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Day of the Dead
Sedlec, Paris Catacombs
and Other Skeletons Not In The Closet

The 2nd day of November marks Day of the Dead in Mexico, or Día de Muertos. With its proximity to Halloween/All Saint's Day it evokes mixed reactions from people who aren't familiar with this custom. In México it's considered a fun holiday, a day of remembrance of the dead, a chance to spend time with the deceased loved ones and celebrate their lives. Did you know that people have a picnic at the cemetery, bringing the foods that the loved one enjoyed while alive, and throw a great party over their tombstone?

Sugar Skull

If someone in Mexico gives you a sugar skull or a toy skelleton for Day of the Dead, it means they like you!

Mexico has a tradition of skulls and skeletons appearing in popular art and ancient rituals dating back to the time of the Aztecs. José Guadalupe Posada was a cartoonist whose social and political criticism documented the Mexican Revolution of 1910 by satirizing the rich and the politicians, and by depicting Mexican traditions and customs with poignant humor.


La Calavera Catrina, or Posh Skeleton, a merry-go-lucky character by Posada.

Skulls and skeletons often appear in modern art and crafts, and giving them and receiving them is a common practice in Mexico, where we poke fun at the gravitas of death, and face our own mortality with a smile in our faces. If you like someone, give him or her a skull!

Calavera with Encrusted with Sequins

Skull encrusted with sequins. Not everyone's taste in decoration, but cool and fun nevertheless.

Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic

The Sedlec Ossuary is a chapel in the Church of All Saints in the town of Kutná Hora. It's famous for displaying the skeletons of about 70,000 people, many of them arranged in artistic displays that furnish or decorate the chapel.

Coat of Bones, marking the entrance to the Sedlec chapel.

A woodcarver named Frantisek Rint was commissioned in 1870 to arrange the bone heaps in the ossuary. Frantisek was a crafty fellow, so he did the job with more diligence than anyone imagined and arranged the remains in various piles, then focused his attention on creating signs, chandeliers, and sculptures with many of the skeletons, creating fanciful displays of beautiful intricacy. He paid homage to the dead and gave them a purpose - a win-win for everyone involved!

Altar decorations.

The world famous chandelier - it displays every bone in the human body.

One of the two angels fluttering over the vaults.

No touching!

Another coat of arms, in front of one of the bone piles.

Piled bones from a few thousand people.

More eye candy from near the entrance to the ossuary.

Take a tour of the Sedlec Ossuary - many more photos here!

Paris Catacombs

The Paris catacombs started as limestone quarries, and were turned into a massive ossuary in the late 18th century, when the cemeteries within Paris city limits were running out of space to accommocate new guests, so the government decided to exhume the less wealthy buried in mass graves there and arrange the bones in the remains of the old quarries.

The inscription means: 2nd tunnel; the engineer's surname began with "K", and it was dug in 1887.

Miners burrowed through the ground, vertically and horizontally, claiming as much minerals as they could produce to satisfy the building boom above ground in Paris. The burrows open into several galleries, where the masons built elaborate maquettes or even a fancy vault. These burrows eventually became the passageway to the Municipal Ossuary, now known colloquially as The Catacombs.

Main vault leading to the catacombs, at least 8 meters of head room... but the ceiling is about 30 meters below street level!

One of two delightful maquettes built in the old quarry, covered with patches of green moss that add to its beauty.

In 1777, the Parisian Police Lieutenant General came up with the idea of using the tunnels of the former quarries as a municipal ossuary to accommodate the remains overflowing the city's cemeteries. While new cemeteries were slated to be built at Monmartre and Montparnasse, something had to be done with the 6 million or so bodies that needed a location of final rest. And so the catacombs came about.

Stop! The Empire of Death begins here - sign above the entrance to the ossuary, just past the quarry.

Some bones were just piled up, others, like these, were arranged in fanciful or artistic displays. Valentine, anyone?

Signs posted throughout the tunnels describe where the remains came from, the year when they were transferred, and other information.

From Wikipedia: Some of the arrangements are almost artistic in nature. Along the way one would find 'monuments' created in the years before catacomb renovations, such as a source-gathering fountain baptised "La Samaritaine" because of later-added engravings. There are also rusty gates blocking passages leading to other "unvisitable" parts of the catacombs.

The 'keg' of bones built around one of the columns.

Other artistic bone arrangements, this one next to a water well.

Blocked pathway into a dangerous area, slightly in disrepair.

Bones, piled neatly, next to a sarcophagus, about 4/5 on the way to the exit... almost 2 km away from the entrance!

Take a tour of the Paris Catacombs - many more photos here!