Ossuary

Images taken at Rothwell charnel house, one of only two ossuaries in the country still existing in situ.

Composite image of 32 skulls
Shelves of skulls
One of four alcoves of skulls
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Images taken at Rothwell charnel house, one of only two ossuaries in the country still existing in situ.
​An ossuary was a place for bones, often a charnel house associated with a church or chapel. With the population explosion of the Middle Ages, graveyards were used as a way to consume flesh from corpses, rendering them down to bones. After a few years, the graves were exhumed, the bones collected and put in the ossuary, clearing the ground for the next batch of burials. Some people knew where their loved ones were buried, and like Hamlet recognising Yorick, would feel moved to continue to treat their remains as special. One skull in Rothwell (shown below) is notably shiny and polished, which means it was handled and stroked, probably by relatives in an act of remembrance. The idea of caring for bones of the dead isn't new: Neolithic practices included collecting bones from sky burials or cremations to then inter in special resting places, sometimes retrieving them for rituals.
​Ossuaries fell out of use in the UK with the protestant reformation in the 16th century, and this example survived only because it was lost at the time, and only rediscovered by accident in the 17th century. They remind us of a time when viewing skeletons was commonplace and believed to be a sign of respect to the dead.
Composite image of 32 skulls