On March 31, 2015 I fly with fellow artist, Hannah Verlin
to Frankfurt Germany to begin our much anticipated “Ossuary Trip”.
Three years ago, Hannah and another Boston Sculptor colleague, Laura Evans, and I were driving back from Cleveland, Ohio, having set up an exhibition of Boston Sculptors at the Ohio Sculpture Center. In whiling away the 11 hour drive I asked my fellow travelers if there was a fantasy trip they had in mind. Hannah was able to answer this question without a moment’s hesitation. She had obviously already given this a lot of thought. “ Oh ya! I want to go on an ossuary trip.” To which Laura and I both responded, “What’s an ossuary?” Hannah’s reply: “charnel houses”. Us: “Huh?” Once she got us to understand what ossuaries are, crypts where skeletal remains are stored, I replied. “Oh, I’d go with you on that trip in a minute!” “Really?” Yes, really. Turns out I’d already visited several ossuaries in my life, without knowing what they were called. I visited the Rome catacombs when I was a kid and was enthralled. The bone-filled Rome crypt is amazingly decorative a visual feast. Much later, as an adult, I stumbled upon (and almost got locked in overnight–but that’s another story) a similar domed crypt in Cuzco where the bones were sorted by type and formed into careful, dense floral patterns, from floor to ceiling. I’ve also always been intrigued with the reliquaries one sees in churches all over Europe: here the index finger of St. Catherine, there the vertebra of St. Michael, in the most exquisite carved and bejeweled boxes. I could stare at those for hours. “So, yes, really, Hannah, if you ever decide to go on your ossuary trip and want a travel partner, I’m in.”
That was three years ago. Since then Hannah and I had the opportunity to travel together for another exhibit of Boston Sculptors Gallery artists, this time to Peru. Our visit in Lima to the San Francisco Cathedral ossuary rekindled our trip fantasy .
Since then Hannah and I have checked with each other every few months, “Do you still want to go on that ossuary trip?’ “Yes!” We started doing research. Found a couple great books by ossuary expert, Paul Koudounaris, and chatted over several coffees about this trip of our dreams. About 6 months ago Hannah called me up. “Guess what! I wrote up a proposal for the ossuary trip and won the Museum School (Boston) Traveling Scholar Grant to do it! You still want to go?” “YES!!”
We’ll be traveling primarily to Germany and the Czech republic, with a one day trip to a village in Poland. These countries have a relatively high concentration of ossuaries. The styles range from highly decorative (we look forward to visiting a bone church in the Czech Republic where the chandeliers are composed of pelvic bones) to the morbidly austere (another Czech crypt where naturally mummified monks are lined up side by side on cots—not sure that will be my favorite). In Bavarian Germany there was a a kind of craze in the 1500’s of nuns sewing bejeweled costumes for skeletons (presumed to be saints). We’re hoping to visit one of the few churches which still has those on display to the public on Easter weekend, appropriately enough.
Hope you enjoy following along!