ. On both sides of the altar are marble panels with votive candles mounted into the marble. When the sun sets in the West, the colors and images in the stained glass are reflected on the marble. The new niches in the Resurrection Chapel plus the niches in the new Garden Columbarium now provide a total of 800 niches.
New Garden Columbarium
Built along the north side of Rantz Hall, facing Kendall Drive, enclosed by a gated fence hidden by the garden providing a beautiful space of peace and seclusion. A wide covered walkway next to the niches and the adjacent landscaping. Soft lighting makes it accessible and serene in the early evening. Lining the walkway are columns topped with verde lanterns that are equipped with vandal-proof glass. The niches are faced with ‘mountain green’ granite and spaced with Venetian glass mosaic borders incorporating the Canterbury Cross. The gates at each end have also been designed to implement the Canterbury Cross as the motif in the metalwork. St. Thomas of Canterbury and St. Thomas the Apostle both figure historically into the names of the St. Thomas Parish. Memorial benches are placed in the garden as a place to sit, rest, ponder, and pray in this gracious and holy garden area.
Niches can be purchased by members of the St. Thomas Parish, both Church and School, long before they are needed, as part of long-term planning by families and individuals. For an adult of any age, having a niche purchased is one less thing to attend to someday. The two columbarium areas, the Resurrection Chapel in the west end of the Sanctuary and the Garden Columbarium are both beautiful, sacred places and part of a centuries-old tradition around Christian burial. They are spaces of holy ground that remind us of the unbroken communion between the living and the departed, the promise of the resurrection and of eternal life.