I’m fascinated by the various ways in which different cultures practice burying their dead.
My personal favorite method is how the Vikings placed bodies on ship decks and let the ships float away, firing flaming arrows at them to ignite and burn them entirely — a pretty honorable way to be “buried” at sea.
Not as common, though, is the practice of digging up the dead and placing their bones on display for anyone to see, like in the Austrian town of Hallstatt.
Hallstatt is a beautiful place to live in, or so it seems at first glance.
But you might change your mind when you go to its cemetery and visit the Charnel House, a small building packed with the skulls and bones of over 1,200 people.
When Hallstatt started running out of room to bury their dead in the 1700s, the church began exhuming corpses to make way for new bodies.
The bones were laid out and bleached in the sun, then stacked alongside other deceased relatives.
Shortly after this practice began, the families began painting the skulls with their names and dates of death. They also painted symbols of love and courage to honor the dead.
More than half of the skulls in the ossuary are decorated by their kin.
This practice of stacking and decorating bones began diminishing in the 1960s, but the newest skull was added in 1995. It came from a woman whose dying wish was to join the dead in the Charnel House.
Though the ossuary is undeniably spooky, there is a quiet dignity about the skulls that is oddly beautiful.
(via Atlas Obscura)
I may run for the hills when I get there, but I feel the strange urge to visit Hallstatt and experience the Charnel House for myself. I’m sure it would be unforgettable.