Inside the Church Made of 40,000 Human Skeletons
Image: Todd Huffman/Flickr

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Inside the Church Made of 40,000 Human Skeletons

The ossuary is also, ironically, dying.

What do you do if you're a monk and you're surrounded by the skeletal remains of thousands of people as part of your day job? If your answer is to make furniture out of the remains of the dead, reflect on human mortality, maybe paint a vanitas if you're looking to give in 110 percent, you're totally fit to work in an ossuary.

This video from Atlas Obscura highlights a macabre tourist attraction: ossuaries, or bone pits, which were constructed originally because graveyards got much too crowded to handle the sheer volume of people dying from the plague and naturally shorter lives, as well as religious paranoia. People were, as it seemed, deathly afraid to end up in hell if they weren't interred on blessed grounds. So the solution was to dig those skeletal remains back up and stick the bones in a much more space-efficient holding: ossuaries.

One of the most popular ossuaries is the Sedlec Ossuary, known as the "Bone Church," located in the Czech Republic. Said to hold the remains of around 40,000 people, Sedlec's walls and even its chandelier are made of bleached and neatly arranged bones.

Unfortunately, those walls are slowly caving in, since the current structures haven't been rearranged since the 1870s. Sedlec, like many of its inhabitants, will certainly meet its end someday as long as the piles remain untouched. But many ossuaries are still strewn across Europe, so if you're looking for examples of death as art, there's plenty of places for that in Europe. Paris's catacombs aren't going away anytime soon, either.

Since the 1500s, we've grown to live a little safer, longer, and less religiously, easing the demand for graveyard space. And while death and our fascination with it may not evolve, the ways we cope with it certainly will.