Chandeliers made of bones? An architectural arch lined with skulls? These aren’t bloody scenes from House of 1000 Corpses, they're typical parts of your run-of-the-mill ossuary! When graves and catacombs became over-crowded with bones largely due to the plague, churches began sorting and placing the bones in designated bone rooms. During the 16th and 17th centuries, churches around the world began applying an artistic touch to the bones, arranging them in their interiors decoratively as a reminder to its parishioners of the fragility of life. Read on to get a peek into our favorite bone churches - if you dare....
Rome’s Our Lady of the Conception of the Capuchins is decorated with the remains of over 4,000 friars who died between 1500 and 1870. Once visited by the Marquis de Sade, the bones are arranged in Baroque and Rococo style. The skeletons of three friars, resembling Macabre himself, greet visitors to the church.
Inspired by Our Lady of the Conception, the Sedlec Ossuary is a small chapel in a suburb in the Czech Republic. The bone chilling chandeliers (made from every bone in the human body), skull lined arches and pyramids are made from 40,000-70,000 skeletons. A half blind monk stacked the bones into pyramids in 1511, but woodcarver Frantisek Rint was commissioned by the Schwarzenberg family to redesign the bones 1870. Rint also designed the Schwarzenberg coat of arms near the entrance.
Lima’s Monastery of San Francisco, a UNESCO World Heritage site, contains the bones of Lima dwellers. The catacombs, which are underneath the church, are connected by secret passageways which lead from the chapel to the Tribunal of the Inquisition. Skulls and femur bones can be found arranged in large circular geometric patterns deep within the ground.
The small and unassuming San Bernardino alle Ossa in Milan appears to be a modest church from the outside. But a set of heavy double doors leads to the side chapel’s decorative ossuary, which contains walls of stacked bones, arranged in crucifix shapes. In 1679 Giovanni Andrea Biffi was asked to restore the chapel after a fire from almost 400 years before, and arranged the bones decoratively.
Bodies from victims of the Thirty Years’ and Silesian wars adorn the Czermna Chapel in Poland. Built in 1176 by a local priest, the walls are lined with bones, surrounding visitors and stretching into skull and crossbones patterns over the ceiling. The builders of the chapel were honored in the structure as well – their skulls can be found in the center of the church.
Located in the walled medieval city of Evora, Portugal, the Capela dos Ossos is a 16th century Franciscan chapel lined with skulls and bones that stretch over the interior groin vaulting and all over the walls. Unlike the decorative bones of the other chapels, two full corpses hang from chains, left in their entirety – one of a man and one of a child – with “Better is the day of death than the day of birth” written near them on the ceiling.