Sunday, May 27, 2012

Fashions for the Pulchritudinously Attired Skeleton

Charnel houses, ossuaries, reliquaries and the remains of saintly skeletons preserved in their furs and jewels are a source of endless fascination for the insomniac; entire itineraries have been planned with the intent of squeezing as many of these in as humanly possible. The websites Atlas Obscura and Curious Expeditions are both religiously checked before planning any trip to be sure no gaudily outfitted saint will be missed. And while these objects are perhaps not quite so fascinating to the insomniac's  long-suffering spouse, he tolerates a fair number of these excursions provided there is the promise of frequent stops along the way for a nice, cold beverage.

Here are a few favourites, some of which have already been visited, others planned for future itineraries, and still others having been missed entirely while already in the country. Dammit.

Note: Although the insomniac  is very good at trying to capture a decent picture, she is not equally as good at taking note of where it was taken or who was the subject, as attempting to capture the perfect shot through glass is such an all-consuming endeavour there is little energy left for acquiring any actual history about the saintly relics. Therefore, one hopes the reader understands if memory has dimmed and only vague references about the subject or location are given.

St. Barbara's Church, Kutna Hora

Closeup of Above - Occupant's Name Unknown

A short stop in Fribourg, Switzerland before departing to Gruyères (and the H.R. Giger Museum, which was also on that year's itinerary), unearthed this lovely fellow. Quite obviously not an extremely popular tourist destination, as the insomniac  and her spouse were the only people there for a large portion of the time, but quite worth the effort it took to locate him. Unfortunately, one can't quite recall the address in Fribourg where Felix resides ...

 St. Felix - Fribourg, Switzerland - Exact Address Unknown
And yes, the insomniac  has tried taking pictures without using the flash,
but they turn out even worse than this one did ...

A closeup of Felix scanned from a postcard, having previously learned from past experience that upon returning home from the trip and downloading the 800+ pictures to the computer, one is lucky if even one-quarter of them are worth saving. And if the picture happens to be taken in a dimly lit charnel house or the saintly relic is safely nestled in an ornate glass casket, it's probably a safe bet that not a single one  has turned out. Accordingly, always an excellent idea to purchase a postcard, when available, as a backup. 

Photograph by Primula Bosshard

A Reliquary at the Same Unknown Location as Felix

Whilst researching painted skulls and gaudily dressed skeletons, the insomniac  stumbled upon the painted skulls in St. Michael's Chapel in Hallstatt, Austria. Having just been to Hallstatt and having managed to completely miss these, the insomniac  reexamined last year's itinerary and saw that she had specifically made note of two attractions that were “a must see” while in Hallstatt - the Salt Mines and the Charnel House - neither of which were visited while there. It should be noted that a tour of a fairly impressive salt mine in Poland had already been done at the beginning of the trip, so it is understandable that touring a second seemed slightly redundant. Quite probably the reason the Charnel House was ignored was because the exact location had not been determined prior to departure. Perhaps if the insomniac  had made mention of Painted Skulls and not simply jotted down Charnel House, greater efforts might have been made to locate the attraction.

It has since been further discovered that both routes to St. Michael's have “steep inclines and numerous staircases”, a small detail that suggests any future itinerary should include Hallstatt at the beginning of the trip when one is still fresh and eager, and not nearing the end of the trip when one peruses the itinerary and proclaims “Well, we've already seen a Salt Mine and quite a few Charnel Houses. Let's just sit and have a few more beers before trying to locate these next points of interest, shall we?” And as a direct result of that particular decision, the following photo WAS NOT taken by the insomniac  herself, but comes instead from the pages of the book referenced below ...

The parish gravedigger also painted the skulls.
It bears repeating -
why aren't there jobs like that around anymore?

Here are a few pictures that WERE taken by the insomniac  in Hallstatt; the first showing where St. Michael's might possibly be located, and the second showcasing a unique Gothic garden decorating idea, which has absolutely nothing to do with pulchritudinously dressed skeletons but that one feels is interesting enough to include, nonetheless.

One vaguely remembers an extremely steep set of stairs leading up
to the church behind the yellow house, right forefront,
at which point it was unanimously decided another beer might be in order ...

Outside an antique store in Hallstatt - Moss and Antlers and Old Chairs -
and on the insomniac's  ever expanding To Do List ...

The next location is one the insomniac  previously investigated but determined was quite difficult to get to and therefore didn't fit nicely into the already planned itinerary. However, one feels it is always wise to leave a few things unseen, thus necessitating the need for a return trip at some point. To be sure, the decorated skeletons at the Basilica of Waldassen in Germany will most definitely be included on next year's itinerary.

Magnificent, no?

The following martyred skeleton at St. Peter's Church was completely missed when in Munich last year, and obviously missed the previous two visits as well. In one's own defense, once one steps inside the doors of the Hofbräuhaus, any good intentions of visiting other tourist attractions pretty much fall by the wayside ... perhaps next time.

St. Mundita - Patron Saint of Unmarried Women

The insomniac  would like to recommend the book referenced below, not only for the beautiful images but also for the ossuary, charnel house and embellished skeleton sites listed at the end of the book, grouped according to country. This information should be a tremendous aid in helping you plan your next itinerary by choosing the countries with the most sites - Italy coming in first with thirteen, and the Czech Republic, Germany and Portugal running a close second with eight apiece. Entirely feasible in a four week trip, provided one doesn't tire too quickly and end up spending far too much time sitting in a café swilling beer, that is.

Until next time, the insomniac  wishes you nights of blissful sleep filled with pleasant dreams, while visions of painted skulls dance in your heads ... Goodnight, my pretties.


PostScript: Isn't pulchritudinous a fabulous word? The insomniac  has been dying to find a way to work that one into the conversation since she first started posting ...

Picture sources:
   The Empire of Death, A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses, Paul Koudounaris


  1. Hello !
    Though i live in Switzerland, i was surprised to learn about St. Felix. After a bit research i found the place where hes at: Musée d'art et d'histoire / Espace Jean Tinguely, 12 Rue de Morat, CH-1700 Fribourg, (0)26 305 51 40

    1. Thank you for the information, Anonymous! It will be most helpful for other readers who might like to visit St. Felix while they're in Switzerland! :o)