7 Bone-chilling European catacombs

Brno Ossuary | Photo by vvoennyy
Brno Ossuary | Photo by vvoennyy

7 Bone-chilling European catacombs

by Stacy Roman
Stripes Europe

“Humans have a fascination with abomination,” is a phrase one of my professors used to describe the irresistible pull some feel toward the macabre and unfamiliar. Catacombs, or underground vaults used as final resting places for the dead, are prime examples of our fascination with the creepy and slightly morbid and are not for the weak at heart. The more famous include those in Paris and Rome; however, there are plenty scattered across the continent. With the haunting season upon us, here are seven bone-chilling catacombs in Europe to visit.

Brno Ossuary – Brno, Czechia

Approximately three hours southeast of the capital city of Prague is the second-largest ossuary (the largest is Paris) in Europe. What began as a small church cemetery, quickly became a vast underground lair due to outbreaks of cholera, the plague and war. Founded in the 17th century, the Brno Ossuary was undisturbed for more than two centuries before its discovery in 2001. Pillars and walls are lined with skulls and bones from more than 50,000 souls.

"Bone Chapel" in Portugal | Photo by bloodua

Capela Dos Ossos – Evora, Portugal

Translating to the “bone chapel,” Capela dos Ossos in Évora, Portugal consists of more than 1,000 skeletons. Because of overcrowding in the adjacent churchyard, the bones of monks and local clergymen were exhumed from their graves to create space for the newly deceased. These remains were arranged into intricate shapes and patterns along the walls inside the chapel.

Capuchin Monastery Catacombs – Palermo, Italy

The Catacombe dei Cappuccini, or Catacombs of Capuchin, is anything but your ordinary ossuary. Located beneath the seemingly benign monastery, more than 8,000 corpses and 1,200 mummies clad in their best attire reside along the walls, on shelves, in coffins, or even in posed scenes. The oldest remains belong to Silvestro da Gubbio, a monk from the 16th century who was entombed so his soul could continue to pray and remain at the monastery. One of the last to take up residence was two-year-old Rosalia Lombardo, whose well-preserved body has deemed her “Sleeping Beauty.” 



Hal Saflieni Hypogeum – Paola, Malta

This prehistoric burial ground dates back to 4000 B.C. and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The vaults are sectioned into three levels, with the bottom level dubbed the “Holy of Holies.” Ancient symbols, drawing and painting in red clay pigment adorn the walls and ceiling of the hypogeum. Discovered in 1902, the catacombs are thought to have contained the remains of up to 7,000 people. Due to the delicate climate, the site only allows 80 visitors per day.

St. Michan’s Church, Dublin, Ireland

With a nondescript exterior, it’s hard to believe this unassuming house of worship dates back to 1095. It’s even more difficult to imagine it is also home to five burial vaults beneath the church. Made of limestone, the catacombs have proven to help naturally preserve the mummified remains – including those of a 400-year old nun and possibly an 800-year old crusader. However, whatever is preserving the bodies also speeds up the decay of coffins, which can cause coffin to break open and reveal the remains. Unfortunately, the crypt was vandalized earlier this year, which caused significant damage to the two aforementioned bodies.

Czech Republic's famous "Bone Church" | Photo by Kinga Wolczynska

Sedlec Ossuary – Kutná Hora, Czechia

Hiding behind a quaint Czech church approximately an hour from Prague is quite possibly one of the most bizarre and macabre chapels in Europe. Known to most as “The Bone Church,” Sedlec Ossuary is a small Catholic church which contains an estimated 40,000 to 70,000 skeletons. In order to make room for the rise in deaths from the Black Death and war, the bones were exhumed and stacked by monks in the 16th century. In the 1800s, a woodcarver was hired to arrange the bones, resulting in what is seen today. A large chandelier, coat of arms, wall hangings and even furniture were fashioned from the skeletons.

Stephansdom Katakomben – Vienna, Austria

The final resting place for more than 11,000 souls, the catacombs beneath St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna is more than 650 years old. The vaults have since been divided into smaller sections and are still in use. While bodies of the Habsburg nobility were interred in a separate crypt across town, the Stephansdom Katakomben are home to more than 60 jars of royal intestines and organs. The underground lair is only accessible through a guided tour.

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