Victims Become Art (and Walls and Ceilings) in Poland’s Historic Chapel of Bones

Photo via Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland
Photo via Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland

From the road, it would be easy to overlook this small, unassuming chapel located in one of the oldest towns in southwestern Poland. But the wooden doors hide a spectacular, macabre interior. The skulls and leg bones of over 3,000 victims of wars and plagues cover the walls and ceiling, and a crypt below, accessible through a trapdoor, houses over 21,000 additional remains. Between 1776 and 1804, the local priest, Vaclav Tomasek, painstakingly gathered, cleaned and carefully arranged skeletons recovered from numerous, shallow mass graves left by the Thirty Years’ War, Silesian Wars and cholera outbreaks. Modeled off of similar ossuaries and catacombs in Rome, the chapel was intended as a shrine for the dead, as well as a “memento mori” for the living.

From Perrin Doniger at Smithsonian.com, where you can read more about the bodies in the basement with a link to a 360-degree chapel tour.

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