Recently, archaeologists working at Saint-Bavo’s cathedral in Ghent, northwest Belgium, have unearthed grisly walls constructed from shattered human skulls and bones under the cathedral. The discovery was accidentally found by workers who were preparing to build a new visitor’s center on the location. The walls were largely constructed from stacked adult human thighs and shin bones, with a number of fractured skulls filling spaces between the walls. Project leader Janiek De Gryse announced that the bones would be removed, and not turned into a tourist attraction. He believes the construction of the walls date from the 17th or 18th century, but more research still has to be done to know for sure.
Archeologists believe the bones were taken from the graveyard outside the church while it was being cleared. De Gryse said, “ When clearing a churchyard, the skeletons cannot just be thrown away. Given that the faithful believed in a resurrection of the body, the bones were considered the most important part.” He further explained that, “ That is why stone houses were sometimes built against the walls of city graveyards – to house skulls and the long bones in what is called an ossuary or a bone house.”
Ruben Willaert of the archeology team mentioned in a newsletter that only skulls, thigh, and shin bones were found in the walls, because most likely the ones working to clear the graveyard were in too much of a hurry to collect the smaller bone fragments. “When clearing graves, people often hurried and did not bother collecting smaller or fragile bones such as vertebrae, ribs, bones from hands and feet. So a selection of skulls and long bones emerged.” The newsletter also mentioned that none of the bones belonged to children or young people, as they are more fragile.It said that normally, children’s graves receive less care and attention than adult graves.
The Catacombs of Paris are one of the most famous ossuaries in the world, housing the remains of more than 6 million people in a network of tunnels. The UK’s St. Leonard’s Church in Hythe, Kent, has a basement ossuary containing the remains of around 4,000 people, and is considered one of the largest, best-preserved collections of human bones in Great Britain. The church explained that the remains belonged to residents of Hythe and were buried in the churchyard, and to the four graveyards in the area. Seeing lots of bones would surely frighten some people, particularly the superstitious ones.