Urns today are almost synonymous with cremation. Even though urns have had a myriad of different practical uses over the years (and still do today), in American culture the vast majority of references to urns involve cremation.
But, before a discussion of cremation urns proceeds, it is interesting to think of all the other uses mankind has for memorial urns. In pottery terms, urns are simply vases, and, like vases, they have been put to any number of uses besides the storing of cremation. Urns have been used over the years to store water, flowers, and even, in the 16th century, dinner knives. One of the most famous urns in the world today, in fact, has nothing to do with cremation: an urn is the coveted prize in a legendary biannual cricket competition between England and Australia. The competition is known as The Ashes, and the famous prize is an urn filled with the ashes of a cricket stick that was burned hundreds of years ago, before the competition series began.
Given all of these non-cremation-related uses of it should not be surprising if, in most of the world – where cremation ashes are not necessarily stored in urns – urns are not associated with cremation as readily as they are in the United States. A retailer who runs an “urn store” in, say, New Delhi, India, might in fact be surprised to hear from customers planning a cremation. It is likely that he or she might never have even considered such a use for the store’s products.
That said, the types of urns intended specially for cremation in the United States – and other Western cultures – vary almost as much as do the other uses for urns.
Urns intended for cremation ashes have historically followed classic shapes and designs. The famous “Grecian Urn” is still a model in common use today. (But it is interesting to note that the famous poem by John Keats “Ode to a Grecian Urn” does not specifically mention cremation. In fact, the poem can conceivably be discussing any number of other types of urns.) But memorial urns for cremation are also available in many, many other styles today.
Cremation urn selection is as varied as the individuals for whom the urns are to be memorialized. Urns intended for cremation are made of almost every conceivable material, style and design imaginable. Urns can be made of wood, bronze, metal, marble, glass, or ceramic. Different materials, of course, are required for different memorial purposes. If they are to be buried, urns are usually made of bronze or some other metal. Burial urns can also be made of a hard stone, such as granite or cultured marble. If they are to be displayed beautifully in a home or at a funeral, urns are often made of glass, wood, or ceramic. And if they are to be displayed outdoors – or as part of a columbarium – urns can be made of marble. The previous discussion about the different uses of urns may leave the impression that urns used for cremation is a relatively new development, but that would be a false impression.
Urns have been a part of cremation – in some societies – dating back to at least the Ancient Greeks who stored cremation ashes in a special type of urn called a lekythos. In the days of the Roman Empire, urns with cremation ashes were often displayed together in a collective tomb called a columbarium. This practice continues today at many cemeteries across the world.
Urns, of course, are often still displayed in columbaria, but it is common to see urns with cremation ashes in private residences. Cremation urns are also commonly buried in standard graves – often atop the grave of a loved-one. And, special biodegradable urns are often used today to provide an environmentally friendly disposal of cremation ashes. Whatever their use, urns remain timelessly appropriate for memorializing a loved-one because they can be personalized. The décor of cremation urns can speak volumes about the people the urns memorialize, assuring that memories stay alive for generations to come.
So, while cremation and memorial urns may only be synonymous with cremation in parts of the world, there is definitely a wide variety of cremation urns available to make the urns synonymous with any personality and spirit of any man or woman. And that makes cremation urns perfect for memorializing your loved one.