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Charnel Chapels

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A while ago I came across a former charnel chapel. It was a small chapel building at the outer wall of a churchyard cemetery. I could not find much information about it; just that it was used as a charnel chapel many centuries ago.

 

I thought that could be an interesting category, if there are enough of them around. But after a short research I had to say that this will never make it: Most resources I found, including Wikipedia, featured a small number of very special and maybe also irritating and intimidating places. There are some charnel chapels around where still today thousand of human bones can be visited. Some of them are even real tourist attractions with tens of thousands of visitors each year. But this was not really what I had in mind first, and there were only a few dozen of them. So I dismissed the idea for a while.

 

Then I came across another one, just as undocumented as the first. And I did some deeper research. And this changed my mind back to go further with this plan.

 

There are many, many of them around all over Europe, but nobody knows it. They have never been investigated, except for the few famous ones. After a while I even found examples of similar structures in other regions of the world. Japan, Central Asia, Central America, Oceania. Even in the United States there are several dozen Native American ossuaries.

 

I know the topic can be seen as sensitive, so I worked hard to find a sensible solution for all potentially problematic aspects.

 

I think this could be a truly great category. It's about history, but there is little documentation. There are many around, but it needs some investigation to find them.

 

I have created group and here is a first draft of the category description. Please comment! Also details are welcome.

 

Charnel Chapels, Charnel Houses and Ossuaries

 

Short description:

 

Charnel Chapels, Charnel Houses or Ossuaries were common in many cultures all over the world. This category is for recording the many former ones that have been converted to other use over the centuries, as well as the very few ones still existing. Please take a look at the Expanded Description for further details.

 

Detailed Description:

 

"An ossuary is a chest, building, well, or site made to serve as the final resting place of human skeletal remains. They are frequently used where burial space is scarce. A body is first buried in a temporary grave, then after some years the skeletal remains are removed and placed in an ossuary. The greatly reduced space taken up by an ossuary means that it is possible to store the remains of many more people in a single tomb than if the original coffins were left as is." (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

 

In Christian Europe, ossuaries came up from the 11th to the 15th century, mainly as a result of growth of population. Many churchyard cemeteries could not be expanded, Charnel Chapels were seen as an appropriate solution to solve the growing need for burial space. Some ossuaries were created after epidemics with many fatalities like the Black Plague, and several ossuaries were built near battlefields.

 

After the reformation, this tradition ceased in many areas, in Roman Catholic and Orthodox countries it lasted longer, sometimes until the early 20th century. On some Greek islands it is still practiced today.

 

Except for some very few famous locations, where still existing charnel houses or ossuaries have become real tourist attractions, there is very little documentation around. The Rothwell Charnel Chapel and Ossuary Project (one of the first academic projects about this topic in the UK) states: "To date charnel chapels have remained a neglected area of funerary archaeology. No comprehensive attempt has been made to collectively investigate their significance or determine the quantity constructed nationally and little research has been undertaken regarding the role charnel chapels had in relation to the dead, either physically or ideologically." The same is true for most other European countries, those buildings are still very common in many areas, but there are no comprehensive lists or documentations. Sometimes not even locals know about them.

 

There were numerous cultures all around the world that had similar traditions. Some Native American societies had similar traditions as well. Remains of ossuaries have been investigated in many states like Kentucky, North Carolina, Iowa, Louisina, or Michigan; Massachusetts alone has over three dozen identified ossuaries. Similar structures do also exist in Central Asia, Central America and many Oceanian regions. The category tries to be as inclusive as possible, but we cannot know everything. We will welcome submissions from all cultures all over the world, when you can document to what extent your find is comparable to an ossuary.

 

What we are not looking for:

 

Burial sites for idividuals, like Mausoleums or historic ruler's graves all over the world.

 

Catacombs and Crypts: Some of them did indeed contain ossuaries, and they would qualify. But this cannot be generalized, they will only be accepted if the former use as an ossuary can be proven.

 

Some modern cemeteries offer services they call Ossuary, but these are in fact Columbariums. They will NOT be accepted. It's the function, not the name, we are looking for.

 

Posting Instructions:

 

Identify a Charnel Chapel, Charnel House or Ossuary and record its location as close as possible. Collect as much information as possible about this place, its architecture and history. We know, that sometimes there is very little around, but at least try it.

 

Naming Conventions: The name of the waymark MUST follow this format: Name of Church or Cemetery - City, State/Country. If it is not within a city or town, the please use another regional designation - whatever best identifies the location of the site.

