Thursday, November 25, 2010

Minky Spare’s favourite places to see bones Part 1:

My dad’s attic
He used to have entire human skeletons as a teenager. The Dublin Bone Shop would sell a complete set of hand bones for 5 shillings. By the time I came along he’d reduced his collection to a few skulls, a pelvis, and the hand. Rummaging in the attic was a bit tense, as you never knew quite what you’d grab a hold of.
I was told a lot of the medical specimens from the bone shop came from casualties of Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia. I’m not sure of the truth of this, but no irate Ethiopian spirit came to tell me off for putting marbles in his eye sockets or taking his hand to a Halloween boat cruise. I suppose at least the bones were treated with affection if not what one could describe as respect.

A cemetery that was prone to overcrowding and soil erosion makes for a great combo. Jawbones hanging out of the roots of hedges. There was a brick enclosure there, filled with gravel. I was told that it was where they put bones that got disinterred when new burials were being made. Then my dad put me in the enclosure … as an impromptu playpen for a 5 year old, it worked pretty well.

The volume of bones ends up being overwhelming. It was thought the cemeteries of Paris were a health hazard, so all the bodies were disinterred and placed in the Catacombs. A plain badly lit walk along dripping tunnels only serves to heighten the fear before you actually confront the bones. And my god there must be millions of people there. Stacks of skulls and thighbones, each labeled with a plate explaining which cemetery the remains were from. By the time you emerge, into daylight, it’s such a relief you don’t even care you’re in a seedy unmapped back street kilometers from where you entered.

Capuchin monks were seriously nuts. Once dead, they liked to lose the flesh and then have their bones wired into various displays to remind everyone of mortality. Various displays including grim reapers complete with scythes … it’s amazing what you can do with a few femurs and clavicles.

The one place I haven’t been that I’m going to include on the list, just because it has to be the best place ever to see bones, is Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic. The soil in the cemetery there included some bought back from Golgotha (which, if I remember my Man from U.N.C.L.E. education … or am I getting confused with evil villian Sardonicus … meant Place of the Skull). It made the burial site very appealing and very crowded. If you personally find you ever have this combination, please don’t then put a half-blind mad monk in charge of tidying up the bones, as you will then find he’s gone a bit bananas. He’s most likely have made Chandeliers, coats of arms, and all sorts of knickknackery that makes the Capuchins look total amateurs.

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