I don’t know if there’s a connection for sure, but the most morbid cemeteries on this blog are also the most often searched for. Here they are in order of queries:
Week 15: The Capuchin Catacomb of Rome
Far and away the most popular post I’ve ever written on Cemetery Travel: Sometime in the 1700s, the bones of 4000 monks were arranged into butterflies, hourglasses, and the Grim Reaper himself in the crypt beneath Rome’s Church of the Immaculate Conception. The various rooms are known as the Crypt of the Skulls or the Crypt of the Pelvises, to help you identify the dominant decorative motif. When in Rome, this should not be missed.
Week #23: Aître Saint Maclou in Rouen, France
I was surprised how popular this little gem is, when it comes to queries on Cemetery Travel. Tucked in behind other buildings — and no longer full of bodies — the Atrium of St. Maclou is the only remaining medieval plague cloister still in existence. When the Black Plague struck Rouen in 1348, it wiped out three-quarters of the city’s inhabitants. To accommodate the dead, a new cemetery was built near the Church of Saint Maclou. Without regard to social standings, all bodies were dumped into the mass grave. When the plague returned in the 16th century, the earlier bodies were exhumed and stored in the surrounding cloister to make room for the new victims. It’s a lovely, peaceful little square — as long as you find the skulls, crossbones, coffins, and spades carved into the woodwork on all the buildings to be cheerful. I suppose it’s no surprise I do. Any day above ground is a good day.
Week #19: The Paris Municipal Ossuary in Paris, France
Six million people, including victims of the French Revolution, were exhumed from the cemeteries of Paris by order of Napoleon. Their bones were transferred to this quarry beneath the city streets. The doorway to the ossuary greets you with “Arrêtez. C’est ici l’empire de la mort.” The warning turned away Nazis, who never discovered the Resistance fighters and their radio hidden here. I spent one of the best birthdays of my life exploring the corridors full of bones and poetry.
Week #38: the Sedlec Ossuary (the Bone Chapel), Kutna Hora, the Czech Republic
In 1278, Abbot Heidenreich brought a jar of dirt back from the Holy Land to sanctify this little Cistercian graveyard. It soon became the most popular burying ground in Central Europe. People literally came to Kutna Hora to die. At the close of the 14th century, after the Bohemian brush with the Black Death, the monks exhumed the bones and stored them in their mortuary church, where they lingered until Frantisek Rint rearranged them in the 1860s. The decor includes a spectacular chandelier and a coat of arms, both made of bones. I spent another memorable birthday traveling just to see them.
Week #26: the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, Japan
For my taste, the most morbid cemetery of them all is Ground Zero of the first atomic bomb. There were no bones left to display after most of the victims were vaporized by the blast, but those who were exhumed from the rubble or recovered from the river were cremated and reburied in a 12-foot-high tumulus which contains the remains of 70,000 people. The museum displays gruesome mementos that were all survivors could save of their loved ones. It’s an intense place, where school boys reached out to shake hands with my husband. There aren’t many cemeteries that bring me to tears, but this one did.