 

Post at least one respectful picture of the building, or the main entrance for undergroud structures. More pictures are always welcome and strongly encouraged. In those rare cases where there are still human remains visible, please do NOT use pictures of them as the default picture!

 

We ask that all activities related to the posting or visiting of Waymarks in this category take place showing the utmost respect for the culture and beliefs of the deceased, their descendants, as well as potential visitors of the site. Always keep in mind that these activities can be a point of great sensitivity among individuals both within and outside of the community. Please act appropriately and responsibly when you are in the area of these final resting places, including observing all posted hours of access.

 

LANGUAGE NOTE: We recognize Waymarking as a global hobby and welcome waymarks from all countries. Because of our international scope, we also acknowledge ENGLISH as our lingua franca. English will create the highest level of accessibility globally. All waymarks must have at least a short description in ENGLISH. We encourage bilingual and multilingual waymarks, but one of the languages must be English.

 

Visit Instructions:

 

To post a visit log for waymarks in this category, you must have personally visited the waymark location. When logging your visit, please provide a note describing your visit experience, along with any additional information about the waymark or the surrounding area that you think others may find interesting.

 

We especially encourage you to include any pictures that you took during your visit to the waymark. However, only respectful photographs are allowed.

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I find the topic could make for an interesting category. Unfortunately most of the Native American ossuaries are either undiscovered or their location is undisclosed due to common archaeology practices. Being in the area of Mississippian culture (mound builders) with Cahokia mounds only a short distance away there are a few in the area that have been discovered though I don't know of any where the location has really been disclosed. They would normally only be disclosed if they located within a park or other controlled areas where they can be protected. It seems here most are discovered during construction projects when they are uncovered by bulldozers, at which time archaeologists are called in to assess their importance and determine what is to be done with the site. If the site is retained it will be recovered with earth and there really won't be anything to see at the site. If the site is not retained the bones will be moved to another site and be reburied.

 

That being said if there are enough publicly accessible charnel chapels, charnel houses and ossuaries in Europe and elsewhere around the world I would say go for it.

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Sounds interesting!

Would the following example be accepted?

The skulls are there from about 1830; on the skulls are written the names of the dead people. There are only about three skulls and some bones. It's in the entrence hall of the small church.

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lumbricus

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Nobody on this planet has an idea how many there are. It is a fairly undiscovered area, and this exactly one of the points that makes this topic so interesting.

 

The problem with web research on this topic is that you always end up with the same seven to ten famous locations that are excessively documented and photographed and they crowd out all the other sites.

 

There's an ongoing project in England that has found over 60 sites in the UK so far, I have found three of them. There's a book describing 50 charnel chapels in the Austrian state of Kärnten, I have found nine there and I don't know if they are all on that list.

 

So there must be many, many more that are hard to find. Until now I have identified over 250 locations in Europe and some outside (Japan, Egypt, Mexico, Peru). I guess I am on the save side to claim way over 1000 locations in Europe alone.

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Sounds interesting!

Would the following example be accepted?

The skulls are there from about 1830; on the skulls are written the names of the dead people. There are only about three skulls and some bones. It's in the entrence hall of the small church.

lumbricus

Yes, this is an ossuary. And remember that the many of these places do not contain bones anymore at all, it's history. I have even found one that has been converted to a concert hall.

 

One point I am unsure is about sites completely gone. Should we accept locations of former charnel chapels that do not exist anymore, but were documented? Only if there is something left, a plaque or a sign?

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BTW: where is your example?

 

And another thing I noticed: The icon for the new group about Romanesque architecture is a very distinctive building. That is exactly how most charnel chapels look in Eastern Austria. Is it one? Maybe the Karner of Hartberg?

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Well my wife told me if this becomes a category she will allow me to find my one while on our European trip (whenever that may be) but that I am not allowed to have a three week tour of European Charnel Chapels, Charnel Houses and Ossuaries. :sad: She knows me too well. :laughing:

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A while ago I came across a former charnel chapel ...

 

I just would like to encourage you by my 5 cents .. for me, this is interesting, exemplaire proposal of new category. Here can be Waymarking very useful and help with documentation what's out there. Only potential issue on my mind - probably most of chapels and ossuaries are closed for public, or with very limited possibility to visit them (and photograph).

But I would vote Yea.

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A while ago I came across a former charnel chapel ...

 

I just would like to encourage you by my 5 cents .. for me, this is interesting, exemplaire proposal of new category. Here can be Waymarking very useful and help with documentation what's out there. Only potential issue on my mind - probably most of chapels and ossuaries are closed for public, or with very limited possibility to visit them (and photograph).

