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Skull Catacombs Built From Actual Skulls. Really, the material that was used to make these catacombs were real human bodies.
These are entire catacombs and chapels decorated wall to ceiling with skulls and bones. And some mummies. And you can visit them.
- What are Skull Catacombs?
- The Paris Catacombs Skulls
- The Capuchin Skull Catacombs
- Two Exceptional Children
- The Brno Ossuary in the Czech Republic
- Capela Dos Ossos
- Skull Chapel
- You Can Visit the Skull Catacombs
Read more about these amazing skull catacombs topics below.
What are Skull Catacombs?
Can’t get enough of skulls? We may have found some catacombs and other places where you might actually get skull overload.
If you think it’s something to fix your cat’s hair with, you’d be wrong.
A catacomb is an underground burial chamber and usually, it’s several miles long.
Most of them were built over 200 to 300 years ago. Many are a few thousand years old.
And it’s not just a crypt for any one family but for thousands of people.
A lot of these skull catacombs are closed up and inaccessible, but there are quite a few that are open to the public.
So, you can go in and see for yourself.
I think that most of them have closed burial chambers or shelves with coffins within them.
There are beautiful frescoes in a lot of them and poetry inscribed on the walls and porticos.
Statuary graces the interiors of still others.
But, the most arresting and macabre of them all are the ones that use the dead themselves as the decor. That’s right.
They’re affixed to the walls and ceilings, hanging from the rafters, built into columns, and used as the material for sculptures.
Skulls and bones are used to make patterns and pictures.
Bodies are posed in niches and sometimes their clothes are changed.
In some of these, families used to come for special occasions and the coffin would be opened so that they could hold the dead’s hand for the prayer circle.
Glass-covered coffins, by the way, so you could see the body.
Not all are skeletons. There are a fair amount of mummies in these catacombs as well.
Some mummies are in perfect condition and others, not so much.
The preferable corpses for decorative purposes were war and plague victims. They give a much better ambiance.
Oh, and then there are the ones that are posed in different positions. Sitting together at a table for instance.
Who would do such a thing? Well, these are predominantly in old churches. So…you know.
The Skull Catacombs of Paris
For the sheer volume of bodies, there doesn’t seem to be an equal to the Catacombs of Paris.
The bodies go back as far as the 1700s from the original burial sites most of them came from.
There are several million corpses there in every available slot it seems.
The reason is that, between plague and war, there were just too many bodies for the cemeteries to hold.
Although they weren’t necessarily in the city, they were close enough by that as acreage was used up, the cemeteries were rubbing shoulders with the city.
So much so, that at one point, the deciding point, someone’s basement wall caved in from the weight of all the bodies on the other side of it. Who got the clean-up detail on that?
Something clearly had to be done. Luckily, there were old mines nearby.
According to a Harvard Blog “The Catacombes are bone banks called ossuaries. They occupy abandoned quarries beneath Paris and contain the remains of more than six million people.” – Source Harvard Blog
These were re-excavated and reinforced and the bodies removed from the cemeteries and dumped in a pile inside. Done.
Well, maybe not completely. Louis-Etienne Hericart de Thury, from the Paris Mine Inspection Service, came up with an idea.
Instead of just piling these bones any which way, why not tastefully arrange them in designs on the walls.
The original headstones had been piled in another location and they were trotted out and arranged just so and voila! instant mausoleum chic.
Add a few tablets and archways with pithy dark sayings and warnings and hey, open it to the public. As it still is today. Lucky you.
The Capuchin Skull Catacombs
The Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo, Italy, also began because cemetery real estate was in short supply.
So the monastery became bone collectors. At one point, in 1599, they decided to mummify one of their own, and the fad caught on.
At first, this service was only for the monks, but soon the wealthy talked themselves into a place on the wall. Yes, on the wall. Or lying in glass coffins.
This was a paying proposition, however. You don’t just pay once for the privilege of being on display.
Your family keeps paying, extra if you want your clothes changed periodically.
If they don’t pay, your body gets shelved until someone pays up to have it viewed again. Ah, these monks and their vows of poverty.
It’s segregated, too. You’re surprised?
There’re sections for clergy, men, women, virgins, and children. Somebody checks to see if the body’s a virgin. Who gets that detail?
And men and women lying together in that state would be scandalous. So, none of that.
Two Exceptional Children
There’s one mummy there called the most beautiful mummy in the world. Now, this is pretty amazing.
