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Chapel and Churches - Collection of Bodies and Bones (Remains Series 1)

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There are a number of place in the world, most of them religious that display the dead in one way or another for the edification, culture or as a reminder of the impermanence of life and that death is inevitable



There are a number of place in the world, most of them religious that display the dead in one way or another for the edification, culture or as a reminder of the impermanence of life and that death is inevitable.


Some of these sites result from a phenomenon that has naturally (or supernaturally?) mummified the dead, while others consist of artful arrangements of bones and skulls done by a creative monk in his spare time. In addition to such collections of human remains, many saints whose bodies have been miraculously preserved are on display in churches.

Whatever the reason for checking out the dead on display, the places below is widely recognized as among the best in the world.


Sedlec Ossuary - Kutna Hora, Czech Republic

The ossuary of the "Bone Church," as it is popularly known, contains approximately 40,000 human skeletons which have been artistically arranged to form decorations and furnishings for a Cisterician monastery chapel.


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The Sedlec Ossuary (kostnice Sedlec) a small Christian chapel, is located beneath the Church of All Saints (H?bitovní kostel Všech Svatých) in Sedlec, a suburb of Kutná Hora in the Czech Republic.

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The ossuary of the "Bone Church," as it is popularly known contains approximately 40,000 human skeletons which have been artistically arranged to form decorations and furnishings for the chapel.

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Henry, the abbot of the Cistercian monastery in Sedlec, was sent to the Holy Land by King Otakar II of Bohemia in 1278. When he returned, he brought with him a small amount of earth from Golgotha, where Christ was crucified, and sprinkled it over the abbey cemetery.


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The presence of earth from the Holy Land in Sedlec soon spread and the cemetery became a highly desirable burial site for the faithful throughout Central Europe. During the Black Death in the mid 14th century and after the Hussite Wars in the early 15th century, thousands of people were buried there and the cemetery had to be greatly enlarged.

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Around 1400 a Gothic church, the Church of All Saints, was built in the center of the cemetery. It had a vaulted upper level and a lower chapel to be used as an ossuary for the mass graves unearthed during construction.

After 1511 the task of exhuming skeletons and stacking their bones in the chapel was, according to legend, given to a half-blind monk of the order.

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Between 1703 and 1710 a new entrance was constructed to support the front wall, which was leaning outward, and the upper chapel was rebuilt. This work, in the Czech Baroque style, was designed by Jan Santini Aichel.

In 1870, František Rint, a woodcarver, was employed by the Schwarzenberg family to put the bone heaps into order. The results of his efforts speak for themselves.


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Four enormous bell-shaped mounds of bones occupy the corners of the chapel. An enormous chandelier of bones hangs from the center of the nave with garlands of skulls draping the vaults.

Other works include piers and monstrance flanking the altar, a large Schwarzenberg coat-of-arms (including a bird skeleton pecking at the eye socket of a human skull), and the signature of Master Rint, also executed in bone, on the wall near the entrance.

Chapel of Bones - Evora, Portugal

This 16th-century chapel is lined with the skulls and skeletons of about 5,000 people from local cemeteries, plus two leathery corpses hanging from the ceiling for unknown reasons. The macabre display was created by a couple of monks who wished to contemplate the transitory nature of life — and communicate that message to others. A painted note over the entrance reads, "Our bones that are here await yours."

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The Igreja Real de São Francisco (Royal Church of St. Francis) in Évora is best known for its chapel that is not for the faint of heart. In the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones), the walls and central pillars are covered with human skulls and other parts of skeletons, held together by cement.


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The Church of St. Francis itself was built in the Gothic style with Manueline influences between 1460 and 1510. Its Capela dos Ossos was created by a few Franciscan monks in the 16th century as a practical solution to a problem - as many as 42 monastic cemeteries were taking up valuable space in Evora, so they moved all the bones to a single consecrated chapel. Seeing an opportunity to contemplate and communicate the inevitability of death, the monks chose to display the bones prominently rather than storing them away.

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The main Church of St. Francis is opulently decorated with golden altars and walls of painted blue tile. The Chapel of Bones is entered next door, through a large arch bearing a painted rhyme reminding visitors of their own mortality: Nós ossos que aqui estamos, pelos vossos esperamos: "Our bones that are here wait for yours!"


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Inside, human bones and skulls completely cover the chapel's walls and pillars - the number of skeletons has been estimated at 5,000. Legend has it the bones come from soldiers of a major battle or plague victims, but in reality they are people from all walks of life who were buried in Evora's medieval cemeteries.


Interestingly, the bones of the monks who assembled the chapel are not on display - they are kept in a small white coffin in the chapel. In addition to all the bones, there are two full corpses hanging high on a wall. Their identities are unknown, but there are plenty of legends: one popular story says they are an adulterous man and his infant son, cursed by his jealous wife.


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At one end of the chapel, an altar with a crucifix reminds visitors of the way to overcome death. The rib-vaulted ceiling of the chapel continues the theme, painted with small scenes accompanied by Latin phrases such as "I leave, but I don't die," "I die in the light," and "The day that I die is better than the day that I was born."

St. Michan's Church - Dublin, Ireland

Because of the dry atmosphere in the underground burial vault, bodies have lain here for centuries without showing signs of decomposition.


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St. Michan's Church in Dublin is best known for its ancient Viking origins, 18th-century organ, and well-preserved corpses on display in the crypt.



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Built on the site of a Danish chapel founded in 1095, St. Michan's Church was for centuries the only parish church on this side of the River Liffey. It was built to serve the Viking population expelled from within the city walls. Rebuilt in 1685 and restored in 1998, St. Michan's now belongs to the Protestant Church of Ireland.

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The interior of St. Michan's is notable for its fine woodwork, a large organ from 1724 on which Handel is said to have played his Messiah (it is one of the oldest still in use in Ireland), a Penitent's Stool, and a chalice dating from 1516. The pulpit and font date from the 18th century.

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But the main highlight for most visitors is the burial vault underneath the church. Because of the dry atmosphere created by its limestone walls, centuries-old bodies interred here remain remarkably intact.


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Guided tours lead visitors into a stone tunnel lined with burial chambers, where some of the dusty corpses can be admired in their open coffins. Among these are a nun, a man missing a hand and both feet, and a Crusader who had to be sawn in half to fit into the coffin. Legend has it that Bram Stoker's Dracula was inspired in part by the author's childhood visits to this macabre vault.

Catacombs and Mummy Museum - Collection of Bodies and Bones (Remains Series 2)





















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Posted on Sep 13, 2010
Posted on Sep 11, 2010

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Ron Siojo

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