Melnik Bouquet

I’m back home. Happy to see that our piles of snow melted in my absence. However, I’m not quite ready to put the bones behind me, and hopefully you’re not either since I have a couple more ossuaries to tell you about (what a relief to post from a desktop computer rather than pecking away on the phone.)


One of our last outings in the Czech Republic brought us to the small town of Melnik (spelled with various tick marks and accents over the vowels and pronounced as if you had a mouthful of honey),

IMG_1908   IMG_1951where the 10th – 11th century cliff-side church of St. Peter and St. Paul’s sits atop a densely packed, little-visited ossuary holding the bones of 10, 000 to 15,000 deceased and one dessicated but still brilliantly red bouquet of roses.


Hannah and I paid the modest entry fee and stepped into this dirt floored, cob-webbed crypt    IMG_1948                                           accompanied by piped in funereal music. We were on our own and Hannah got right to work documenting all the teeth with photos and sketches. This can take some time, but hey, this is what we were here for.  IMG_1944

IMG_1918  IMG_1920

IMG_1922  IMG_1927 (you see the skulls spelling in Latin, yes?)

Suddenly the music stopped and the ticket taker, who was well out of view, called out several sentences to us in Czech and then we heard her feet ascend the stairs, leaving us undisturbed and wondering what on earth she had just told us. Once Hannah finished her teeth documentation we headed up and found that the ticket taker had apparently closed up “shop”, but luckily just with a rope which could easily be untied–no wonder we had had the crypt to ourselves!

From the crypt we headed next door to the  Lobkowicz castle. Replenished by our coffee break in the castle parlor for which we were the only guests and woefully under-dressed,

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we poked around (no other visitors during the whole visit and no guards in sight–I think we could have taken up residence and no one would have noticed) to see what sorts of things the Lobkowiczes collected. I think this qualifies as quirky and at the very least fit in rather nicely with the ossuary theme of the day:


We were not

IMG_1959ed  all day.


I was definitely having heart palpitations as Hannah Verlin and I approached Junkerhaus


in the small town of Lemgo in north central Germany. (Lemgo, by the way, is a completely under rated town. Why this picturesque, perfectly preserved renaissance town is barely mentioned or even completely omitted by guide books, I cannot understand.    IMG_1982     IMG_2186

IMG_2150   IMG_2133                       Lemgo’s streets are lined with  lovingly restored houses with carved and painted facades, the likes of which we didn’t encounter anywhere else. Should you find yourself near Hanover Germany, go a little out of your way to visit Lemgo!)                                            Seeing Junkerhaus in person had been a dream of mine since  I learned about it thirty years ago when I first started becoming passionate about outsider art. When Hannah asked me if I wanted to join her on her ossuary trip, I thought, Aha! This could be my chance to see Junkerhaus!  This eccentric environment is the creation of Karl Junker who constructed, carved, and painted every inch of his house inside and out nonstop for 23 years in late 1800’s, early 1900’s. He began his oeuvre by building a precise 1- 20 scale model of his visionary home and then proceeded with the basic construction of the three story house.                 IMG_2119                                                He had had earlier experience as a carpenter, and then went to art school in Munich where he learned to draw and paint. Junker abandoned all other pursuits once he began his obsessive house project.      IMG_20150416_113119316_HDR    IMG_20150416_110538898_HDR     IMG_2113                                                               I’m worried I might me overusing words like awesome, astounding, magnificent, on this trip of wonders, but have a look at these images and see if you don’t agree. IMG_2011                                              IMG_20150416_105528540       IMG_20150416_111746121        IMG_20150416_111738699        IMG_20150416_111713269      IMG_2035 IMG_2058                                                                                                                   To be so single minded, so sure of one’s vision, so unconcerned what the neighbors think, now that is awesome!       IMG_20150416_110129761_HDR

Sedlec Ossuary: This will wake you up!

Hopefully you have not tired of bones, because here comes the most remarkable site on our grand ossuary tour: the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic (just one hour east of Prague). This crypt, containing the remains of 40,000 people,      IMG_20150411_100203433     is no ordinary ossuary (if indeed an ossuary could ever be considered ordinary), it is an extraordinary work of art, an eccentric work of creative genius by the 19th woodworker, Frantisek Rint, who was given free reign to organize the 16th century ossuary bones that had been originally stacked  by a half-blind monk in 1511.      Rint  had a field day arranging  the old, artlessly stacked bones into all manner of sculpture and wall drawings:                                  IMG_20150411_092522634

IMG_20150411_092601885                     He created this magnificent coat of arms of the Schwarzenberg family, Rint’s employer.