It’s a girl of almost 2 years old who died of pneumonia in 1920, named Rosalia Lombardo.
Her father was so distraught that he had a taxidermist, Alfredo Salafia preserve her.
He used his own method that he didn’t reveal to anybody and he put those Egyptians to shame.
This girl is still as pristine as when she entered the skull catacombs.
Many who’ve seen her claim that she blinks her eyes, but others say it’s just a trick of the light.
On a side note, recently another child was found buried under a house in San Francisco.
She also was about 2 years old and died of malnutrition, possibly because she became ill and refused to eat.
It turns out that the house was built on a former cemetery lot and all of the bodies had not been moved.
They thought they got them all but missed some. This girl died in 1876 and again, she’s in perfect condition.
The metal coffin was airtight and that’s what preserved her.
They were able to get a DNA sample from her and reseal the coffin.
This enabled her to be identified as Edith Cook and to find her nearest living relative, her great-nephew Peter, who’s in his ’80s.
Volunteers put her original coffin into a modern one and reburied her in another cemetery with a headstone identifying her.
The Brno Ossuary in the Czech Republic
This isn’t a skull catacomb, but an ossuary. An ossuary is a place where human bones are kept.
Does Brno live up to its name? Oh, yeah.
There are the bones of at least 50,000 people down there.
They apparently kept bringing them from other church cemeteries sometime in the 17th century.
As it reached capacity, it was made larger. Most of the bodies were from plague or cholera.
Did they bury these people or entomb them with identities and all that? Heck no.
These guys are jam-packed together, skulls on top of skulls, bones crammed together and covering every available surface. A skull catacombs for sure.
And sculptures. Oh, are there sculptures?
Bones and skulls were used to make replicas of furniture and pillars and even a chandelier.
Bones are used for making writing and signs. That’s how I want to spend MY eternity, as a “Please don’t spit on the sidewalk” sign.
It eventually filled up and was sealed but an archaeological dig discovered it and yep, someone decided to open it to the public.
It is fascinating to look at though, in a gruesome kind of way. It’s expertly done. I just hope none of these guys are shy.
Capela Dos Ossos
The House of Bones or Capela Dos Ossos in Evora Portugal is just that, a house of bones.
It’s part of the Church of St. Francis and is kept up by the Franciscan Monks.
It’s also actually not a catacomb, but it’s made of bones, so we’re mentioning it.
There are about 5,000 bodies in there and, you guessed it, they are part of the decorations.
They were taken from other cemeteries so that the land could be used for other things.
The monks thought they’d put them on display so that everyone who went to church there would think about their mortality.
And, they figured, may as well be artistic while we’re at it.
So these bones are in designs and other aesthetic configurations and all in all, a macabrely merry bit of business.
Skulls are cemented into the walls and artfully hanging from the rafters and walls. Well, really, what’s a monk to do when they’re bored?
This last entry is part of St. Bartholomew’s Church in Kudowa Poland.
Parish priest Vaclav Tomasek built it in 1776.
Again lots of bones cover every inch of the walls and ceiling.
And these aren’t just any old bones, but the victims of the Thirty Years and Silesian wars, syphilis, cholera, plague, and hunger, just to be different.
I’m really beginning to wonder about the 16th through 18th centuries.
You Can Visit the Skull Catacombs
If all this looks like a grimly good time, you can actually visit these and other skull catacombs.
There are travel bureaus that will set you right up and wend you on your way to the underworld.
Take a selfie with a corpse, (if that’s allowed where you go) send a picture postcard to your enemy saying you wish they were here, get some good interior design ideas for your own abode. Go for it.
I have to admit, although I look at these pictures with the same attraction/repulsion that most people do, I don’t think I’d actually go to one of these catacombs myself.
For more information about skull catacombs, you can check out the International Catacomb Society.
We hope you liked this Skull Catacombs Post
As I mentioned in another post, Skullgal has a phobia about dead bodies, but other than that, I can’t help remembering that these were real people, who lived and died, had families, businesses, favorite activities, and dreams.
There are no names associated with any of them. And somehow that makes it too sad for me.
But, technically, they don’t know or care now, so visiting is probably a very good way to see an extraordinary example of medieval funerary architecture. If you go, let us know.
Check out our other posts…
- Recognizing After-Death Communication From A Loved One
- Skull Symbolism: What Does a Skull Symbolize?
- Psychic Experiences First Time Stories
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