Posts Tagged ‘Ossuary’

Saint Hilaire Ossuary is in Marville, France and home to about 40,000 skulls. It was constructed towards the end of the 15th Century and many of the skulls in boxes seem to be those of the men and women of Marville who died around 1780-1860.

It seems that during 1890 the cemetery keeper, Constant Motsch, decided that in order to make more space in the cemetery he would dig up older graves with no perpetual concession (Permanent claim to the grave site). He kept the skulls and longer bones and put the commoners in boxes, keeping the lords and gentry aside. The skulls look out of their boxes and some have unfortunately weathered over the long years. Above their heads reads “we were like you – you will become one of us”.

The cemetery is one of the oldest ones in France and is situated on an old Roman temple dedicated to Mars. It served as the parish church until village residents found it to be too long a walk, a new construct was made closer by. The cemetery however stayed in use from the 15th to 18th century.

The entrance to the cemetery has a crucifix called Christ of the Lepers and within the grounds is a Pieta decided to their suffering.

Évora, Portugal, offers up the Chapel of Bones, and is in the Church of St Francis. It is a small interior chapel near the entrance, the chapel walls are covered and decorated with human skulls and bones.

It was built by a Franciscan monk in the 16th Century, the counter-reformation spirit was what he had hoped to capture. He wanted to prod his brothers into further contemplation.

There is a warning at the entrance that reads “Nós ossos que aqui estamos pelos vossos esperamos” which means ‘We the bones that are here, await yours.’

About 5000 skeletons were used and came from cemeteries situated inside several churches around the area. A visit to the church may not be for the feint of heart, but sounds intriguing none the less.


They have a pretty long story but I am going to try and summarise the main and interesting points, they are an underground ossuary located to the south of the former city gate. The catacombs hold around 6 million peoples remains   and are the old stone mines, they have had to be monitored due to prior vandalism.

Like many cities that had their Christian dead buried in the consecrated city grounds Paris suffered overcrowding. The dead who were poor were mass buried to ensure that they tried to ease it but by the 17th Century it was all too much and they needed a new method.

New cemeteries were built, larger scaled ones that could accommodate more dead and the abandoned stone mines were chosen so that they could arrange to exhume the dead, and transfer them into the newly appointed catacombs. To begin with the catacombs were just a bone depository but eventually the stones, tomb and bones were arranged into decorations.

During August 1788 the riots from three areas meant that more bodies were brought into the catacombs. Val-de-gráce’s doorkeeper, Phillibert Aspairt, was lost in the catacombs in 1793, his body was found 11 years later and his tomb is at the spot where his body was found. Some of the graffiti there dates back to the 18th Century, Parisian members of the French Revolution also used them too.

Unfortunately it’s not all good, due to the catacombs being under the Paris streets it means that they cannot build any large foundations. And of course the catacombs are a hot-spot of hauntings.

One of the things I find fascinating is the ossuary concept and San Bernardino alle Ossa is no exception. It is in Milan, Northern Italy and the church there has a small side chapel decorated with human skulls and bones.

The Ossuary came into play in 1210 when a cemetery adjacent ran out of space, the room was build to hold bones. A church was attached in 1269, it was renovated in 1679, then in 1712 it was destroyed, a new church for Saint Bernardino was then built.

The ossuary’s vault was frescoed in 1695, by Sebastiano Ricci, and many niches and doors are decorated with bones in what is known as the Roccoco style. Interestingly in 1738 King John V of Portugal was so struck by the chapel he had a similar one built in Évora, near Lisbon.