The Brno Ossuary

An ossuary is a building where human remains are stored. To be precise, it’s considered to be a final resting place for human remains. In places where space is scarce, graves are exhumed after a few years and the remains are moved to an ossuary leaving room for a new coffin. Brno, in Czechia, has the second largest ossuary in the world.

Brno is one of the largest cities in the country after Prague. In 2001 the city renovated Jakubske Namesti (St James’ Square). An archaeological dig revealed more underfoot than they expected. They found a forgotten ossuary containing more than 50,000 complete skeletons. [1]

From the outside, nothing would lead you to believe that you walk over the remains of so many people. The newly paved and pedestrian route that passes by the church allows you to leisurely stroll through the centre of the city.  The square itself is surrounded by gentrified pubs and cafe shops.

A photo of the central pillar in the Brno Ossuary - Brno, CzechiaRecords that show the square was once part of the nearby Church of St James. [1] It had a cemetery attached to it which had been in use since the 13th century, so finding human remains was hardly unexpected. What people did not know is that the cemetery had limited space because it was close to the old town walls. The church created an ossuary. This was a common practice at the time. [1]

Estimates suggest that the ossuary was used from the 17th century onwards. It’s not clear exactly why it is so large but victims of the Thirty Years’ War and of cholera epidemics are stored here. [1] This explains the thousands of skeletons that fill this place. Within a hundred years or so, the crypt and ossuary were full. The city walled them up and reforms in 1784 meant that the church relocated the cemetery outside the city. [1]

A photo of one of the walls in the Brno Ossuary - Brno, CzechiaThe ossuary is now renovated and open for visitors. It is not large – you can see the entire place in half-an-hour. Skeletons and bones cover most walls. Skulls stare at you as you walk past, their unblinking eyes frozen in time. There is a slight chill in the air, since you are underground. I visited in January when the temperature outside was -10 degrees which made it worse.

It isn’t eerie in any way, which is what I was expecting. It is nothing more than a memento mori to those who walked the streets of the city hundreds of years before us.

A selfie with the Brno Ossuary - Brno, Czechia

Have you visited any ossuaries? Which was the most impressive? Let us know in the comments!

References

[1] Go To Brno!, Ossuary of St James Church, (Retrieved 2017)

 

 

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