IMG_20150411_094147389    and chalices,

IMG_20150411_094136265    IMG_1515

and writing (above right: the artist’s signature)


IMG_20150411_093655142                     and even a hanging chandelier

comprised of at least one of every type of human bone.           IMG_20150411_101054038

It is hard to find words to do justice to the Sedlec Ossuary. Monumental, magical, and oddly, not morbid, or at least not morbid in the way I used to think of that word before this trip.

A Break from the Bones: Art Brut and More

Besides hunting down medieval bones in Germany and Czech Republic (Hannah Verlin’s quest ), I have been, as always, on the lookout for outsider art/art brut, and curious roadside attractions. We have been scoring big time in this department. I was happy that Hannah was so game for a rather ambitious day trip on a raw, rainy, and cold day to visit the out of the way Charlotte Zander Museum, south of Heidelberg, Germany. Charlotte Zander, who sadly passed away fairly recently had amassed the largest private collection of outsider art in Europe in her long life time: 40,000 works of art, 4,000 of which are on display in a lovely chateau-like building in the sweet, tiny town of Bonnigheim, Germany.                                        IMG_20150404_125426498_HDR                                                  It took us most of the day to see the whole museum    IMG_20150404_131334740                                         IMG_20150404_114624312_HDR                                                                                                                         IMG_20150404_110636793_HDR               and we were the only visitors the whole time we were there. Besides what is typically categorized in Europe as Art Brut ( as in the images above) -or in the USA, as Outsider Art, the Charlotte Zander Museum also has a broad and deep collection of folk art, particularly devotional paintings.                          IMG_20150404_110908852_HDR                                                                                                                            IMG_20150404_124401955          Happily Charlotte Zander daughter’s Suzanne, has taken on the directorship of the museum since her mother’s death so this very special collection will continue to be safeguarded and open to the public. Suzanne runs an outsider art gallery in Cologne (Koln), Germany, which we are planning to visit next week.

Our first day in Prague we stumbled on a top notch exhibition from Bruno DeCharme’s Paris ABCD collection, another important European collection of Art Brut.        IMG_20150412_114220994



IMG_20150412_104530585_HDR   IMG_20150412_110610803 We found this traveling exhibition at Prague’s DOX Museum of contemporary art, a very cool museum indeed, and nicely off the main tourist trail. Lots of other really cool and quirky work on exhibit at the DOX Museum:                                                    IMG_20150412_125218452_HDR           IMG_20150412_125416627

IMG_20150412_125310356                                             And finally, a lucky find to add to this post before signing off; enroute to a village in Poland, we stepped on the brakes for these two huge and astounding metal cows advertising a scrap metal business:                     IMG_20150410_124000830      IMG_20150410_124216062                                                                             IMG_20150410_124035747


The Great Santini

After tooling around the very interesting and underrated city of Brno, with medieval labyrinthine tunnels that wind this way and that under the city, Hannah and I hired a wonderful guide, Helena Svedova, to drive us into the Czech countryside. We had read that there was a very unusual ossuary in the crypt under the Pilgrimage Church in the village of Krtiny, (Hannah and I worked all day to master the pronunciation of KRTINY which sounds like a sneeze–I don’t think we came close to succeeding even though intrepid guide/ tutor Helena was encouraging and complimentary) unusual, because here several of the skulls are painted with decorative laurel motifs, the only known example of this in the Czech republic.,                                                                       IMG_20150409_103839643

The magnificent Krtiny Church of the Virgin Mary IMG_1248       IMG_20150409_110144921_HDR

was designed by the renowned Baroque architect Santini, who was hired to design several basilicas in this region. We had no idea what a treat we were in for. Helena had called ahead to arrange a viewing of the crypt for us which is not normally open to the public. The monseigneur of the church greeted our arrival with a special carilloning of the bells       IMG_20150409_105340534                                                                and then gave us an intimate tour of the basilica. We loved this monseigneur who so clearly loved his church. In describing the genius of Santini, the monseigneur used the words, ” a Niagara Falls of light”.   Tears came to his eyes as he recounted the story of the building of the church.                                                                   IMG_20150409_102146514          IMG_1261                                                   Santini unfortunately died before the builders got to the most difficult part of the dome.                                         IMG_20150409_101726778                  IMG_20150409_102558391_HDR                                                    They became so overwhelmed they didn’t think they could proceed. The next day a mysterious carpenter showed up to work. With his guidance they all got back to work. Every night the carpenter mysteriously disappeared, never joining them at the pub or to bed down with them at the tavern. Every morning he returned and led them through the next difficult section. When they finally finished their work they realized their daily visitor had been Joseph (as in Jesus’s father)

After a very complete tour of the basilica the monseigneur led us down into the crypt          IMG_20150409_103219304                                                          where beside the painted skulls (which denote church patrons), there were neatly stacked and niched (by contemporary archaeologists) IMG_20150409_103447202     IMG_1268         IMG_20150409_103909988  several hundred skulls and femurs.

