The second largest ossuary in Europe is now located under the St.James Church in Brno, Czech Republic. The ossuary in Brno is second only to the the Catacombs of Paris, France, (l’Ossuaire Municipal) which holds the remains of an estimated 6 million people.
There are many large and extraordinary ossuaries in Europe, such as the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini in Rome, Italy, The Skull Chapel in Czermna in Lower Silesia, Poland, Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of bones) in the city of Évora, in Portugal, and another large ossuary in the Czech Republic, the Sedlec Ossuary.
A forgotten burial site
The ossuary in Brno was forgotten for over 200 years until it was stumbled upon in 2001 when reconstruction work was being done on the St. James Church. Since then, researchers and archaeologist have spent the last 10 years uncovering over 50,000 skeletal remains, with a lot more to be discovered, according to Petra Kacirkova, head of tourist information center in Brno.
A cemetery surrounded the St. James church in the 13th century until it was closed in 1784 due to imperial reforms taking place during this time, which banned cemeteries within the city walls. The gravestones were used for roads, and the bones were exhumed and placed in the churches chambers known as “charnel houses.”
(Another source tells a different story on why the remains were laid to rest in the ossuary, stating that the cemetery simply became inadequate for the amount of bodies. Find the whole explanation here)
The victims who have fallen and are now ‘resting’ in Brno’s ossuary are there from various causes of death. Some have been there since the Thirty Years War, the famous Swedish Siege of 1618, some from the plague and other diseases, and some by accident.
- Interesting fact: You can tell what disease a person died from by the tint of their bones. Although the bones often have a yellow tint to them due to no sunlight, bones that are very yellow probably died form Cholera, while those tinted red probably died from the plague.
Doors open to the Public
The ossuary in Brno opened its doors to tourist last year after 40 million CZK was invested in research, preservation, safety (removal of bacteria and disease which may be carried on the unsanitary bones), interior decorating (done by architect/historian Aleš Svoboda), etc. The European Union, and the Czech Republic split the cost of the renovation.
Since its opening in June of 2012, the ossuary has attracted more than 20,000 visitors who have an interest in seeing some of the best-preserved skeletal remains. In an underground chapel a visitor will find exceptionally preserved skulls, and in the center of the chapel there are pillars of skulls that almost reach the ceiling, and coffins that contain remains of a grown man, and young 13-year-old boy.
When you enter the ossuary there will be dim lighting, light music by a local composer, gravestones, and sculptures of skulls and bones on the walls, which captures the feel of imminent death in the ossuary. However, the ossuary is not a place to be lost in sadness, or be doleful, but rather a place for mediation between life and death and their inevitable relationship.
Price: basic 140 CZK
reduced 70 CZK
family 320 CZK
Hours: 9:30 a.m – 6:00 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday
Languages: English & Czech
Contact Info: phone: (+420) 515 919 793 & email: email@example.com
Have you ever toured an ossuary? What about the one in Brno? Do you think there are many ossuaries left to be discovered? :)