Thursday, November 17, 2022

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The Chapel Of Skulls In Poland

The Skull Chapel in Poland is one of the few places on the planet in which death has sparked a creative instinct, which in this case has transformed the bones of tens of thousands of the Polish people in a place of prayer. As one of the three places of its kind in Europe (two more can be found in Portugal and Czech Republic), the chapel attracts a fairly large number of curiosity-mongers. The flabby, weak-hearted individuals prefer to interrupt the tour, as staying calm when you're surrounded by thousands of skulls can be impossible for the majority of them.

The Chapel of Skulls in Poland, a place of prayer approved by the Vatican, is one of the most impressive monuments dedicated to the fascination for death. This, especially within the Catholic Church, was very powerful during the Middle Ages, when death was everywhere in various forms such as plagues, wars, accidents or famine. Exposure of death in drawings, traditions or in architecture represented a "memento mori" – "Do not forget that you are a mortal". The phenomenon has become much smaller since then, the anonymous deaths becoming more rare, and the use of corpses in various purposes becoming almost illegal.

The Polish Skull Chapel was created at a time in which such small details were not even mentioned. The "raw material" was unfortunately very easy to find, religious wars between Catholics and those who did not accept their authority, armed conflicts over territory or epidemics of cholera taking thousands of lives, that were lost unregistered. Most deaths are still linked with the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). The chapel will be built later, in 1776, by the priest Waclaw Tomaszek (of Czech origin, who along with his helpers spent more than 10 years collecting bones of common graves, disinfecting them and using them for the building of the chapel. At that time, such activity would have seemed much less macabre than it may seem today, because then the ossuaries or catacombs in which bones were exposed were not such an unusual sight. This practice will be prohibited during the Napoleonic period, for reasons of stopping the spread of disease. This fear was quite justified, as the knowledge about transmission of infectious diseases were minimal and saturated with superstitions.

Unlike Czech chapel, in which the bones are arranged so that it creates true visual representations, this one in Poland is simplest. Perfectly ordinary looking from the outside, it can be easily confused with any other place of worship. The strange chapel is revealed in its true form immediately at the entrance. The walls are made of tens of thousands of bones, placed with patience and care for years, and the altar is in turn, for the most part, made of 3,000 skulls stacked on top of each other without leaving any space between them. In the center of the altar of the Skull Chapel is to be found a Catholic simple cross, with a statue of Jesus Christ crucified. It seems almost inappropriate, with the decorations that surround it, among the thousands of bones blackened by time. These, especially the longer bones of the legs, were simply arranged, in the form of "x", style sometimes ironically likened to that of the pirate's flag, Jolly Roger.

As expected, such a large number of bones had to have a few bones more special; thus, there can be seen skulls with holes caused by bullets, affected by syphilis or bigger than usual. The mayor of the city back then and his wife wanted to be part of the building, and that is what happened after their deaths. Now they are as anonymous as 20,000 other people in the Chapel.

There are some voices that criticize the method chosen by the priest in order to create a memento mori. Although it seems that he wished to commemorate the death of thousands of Christians, the method chosen was at the least, radical, particularly because in the crypt of the chapel, the skeletons of about 20,000 people rest. Some say it is a good place to rest, while others believe that the composition of the Chapel skull was only a way to hide the brutality of the Catholic Church realized in the past. Fortunately for him probably, the Polish Catholic priest died before any controversy to have arisen. His skull, as well as the skulls of its helpers, were used at the design of the Chapel, resting near the center of the altar.

Those who want to see with their own eyes the both macabre and fascinating building can travel in Poland without a care, as the access is easy. In Lower Silesia, one kilometer from Kudowa Zdroj, there is found the Czermna town, the final place for 24,000 people. Although some problems may arise for those who want to see the Skull Chapel due to the pronunciation, the uniqueness of the place should be enough to get details about its location. The location is easily accessible by car, being a typical Polish town, but one with a gruesome secret hidden in a place of prayer.

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