Though it might look like any other Polish chapel from the outside, the Kaplica Czaszek chapel sets itself apart: behind a humble pair of wooden doors, it contains the bones of thousands. After visiting shallow grave sites commemorating the fallen soldiers and civilians killed in the Silesian Wars, the Thirty Years’ War, plagues, and cholera, a local priest named Vaclav Tomasek collected and cleaned skeletal remains, embedding them in the chapel walls.
Constructed between 1776 and 1804, the building’s architecture stunningly deconstructs the human skeleton; skulls and leg bones are meticulously arranged over the ceilings and walls, while other bones are hidden behind a trapdoor and kept in a crypt. The repetitive patterns that emerge from a single human bone laid out a thousand times over serves to remind us of our connectedness; while each individual femur or cranium stands in for a deceased individual, it takes on a deeper, more universal meaning as part of this expertly-constructed whole.
Within this celebration of oneness, Tomasek set apart strange and unusual bones, placing them on the church altar. Alongside the skull of a mayor and the chapel founder, sits a skull morphed by syphilis, one of a rumored giant, and a few penetrated by bullets. In this way, the structure daringly elevates the macabre—and those who suffered from uncommon maladies—to the spiritual level of relics left behind by local religious and political leaders.
Within the context of the church and its representations of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ, the remains offer a potent juxtaposition between the spiritual and the corporeal. Visitors cannot escape this powerful reminder of mortality, but if they so wish, they are poignantly invited to consider the possibility of salvation and eternal life. (via Lost at E Minor and Smithsonian Magazine)