As human populations keep rising and land becomes ever more scarce, what smarter solution to the problem of congested graveyards than to scoop up the skeletons of the long dead and build ossuaries and charnel houses (vaults specifically built for human remains)? For this gorgeously illustrated history of the architecture and cultural significance of charnel houses, art historian Paul Koudounaris visited 18 countries, exploring sites right across Europe and as far as afield as Ecuador and Colombia. The charnel houses described in his monographs and portrayed in the beautifully composed photographs (he took most of these himself) are artistic masterpieces as well as movingly macabre memento mori – and, as many are closed to the general public, this book is a unique experience in the realm of dark tourism. If you really must see one face to skull, you need to join a group tour to St Brides, Fleet Street, where there’s a medieval charnel house with the bones laid out in orderly categories. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
‘The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses’ by Paul Koudounaris is published by Thames & Hudson, £29.95.
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