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Travel Guide: Europe’s Bone Churches

Ossuary at Kutna Hora

Europe’s Most Extraordinary Bone Churches, All 10 Of Them!

They are popularly known as “bone churches” or “bone houses” when in fact they are ossuaries. Incidentally, an Ossuary is a container or a room in which the bones of deceased are stored. Medieval Europeans had no qualms about placing the bones of the dead inside a chapel for all to see. In fact, it was such a standard practice that these bone churches dot the European countryside in a macabre dance between the living and the history of the dead that went before us. Almost 20 years ago, I saw a special on television about the bone church at Kutna Hora. Notably, I finally had the opportunity to travel there two years ago.  It was precisely that moment when I realized I need to know more about Europe’s Bone Church. So, let us take a short journey together and view 10 of Europe’s most extraordinary bone churches.

1. The Bone Church at Kutna Hora, Czech Republic

Kutna Hora Bone Church
The Bone Church

The Sedlac Ossuary is located approximately 70km outside of Prague in a suburb of Kutna Hora in the Czech Republic. This fantastic world heritage site contains the bones of almost 70,000 people. Strangely enough, most of the skeletons have been dismantled and displayed in oddly artistic forms throughout the tiny Roman Catholic chapel. The impressive chandelier hanging from the nave of the chapel contains at least 1 of every bone in the human body. Not to mention the unusual skull garland that drapes the ceiling. Furthermore, it is a humbling experience to see how little space the skeletons of these people occupy in this tiny chapel.

2. Capela Dos Ossos Evora, Portugal

Evora, Portugal
Inside the chapel

The Chapel of Bones in Portugal is nothing short of terrifying. A Franciscan monk displayed these bones as a memento mori. Moreover his intention was to inspire his brothers to contemplate how fleeting life is. However, this is a concept not confined to the Franciscans. That is to say, religions around the world attempt to teach that life is as delicate as the petal of a rose. Though, not all churches do so by hanging the bones of the dead on display.

3. Capuchin Crypt Rome, Italy

Capuchin Crypt Rome Italy
Capuchin Monks

Somehow these Capuchin monks are one of the most morbid displays we see in the bone churches. There is something to be said for these three cloaked and hooded men standing eternal guard inside the chapel. It is as if they are forever in lost in prayer for those who have gone before us, and those of us still trapped in this mortal coil.

4. Medieval Ossuary Wamba, Spain

Ossuary Wamba,Spain
Ossuary Wamba,Spain

Deep under the Santa Maria church in Wamba Spain rest the 3000 skulls of Spanish Monks and villagers. Nestled in the Spanish hills, among the rocky outcrops and olive trees this 12th-century church sits in silence. Finally, in 1931 the church became a historical site and the bones preserved for all of future history.

5. Bone House Hallstatt, Austria

Skulls Hallstaat Austria
Skulls in Hallstatt

The Charnel House at St. Micheals Chapel is one of the most beautiful collections of skulls in all of Europe. Interestingly, the chapel is home to more than 600 painted heads. Moreover, skull painting began in the 19th century, and primarily in the eastern Alps. One of the things most visitors come to see are the names of the people painted eloquently upon the dried white bones. They will always remain one of the most interesting artifacts in Austria.

6. San Bernardino Ossa  Milan, Italy

Milan, Italy
Fresco and Bones

The Italians have always been lavishly artistic. The frescos painted inside this ossuary are no exception. You know, the amount of detail and dedication that went into creating this fantastic display of life and death is inspiring. Interestingly, when in 1210, the cemetery ran out of room for new graves, the solution was to bring old bones inside. The baroque style in combination with the skull and bones will leave you pondering magnificent beauty and the simplicity of death.

7. Capuchin Catacombs Palermo, Italy

Capuchin Catacombs Palermo Italy
Catacombs Palermo

Some things in life are unexplainable. The corpses in the catacombs in Palermo are just that, unexplainable. Interestingly enough, displayed hanging on the walls and dressed in full clothing are more than 8000 bodies lining these halls. Some of which are bones in jackets, while others are beautiful mummified corpses. History remains upon the faces of these resting souls. In today’s world,  the idea of being buried in this way turns our stomachs. However, in the 16 and 17 hundred, it was an honor to be dressed and displayed within this walls.

8. Catacombs – Paris, France

Bone lined catacombs of Paris
Bone lined catacombs

Paris, France, the city of lights, and the city of love. Not to mention, the city of the dead. Deep beneath the bustling streets of the city remain the bones of more than 6 million people. Cobblestone alleys, lined with the heads and legs of Parisians past. However, if you are looking for a Halloween activity, let me be the one to tell you a walk through these dark, damp halls is enough to scare the life out of anyone.

9. Eggenburg Charnel, Austria

Eggenburg Bone House
Bone House

Take a moment and consider how much space you require, the think how tiny these bone houses are. The Eggenberg Charnel is home to more than 8,500 skeletons. Notably,monks spent time digging up these bones from the surrounding countryside. Located in Eggenburg Austria, there has been an ossuary on this since as early as 1299. Today there is a glass plate on top of the pit. However, it is still possible to view the charnel deep in the bottom of the pit under the chapel.

10. St Leonards Church, Hythe, England

The Crypt, St Leonards Church, Hythe, England
St Leonards Church

This 11th-century church located in Hythe, England is home to the skulls of at least 2000 medieval Brits. Back in the day, it was normal to dig up old graves to make places for new bodies. Though the church still needed to find a way to house the remains. These ossuaries are more common on the European mainland; tho this example is a beautiful piece of rich Britsh history. Generally, in Britan, the bones would have been dispersd making the crypt at St Leonards on of the most unusual collections in all of Britan.

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