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PCR #139 (Vol. 3, No. 47) This edition is for the week of November 18--24, 2002.

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The first in the "Death on Display" series

Chapel of Bones

The Mighty Oak of Death
In the 13th century, a monk travelled from his monastary in Sedlec, (a suburb of Kutna Hora, in Prague) to Jerusalem, at the request of his king. He returned with a handful of dirt from Golgotha, which he sprinkled around his monastary's graveyard.

Thus was planted a seed which suddenly grew into a mighty oak. Instantly, the graveyard became an important place for nobility all over central Europe. This was the place that they all wanted to be buried one day.

Unfortunately, graveyards can only hold a limited amount of people. The graveyard was quickly overflowing, but bodies were still accepted. As time went by, it was decided that newcomers should also be able to reap the benefits of being buried in consecrated ground, despite the lack of room. As a solution, it was determined that some of the other corpses interred there had already gotten their fill of consecrated earth, so they dug 'em up to make room for the newcomers. Eventually, there was a huge number of corpses that had accumulated that no one knew what to do with.

Did I say huge? Before we go further, let's not forget the more than 200 bodies recovered from Nobel, Georgia, Tristate crematorium which had "accumulated" under a similar situation. Though, rather than a noble seeking salvation, in Georgia, it was some guy seeking an extra buck in Nobel.

What happened to those bodies in Georgia? The bodies were identified (where possible), the "next of kin" notified, and then presumably torched like they were supposed to be originally. Oops.. cremated, I always forget there's a difference.

Grandma? is that you up there?Grandma?

That's 200 bodies. How about the scenario in Prague... a large number of corpses, no real room for them, a christian chapel.. so what happens?

Well they hired an artisitic woodcarver in 1870 to figure something out. So what does a 19th century interior decorator do with a christian chapel and a large number of corpses? He does what anyone would do.. he decorates.

A couple of these skulls look mildly embarrased, don't they?
Similar to Ed Gein, though on a bit grander scale, he decides to create things like a candelabra that includes every bone in the human body, and THEN some. He also makes 4 bells made of bone and put it all in the monastary's chapel; A bell in each corner, and a chandelier in the middle.

Ok, sure, but what about the rest of these corpses? How many are left? Before I answer that, how many corpses were there to begin with?

Let's play the guessing game.. 200 dead folks in Georgia, which, as per my previous article on the subject, would be equivalent to the amount of patrons in an average sized movie theater.

Ok, so how about 2 theaters worth of people. Not enough death for you? Try 10 theaters full of corpses for size.

Damn, 2,000, that's a lot of dead folks. This guy must have had help completing it, I can only imagine what the newpaper advertisements must have been like.

Hang on though... 2,000? Nope, higher than that, let's try ten times THAT amount.. 20,000 corpses to be artuflly arranged. Or about a third of the capacity of Raymond James Football Stadium (Tampa Stadium). Man, that guy really had his work cut-out for him. He certainly deserved the right to sign his name to his art, which he did, in bone.

Well... what would YOU do with a third of a stadium's worth of corpses, all just basically bones? That was a LOT of bones to be positioned "artistically" throughout the chapel. In fact.. if you now doubled the amount to 40,000, you'd now know how many corspes there are beleived to be incorporated into the design of the chapel decorations. One wall is said to house 10,000 bodies all by itself, based on a skull count.

Yeehaw! this chapel ain't known as the "Chapel of Bones" for nothing! Here's the wall of 10,000 bodies, affectionately referred to as "the pile."

This is truly a monument to death, a reminder that our lives are merely temporary things which as with all good things, must come to an end one day.

This type of Roman Catholic Chapel (called an ossuary) is actually not really that unusual; death is integrated into the cultures of many countries, and ossuarys can be found all over the globe. Here in the United States, our culture has formalized the process of death. Death is a thing to be briefly grieved, with stages the bereaved are required to go through, and nothing more. In Mexico, they go and sit with, and honor their dead thru annual "day of the dead" graveyard celebrations. The closest America comes to that, is a much watered down holiday called halloween, where the dead are included only through extension, rather than by design.

Americans are essentially taught to bury, remember the individual, and then forget that it happens to everyone on the face of this planet. This will eventually breed contempt for life, perhaps not complete contempt, across the entire generation, but has anyone noticed how many kids are determining that life and death isn't nearly as important as it is to be popular in school, or to win the affections of a certain someone?

By comparison, the kids that commit murder are closer to being schitzophrenic than they ever were. Schitzophrenia is a condition by which decisions, and choices, are made without feelings. The line between "normal" and schitzophrenia is becoming more and more blurred as more folks make the decision to kill people. We allow folks to carry firearms, not for target practice, but so that they can have it to shoot someone if they deem it to be an appropriate course of action. This of course, stems from the same society that says that smoking marijuana is a bad thing to do, so it's illegal to do it. It's also coming from the same culture that declares that those who carry guns to shoot people, are free to consume alcohol in whatever quantity they desire. Better yet, they can also apply to be able to conceal the gun on their person.

A closer look at the wall reported to contain 10,000 bodies... Hey, I don't know about you, but I'll take their word for it.

The folks that carry guns, and are making, essentially, life and death decisions for those around them every day. The constitution protects their rights to bear arms, in order to overthrow the government, should it be "deemed neccessary" by the public at large. That's pretty interesting, considering that the governement is apparently constantly trying to save the public from its own judgement, with everything from helmet laws, to marijuana restrictions, and even jay walking laws. How can you make a life or death decision when you aren't really sure what death is?

Death affects everyone, but here in the US, it's as if it only happens to a select few, rather than you, or I. What happens to our minds when we die? When's the last time you truly thought about that question, rather than offer a quick knee-jerk response to it? In America, it's as though we only comtemplate death while we feel grief, which can certainly lend to biased opinions, and make death a truly unpleasant topic for discussion. Death is the value of life itself. If you ignore death, you ignore life. If you took away death, what would life be worth? It's not just the opposite of life, it's also a stage of life. Granted, it's beleived by most to be the LAST stage, but doesn't that suggest that it means there's a timelimit to our lives?

This is a detail at the top of a "coat of Arms" made entirely from bones. The fanlike bone layer consists of pelvic hip bones, or at least that's what they look like to me.

This piece of art within the church is called the "Monstrance." Normally a Monstrance is an urn or something, where you can store, and view remains. To call this a monstrance is like setting fire to a forest, and then selecting a small burning twig, and calling it "the hot twig"
Death lends importance to life. These older cultures realize the importance of reminding people of that. In America's hard driving quest to make everything non-offensive to all, they've effectively removed death from the equation. "Death, where is thy stingalingaling?" How can the general populace, OR the government make life-and-death decisions without even really knowing what death means?

Most people don't think in terms of life having a timelimit. Procrastination should be a horrible, uh, many-lettered word that get's your mouth washed-out with soap. Live now, not, "eventually". If you intend to live "eventually" you'd do well to remember that everything, including this sentence, will end. It's the only time "eventually" can truly apply to our lives: Eventually we will die, nothing else in life is certain, especially not the duration. It's not as though our lives will continue perpetually until we can get out and do all the stuff we want to. This is it man, use it or lose it.

No one get's out of here alive.

Next up: "Cappuchin Monkey business?" Another ossuary, owned, and operated by capuchin monks. Unlike the "Chapel of Bones", this one is a bit more thematic.

"Deadguy's Dementia" is ©2002 by Mike "Deadguy" Scott.  Webpage design by Nolan B. Canova.  The "Deadguy's Dementia" header graphic and background tile are creations of Mike Scott.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2002 by Nolan B. Canova.