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Ossuary at Roselawn Cemetery Offers a Dignified and Unique Option to Honor the Deceased

Choosing a burial place for loved ones is an important aspect of honoring
their lives. While churches are able to offer a spiritual experience, the physical
experience of honoring the dead is also an important part of the memorial of
their life. The Ossuary at Roselawn Cemetery in Roseville, Minnesota, offers a
way to memorialize the deceased in a unique way. It is created to be a
journey, providing families with the important physical experience of a final
parting with their loved ones.
The journey to the ossuary at Roselawn begins down a spiraling walkway. In
the center sits a bronze ball, covered with imprinted handprints, atop a 26-
inch bronze cylinder. As you step up to the ball, you are encouraged to seek a
hand that matches your own. The bronze shines, showing your reflection. You
slowly turn the ball upward revealing a small, circular opening.
While it may be a day of mourning following the death of a loved one, their
journey is brought to a dignified end as their cremated remains enter the
opening and fall into the ossuary below. As the ashes fall, they strike a
cymbal, offering a final sound as they are placed into their final place of
Ossuary literally means a “place for bones.” When Roselawn Cemetery chose
to create the ossuary, the staff hoped to create a final and affordable resting
place for those who chose cremation.
“I wanted to have all the bases covered,” says Larry Hudella, superintendent
at Roselawn. “Cremation is a trend.” According to the Cremation Society of
Minnesota, in some parts of the state, cremation is now being utilized as a
means of disposition for more than a third of all deaths.
In addition to the ossuary, the cemetery has a columbarium wall and small
plots in the ground where cremated remains can be buried. The ossuary
offers the most affordable option for those who choose cremation. The cost
for interment at the Ossuary at Roselawn Cemetery is $495.00, offering
families one of the most affordable forms of interment available.
Within the ossuary is room for the cremated remains of 3,000 people and the
granite placards that line the pathway have room for the names of 2,500
people. The entire sculpture is a 56-foot circular garden with a spiraling
pathway lined by blocks of granite, 96 in total, that hold the names of the
deceased. In the center lies the bronze ball that, when unlocked, provides an
opening to the ossuary.
The sculpture is the vision of Nick Legeros, who was commissioned to create
the Ossuary at Roselawn. The journey to the center sculpture is an important
part of Legeros’ vision. He refers to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice as
inspiration for his work of art. In the myth, Eurydice dies shortly after her
marriage to Orpheus and he mourns her in song. Hades is moved by the
music and allows Orpheus to lead Eurydice from the underworld on the
condition that he does not look back as they ascend. In his anxiety, Orpheus
turns to see if Eurydice is there and loses her forever.
Says Legeros, “Like Orpheus, we take a journey— the spiraling walking to the
final resting place of many people. We touch the ball searching for a hand
that fits ours and we see ourselves reflected in the surface of the ball. At that
moment we understand that the memory of our loved ones is something
living and that we carry within ourselves.”
In thinking through the best way to design the Ossuary at Roselawn, Legeros
came to the central question, “Why do we go to cemeteries in the first place?”
“In this country, [mourning the dead] is something we don’t do very well. We
are kind of awkward about it. We go there, we cry, etc,” Legeros says. “There
is not enough ritual involved in the burial or interment aspect.”
While Legeros says the church provides a spiritual experience during death,
he adds, “I like to provide a physical experience, as well.”
He says the ossuary also offers a marker for those left behind. “[Families]
really need that place of solemnity, place of dignity to really formalize and
give a concrete place for our departed. That’s what this project was all
The placement of final remains in the Roselawn Ossuary is a “dignified and
profound” option, Legeros says. “You’re part of a work of art in a wall. [It is]
more of an experience.”