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Would you step inside this Polish chapel made out of skulls? Posted by on Mar 4, 2017 in Culture, Places to visit, Religion

Anytime I travel, I try to find one unique, very different place to visit. Today, I have a very interesting one for you:) From the road, it would be easy to overlook this small, unassuming chapel located in one of the oldest towns in southwestern Poland. But the wooden doors hide a spectacular, macabre interior. Thousands of human bones, ravaged by war and disease, are stacked on top in a macabre pattern.

In 1776, while America was declaring its independence from England, and bodies were piling up in the American revolutionary war, a priest and grave digger in the small Polish town of Czermna, ( a kilometer north of Kudowa Zdrój) were also busy piling up bodies, but for a very different purpose.

Within the modest looking St. Batholomew’s Church (also called the Kaplica Czaszek) are the skulls and bones of over 3,000 people, decorating the ceiling and walls, and arranged in various patterns — mostly in a repeating crossed bones Jolly Roger-style — with another 21,000 skeletons stuffed in the church crypt below. Collected by Czech priest Vaclav Tomasek and J. Langer, the local grave digger, it took the pair some 18 years, from 1776 to 1794, to collect, clean and arrange the as many as 24,000 human skeletons that pack the church. While the majority of the skeletons are stacked in a 16-foot deep crypt beneath the church, the rest are beautifully displayed in what Tomasek saw as a “sanctuary of silence.”

Image credit Merlin/Wikipedia

The two had plenty to choose from in terms of raw materials. The Thirty Years War, the Seven Years War, and numerous other skirmishes between Catholic, Hussite and Protestants, Poles, Czech and Germans that bordered the area, left mass graves aplenty, not to mention the cholera epidemics that routinely killed hundreds. Tomasek apparently found the mass graves by watching where local dogs went to dig for bones.

Image credit Merlin/Wikipedia

As the two uncovered and cleaned the thousands of skeletons, the priest and grave digger set aside skulls of interest for display in the church. Today the skulls are still displayed, and include a Tartar warrior’s skull, the Czermna mayor and his wife, skulls with bullet holes, a skull Swiss-cheesed by syphilis, and even the skull of a giant. Besides these special skulls are those of the priest and the grave digger themselves, presiding proudly over the Chapel of Skulls they created and now call their final resting place.

 

Photo credit Mariusz Cieszewski/Creative Commons

 

Has anyone visited this place? Please share your thoughts:)

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About the Author: Kasia

My name is Kasia Scontsas. I grew near Lublin, Poland and moved to Warsaw to study International Business. I have passion for languages: any languages! Currently I live in New Hampshire. I enjoy skiing, kayaking, biking and paddle boarding. My husband speaks a little Polish, but our daughters are fluent in it! I wanted to make sure that they can communicate with their Polish relatives in our native language. Teaching them Polish since they were born was the best thing I could have given them! I have been writing about learning Polish language and culture for Transparent Language’s Polish Blog since 2010.