But I would vote Yea.

Thank you for this input! I have done some more research and am willing to go on with the idea more than ever. Unfortunately I had to lower my expectations for North America, but on the other hand I have found much more than I ever hoped in other regions, especially Central and Western Europe.

 

I have found different types of ossuaries and charnel houses. The majority are former charnel chapels, stand alone buildings inside or near (former or current) churchyard cemeteries, others are annexes to churches. They are usually no problem to access, depending on their current use, sometimes also the inside. Another type are war ossuaries, usually near battlefields. Most of them were explicitly created as memorials, thus easy to access.

 

More difficult are the ones in monasteries or inside churches, especially the ones in crypts below ground level. Here I would accept a picture of the whole building and a location as close as possible for the public, as long as the submission contains enough documentation that there is/was in fact an ossuary. Of the 450+ potential locations I have identified in 23 countries (and I have only digged a bit deeper in three countries so far), less than 10% are of this type. So I am very sure that accessibility is not a general problem.

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Well, this sounds a bit esoteric and arcane, but I think this is a perfect example of some of the directions that Waymarking can take! Many of these may not be easily identified, or just stumbled upon in one's travels. One would have to seek them out intentionally. And that is where Waymarking can really shine! Here's a great opportunity to contribute something to the body of knowledge in an accessible format. I applaud your imagination.

 

Question: In many areas that have long cold winters, special vaults were built to hold bodies until the ground thawed in the spring so they could be buried later. Would these fit your definition?

 

Then we have a sight near hear identified as a Native American cemetery, although there are no markers of any kind, and no individual graves. But, it was identified as a burial sight through archaeological investigation. No structure ever involved.

 

Anyway, I am glad that your are moving ahead with this idea.

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Question: In many areas that have long cold winters, special vaults were built to hold bodies until the ground thawed in the spring so they could be buried later. Would these fit your definition?

I am generally in favor of broader, more inclusive categories, but in this case the category would lose its focus and shift from the original idea to something like "Uncommon Burial Practices" while raising the question of how 'common' has to be defined. It is a tempting idea, but they do not fit the original intent. So I have to say: No, this is too different.

Then we have a sight near hear identified as a Native American cemetery, although there are no markers of any kind, and no individual graves. But, it was identified as a burial sight through archaeological investigation. No structure ever involved.

 

Anyway, I am glad that your are moving ahead with this idea.

A cemetery is not an ossuary. There were many different burial traditions in the Native American Nations. If the location has been identified as an ossuary, then it can be included in the category, but not just any cemetery location. I have found many references to Native American ossuaries during my research for this category. They have existed in dozens of states, but I don't know if it's possible to identify the exact locations and access it. If this is the case and there is sufficient documentation then I welcome a submission.

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The category is in Peer Review. Finally! I have never had so much work on a new category, I hope you give it a chance.

 

Is it "interesting/informative"? Sure, what be be more interesting than participating in the documentation of a neglected chapter of social history? That is not the question. Is it disrespectful? No, interest shows more respect than disavowal.

 

It's clearly not redundant.

 

Global / Prevalent? There are locations in at least 30 countries on four continents. In some areas they are very rare or inexistent, in others they can be found in almost every village. I guess there are several thousand potential locations around.

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Thank you all! I am stunned by this enormous success in Peer Review. I have hardly ever seen so much agreement in a vote; and I had thought it would be a tough one, because people would find this too spooky or weird.

 

After just a few hours there are already six waymarks in the category including some of the most famous ones at all (Sedlec, Évora, Douaumont). Even the first Native American ossuary in the US has already be posted.

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Question: In many areas that have long cold winters, special vaults were built to hold bodies until the ground thawed in the spring so they could be buried later. Would these fit your definition?

I am generally in favor of broader, more inclusive categories, but in this case the category would lose its focus and shift from the original idea to something like "Uncommon Burial Practices" while raising the question of how 'common' has to be defined. It is a tempting idea, but they do not fit the original intent. So I have to say: No, this is too different.

 

Well, this was my original plan. Now, after the first days of this category, I have to come back to this point.

 

Meanwhile I have found out that it can be very difficult to distinguish between them. When the official name of such a structure translates to "charnel house" and there is no deeper documentation around, then it looks fine, although it is not what I originally had in mind. So I came to the conclusion that it would be unfair to victimize submissions that are better documented in a language I can read in favor of poorer documented ones, and the most reasonable solution is to accept those entries as well.

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