The Krtiny Church also houses a wonderful collection of devotional paintings by untrained artists, given to the church in gratitude for favors granted:

IMG_1278  IMG_1285

We were fortunate that our route with Helena to Poland brought us to a second Santini masterpiece,

IMG_20150410_090153591             IMG_20150410_090434178_HDR                                              the pilgrimage Church of St John of Nepomuk at Zelena Hora, pictured above. This church serves as a reliquary to the tongue of St John Nepomuk, the patron saint of Bohemia. Look up at the impossibly high, vaulted ceiling to see a sculptor’s rendition of the tongue:IMG_1329 the symbol of St. John’s incorruptibility. He had been the confessor for the queen of Bohemia and refused to divulge what he heard whispered in the confessional.

And finally today we crossed into Poland to visit the Kaplica Czaszek (skull chapel) in St. Bartolomew’s Church, Czermna in the spa town of Kudowa Zdroj.                                                          IMG_20150410_145637066                                             This tiny side chapel houses a most astounding display of bones covering every inch of wall and ceiling, arranged in stunning patterns. Just as we were about to leave the chapel guide, after leading everyone in Polish prayer, lifted up a trap door in the floor and revealed that there were hundreds (thousands?) more bones strewn unceremoniously below us.




Books, Bones and More Bones

After a long day driving across Germany on Easter Sunday we arrived at our destination, the Basilica in the Bavarian town of Waldsassen only to discover the 10 jewel-encrusted skeletons we came to visit were totally obscured by scaffolding and plywood partitions recently erected to begin the enormous task of renovating the church. We could barely make out these treasures once our eyes adjusted to the darkness.

IMG_0972  IMG_0978

So, sadly, my worrisome premonition that all might not be well with the Waldsassen skeletons turned out to be true–sigh. It was such an out-of-the-way place.  Well, they’ll be back on view sometime in 2017 if anyone else is tempted to venture here. We were still happy we’d come to Waldsassen though, as there is a most magnificent 17th century library in the abbey next door,



complete with tooled leather volumes, fresco-ed ceilings and wonderfully eccentric carving.

We awoke the next morning to…. SNOW! IMG_0966

UGH! The Bavarian countryside, as we could see from the train,  was completely coated in white. I hope, dear Boston, that you are DONE with the white stuff, if so maybe you have us to thank. We feel we have brought it with us.

We arrived in Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic last night. Fortified by a typical Czech breakfast of, well, EVERYTHING. We headed off for the Brno ossuary




50,000 souls, whose skeletons were placed in the underground passageways beneath the church as a way of addressing the lack of space in Brno’s cemeteries, overwhelmed by the plague. (Among other calamities). This ossuary, second largest in Europe, was recently rediscovered and has been open to the public only since 2012. Just a couple blocks away from the Brno ossuary is the equally incredible and eerie Capuchin crypt where naturally mummified monks layIMG_20150407_121439633



side by side.

Besides the mummified Capuchin monks, this crypt hold the beautiful bejeweled St. Clementiane with a waxen face:

IMG_1034  IMG_1026

Brno may be the city of bones, but I cannot sign off from this posting without an image of the infamous Brno dragon which hangs from the ceiling of the old city hall. You might have another idea of what this creature is, but you would be wrong.IMG_20150407_132138980_HDR

Student Prison

Who could have dreamed up the visual feast that the student prison in Heidelberg turned out to be!


This is where miscreant university students were sent in the period from 1712 to 1914 to “serve time”. (They were still allowed to attend lectures during their incarceration!)


This two story holding pen for drinkers, duelers, and other deviants is stupendously graffitied and carved, every inch on every surface.


Wow and



Quirky first day

Hannah and I arrived in Germany on Aril 1, which we only now realized means our much anticipated Ossuary trip officially began on April Fools.  It is definitely off to a (good) quirky start. We found our first charnal house


in the small charming town of Oppenheim. This dense arrangement of skulls (you might be able to discern the gilded one at the middle/ right) and femurs are the remains of 20,000 Oppenheimer citizens who departed this earth from 1400 to 1750. This visit to the ossuary and the magnificent adjoining St Katherine’s Church



along with the beautiful half timbered houses that line the streets


Would have been reason enough to  love Oppenheim, but wait, there was more quirkiness in store!Turns out the world’s largest (could this be true?) collection of mousetraps can be seen at the local wine museum.


We never could figure out the connection between mousetraps and wine, but really what did it matter?!


And whoever said you can’t invent a better mousetrap?IMG_20150402_084247029



And I haven’t even mentioned the impressive collection of corkscrews…