If you ever thought that bones were simply part of human remains, or left studied by medical practitioners, the Europeans decided they were more than just that, and started using them to decorate their churches. The following are six churches that celebrate humanity in a different sense.
Capuchin Crypt in Rome
Near the Spanish Steps, there is a crypt just under the church of Santa Maria della Immacolata Concezione dei Cappuccini, and it is said to be the most popular among Europeans. There are six chapels inside; each of them decorated with a distinct style, making use of around 4, 000 monks’ bones. These are monks who passed away between the 16th and 19th centuries. Certain bones are utilized for creating complex patterns on the ceiling and walls. There is one chapel that made use of the whole skeleton; he is in a reclined position, donning his Capuchin robes, completely preserving who he was. At the last chapel, there is a sign hanging which serves as some sort of warning to people, given by monks, stating that who we are now was also who they were before, and that who they are now, pertaining to the bones, we also shall be, someday.
Hallstatt Beinhaus in Austria
Hallstatt Beinhaus means Bone House, and this particular one in Austria was influenced by the style of art of Edelweiss, as compared to the bone church in Rome, which was Baroque, in terms of style. One distinct pattern that the traveler will see in Austria’s bone house is the alpine flower design that is stamped on to the skulls. The explanation behind this bone house is that in Austria, one must rent graves, and the period one is allowed to rent is just ten years. After that, they will exhume the bones, and move them to a bone house. In the Hallstatt Beinhaus, the last skull that was placed there was during 1995 – said to be from a woman who passed away in 1983. Yet many people still to have their skulls placed there and decorated with the alpine flower or more known as the style that is “Gothic Heidi.”
Santa Maria Ossuary in Wamba, Spain
Just off the road in Valdavoid, the Santa Maria Church in Wamba has an ossuary that seemed to almost hoard the skeletal remains of people, as the bones are stacked high inside. There is no attempt to decorate the ossuary, or to design the walls; the bones are just piled and crammed into a small space inside. What you get is an overwhelming collection of different bones. When researches took to studying these skeletal remains, they were able to learn much about Spain’s medieval past, as the bones in this collection come from that period. Yet because the bones are simply stacked together indiscriminately, the researchers have yet to complete a whole skeleton among the piles.
Sedlec Ossuary in Czech Republic
A church in Czech Republic has become famous because of the bones decorating almost every part of it. Sedlec, just off Kutna Hora, was once a town famous for its silver. Today, the Gothic All Saints Church has become a tourist spot for those who prefer something strange. The story began in 1278, when Sedlec’s Abbott just came back from Jerusalem, after a diplomatic mission. He brought home from the Holy Land topsoil, and then poured a bag of this on the cemetery. Naturally, after that all the noble people in Europe wanted to be buried inside, and by 1318, an astounding 30,000 bodies were already interned inside. During 1400, they decided to build a church where they could place inside the bones of the graves which were abolished. At first, transferring the bones was a simple task that was given to a Cistercian monk who was already half blind. Yet in 1870, a wood carver took upon himself to gather the bones and start decorating the church with them. He created a chandelier that was made using every single piece of bone from a human being, and a coat of arms of the noble Schwarzenberg family. Not surprisingly, this is made up of the bones of all the family members.
Capela dos Ossos in in Evora, Portugal
Saint Francis Church in Evora is decorated with every bone in the human body; its walls perfectly lined with them. It’s ghoulish, to say the least, but there is a message given to the traveler at the entrance of the church. Capela dos Ossos means the Chapel of Bones, and it is rightly named as such, as it holds a massive collection of skeletal remains of more than 5,000 faithful followers. It was largely built in the 16th century to inform and remind people of the fleetingness of their existence. A poem addresses the traveler, asking why he is in a hurry, telling him to pause, as there is no concern larger than that of living. It remains as one of the most famous monument in Evora, Portugal, and fittingly so, with that kind of message. Though people are reminded of their transience, the bones inside contrasts this, as they are kept and remembered forever.
Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo, Italy
Perhaps one of the most famous sacred destinations, the Capuchin Catacombs is decorated with corpses that are fully-dressed. Whereas in Rome, the Capuchin monks simply decorated their church with bones, the monks in Italy were more radical. Trying to preserve the state as best as possible, they developed a unique system of mummification so that the corpses that they will put on display will retain their hair and skin. It doesn’t just stop there. The monks have a classification when it comes to arranging the corpses on their walls; they were arranged by profession, age and sex. Some corpses were displayed close to each other, to give the illusion that they are talking to one another. And even the monks who are currently working in the church firmly believe in the “talkers,” monks who have become messengers that impart the wisdom of the afterlife.
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