“This place gives me the creeps,” said the American tourist next to me. “It’s so ghoulish. Don’t you agree?”
Let’s just say I didn’t. The Sedlec Ossuary, situated an hour’s train ride from Prague in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kutna Hora, was one of my main reasons for visiting the Czech Republic. This is the world-famous resting place for some 40,000 bodies, arranged artistically by a wood carver, at the orders of a local family back in 1870.
Having been pretty ill in recent weeks (to paraphrase Gok Wan in the new Activia ad, I haven’t been ‘feeling good on the inside’, though it’s nothing Activia and Gok can fix), this weekend it was time for a cheering up treat, in the form of a visit to Britain’s only bone chapel. There’s nothing like checking out 700-year-old skulls to help you put your own health issues into perspective… or to act as a nice distraction.
St. Leonard’s Church is in Hythe, which is a fairly nondescript town in Kent. Strangely enough, there’s no specific reason for its bones to be on display – no devout monastic order at work (as in the case of the Capuchin Crypt in Rome), no prominent case of severe overcrowding in the churchyard (as was the case at Les Innocents in Paris, later forming the backdrop to Andrew Miller’s novel, Pure). Nobody really knows why the bones are stacked so neatly and not interred in the ground, which just adds to the intrigue for me. I’m also relieved that they haven’t been discarded or removed by over-zealous authorities at some point.
Whilst I loved Rome’s amazing architecture above ground, arguably one of the most spectacular places that I visited was underneath the pavements. You could walk past the Capuchin Crypt, on the Via Veneto, without really taking a second glance, as it’s not that remarkable from the outside. In fact, the whole street is a bit shabby, having had its heyday in the sixties and now looking like a shadow of its former self. It is living in the past, so what better place than the Via Veneto to find rooms full of bones? Rather than holding the remains of sinful sixties celebs, in the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini you’ll find traces of devout monks.
Calavera (Span. feminine noun) = skull. A travel blog with a love of culture, dark tourism and the unconventional.