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Ossuaries: Creepy, Beautiful, Holy

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One chapter of Strange Hunting takes place in an ossuary, which is a place where human bones are stored. This post is about some of Europe's famous ossuaries.

For those that don't know, an ossuary is a place where bones are kept. In many parts of Europe, when graveyards began to fill, they dug up the bodies and transferred the bones to an ossuary so that new people could be buried in the consecrated ground of the church cemeteries. Some ossuaries are in churches or chapels, others are huge underground places which contain the bones of thousands of people, or more. The ossuary under Paris is reported to contain the bones of over 6 million people. 


In The Skull Cathedral of Otranto, Italy, (below) the altar itself is backed by walls made of 800 skulls. They are the skulls of 800 martyrs who were killed by the Ottomans in 1480.

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At the Chapel of Bones in Evora, Portugal, (below) all of the interior walls and pillars are decorated with a mosaic of human bones and skulls. The bones are those of about 5,000 monks. Also, two desiccated skeletons hang from chains in the ceiling. The entrance to this gruesome chapel bears the message: "We, the bones that are here, await yours". The chapel was designed to remind people of the transitory nature of life.

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The Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic is decorated by the bones of approximately 50,000 people. They are arranged as decorations from pillars to mosaics, and even make up a very famous, creepy chandelier of bones and skulls.

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At the Santa Marie della Concezione dei Cappuccini in Rome, the walls are decorated with human skulls arranged in lines and arches and the skeleton of several monks are arranged about the room wearing traditional robes.

Centuries ago, at the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, Italy, it was discovered that the conditions in the catacombs caused corpses to mummify. Over the years, over 8,000 people have been interred there, and corpses 350 years old sit slumped along the walls or lie on long shelves. The last person to be interred there was a two year old girl in 1920 who is so well preserved that she is known as "Sleeping Beauty".

Other famous ossuaries include the Beinhaus in Hallstadt, Austria, San Bernardino alle Ossa in Milan, and the Skull Chapel in Czermna, Poland (below).

Skull-Chapel-Czermna-Poland-01 thumb

Creepy? Morbid? Beautiful? Holy? I guess these things are in the eye of the beholder.

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