Churches made of bones? How morbid does that sound – it’s anything but! These fascinating skull and bone churches have otherworldly stories to tell. Chandeliers made of human bones. Bone pyramids. Skulls with bullet holes. Don’t tell us this surreal, chilling ‘decor’ doesn’t capture your imagination!
Overcrowding is not just a problem for the living apparently – when cemeteries and graves started to become over-crowded due to wars and plagues, churches decided to think creatively. Thus the bones found themselves in designated bone rooms. But why stop at bone rooms when you can liberally decorate walls and ceilings with skulls? Is your spine tingling yet?
Here are eight of the creepiest churches made of bones from around the world.
Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic
In Kutna Hora, Czech Republic, enter the unassuming chapel called the Sedlec Ossuary. Now wait for this – the chapel is artistically (and jaw-droppingly!) decorated with more than 40.000 human skeletons. And this has to be the creepiest and perhaps the coolest star travel attraction – the massive chandelier of bones contains at least one of every human bone.
Every fixture, and decorative piece in Sedlec Ossuary is made from real human bones that date back to 1511. The arches and pyramids are lined with skulls that are made from 40,000-70,000 skeletons. In 1870, the Schwarzenberg family commissioned woodcarver Frantisek Rint to redesign the harrowing bone pyramids in 1870 and the Schwarzenberg coat of arms near the entrance of the chapel.
If you are wondering how all these bones ended up in a chapel in the Czech Republic, the remains of the 40,000 individuals requested to be buried in a holy place and the Church of Bones were more than willing to take their remains.
San Bernardino alle Ossa, Milan
Behind a heavy set of double doors that lead to the side chapel’s decorative ossuary in Milan, lies the small and unassuming San Bernadino alle Ossa church. In 1210, when an adjacent cemetery ran out of space, a room was built to hold bones arranged in crucifix shapes.
The church modified the façade and decorated the walls of the ossuary with human skulls. In Baroque-style, the interior has an octagonal design and is decorated with paintings from the 16th century. The ossuary vault was illuminated in 1695 and the church’s pendentives portray the Holy Virgin, St. Ambrose and St. Bernadino of Siena. The doors are decorated with bones, in Rococo style.
Skull Chapel, Czermna, Poland
The Czermna Chapels’ walls are lined with bones from the victims of the Thirty Years’ and Silesian wars. The ceilings are aligned with the bones patterned into crossbones. The skulls and leg bones of over 3,000 victims cover the walls of a crypt hidden below the church, which is only accessible through a trap door. In total, the chapel houses over 21,000 remains.
Collected by Czech priest Vaclav Tomasek and J. Langer, the local grave digger, it took them about 18 years, from 1776 to 1794, to collect, clean and arrange as many of the 24,000 human skeletons they could. The Skull Chapel is modeled after similar ossuaries and catacombs in Rome. The chapel was intended to be a shrine for the dead but also as a memento for the living. The church’s altar is lined with bones of important figures and niches including the skulls of the local mayor and skulls with bullet holes.
Capela dos Ossos, Portugal
Capela dos Ossos is a 16th-century Franciscan chapel in Evora, Portugal lined with skulls and bones that stretch over all of the interior walls. The main Church of St Francis is decorated with golden altars and walls of painted blue tile. The entrance of the Chapel of Bones is next door, as the guests are welcomed by a large arch bearing rhyme reminding visitors of their own mortality, “Our bones that are here wait for yours!”
Legend has it that the bones of the 5,000 human bones and skulls covering the chapels’ walls and pillars came from soldiers of a major battle or plague victims. At the end of the chapel, an altar with a crucifix reminds visitors of the way to overcome death: “I leave, but I don’t die, I die in the light.” In addition to all the bones and skulls, there are two full corpses hanging high on a wall. There are plenty of legends surrounding the corpses but their identities are unknown.
Monastery of San Francisco, Peru
The Monastery of San Francisco contains the bones of Lima dwellers. Located in Lima, Peru the church is part of the Historic Centre of Lima and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1991.
Discovered in 1943, the catacombs lie underneath the church are connected to the main Cathedral by secret passageways. The catacombs served as a burial place until 1808. It is estimated that 25,000 bodies were laid to rest there. The skulls and bones are arranged in large circle patterns.
Medieval Ossuary, Spain
Unlike some of the other bone churches, the Medieval Ossuary in Wamba, Spain, display their bones in large organized piles. The main reason why the church simply stacked the bones was because of the lack of space remaining in the cemetery. The Medical Ossuary in Wamba is in the Church of Santa Maria and contains the bones from the villagers who inhabited the village between the 12th and 18th centuries.
There is a message over the entrance to the ossuary that reads, “As you see yourself, I saw myself too. As you see me, you will see yourself. Everything ends in this. Think about it and you won’t fall into sin.”
St Michan Church, Ireland
The limestone walls underneath the St. Michan’s Church in Dublin, Ireland enriched the atmosphere to ensure nothing rots. The burial vault is home to many bodies, however there four caskets without their lids.
The four bodies are completely visible with two of them being cut into pieces before they went into their caskets. Only one of the remains was identified in the burial vault who was a nun buried 400 years ago, however, the nun is not one of the four bodies visible to the public.