The Ossuary Chapel of San Bernardino alle Ossa in Milan

Set in the midst of Milan is the fairly typical looking church of San Bernardino alle Ossa, and while the exterior of the church may not suggest anything particularly unique about it, nestled within it is an ossuary chapel that is quite unique, ornamented as it is with countless human skulls and bones. As a matter of history, an ossuary has stood on this site since the middle ages after the local cemetery ran out of space and a building was required to house the bones. Thereafter, a church was then built that was attached to this ossuary. Hence how it began. The present structure, however, dates to the baroque period -- the previous one having been destroyed by fire.

History aside, if we turn our attention to the ossuary chapel itself, readers will note that the various bones have been organized in such ways as to turn them into ornamental and symbolic designs. This sort of practice can be seen elsewhere of course, but the way these have been integrated with the rest of the architecture seems to me particularly powerful and with an appropriate air of gravitas. 

Above you can see the high altar. High above that is a frescoed vault of the "Triumph of Souls" which was executed by Sebastiano Ricci in 1695.

But, of course, it is the bones and their arrangement that particularly draw people to this chapel  So with that in mind, here are a few more looks at them:


Having had the pleasure of visiting this chapel in person a few years back, I can tell readers that it is a unique experience that is more than worth your while.

Modern sensitivities sometimes rebel against displays such as these of course, thinking them macabre, but they fall firmly within the tradition of "memento mori" -- remembrances of death. It seems to me that the discomfort moderns sometimes feel for such things says more about us than it does our ancestors.

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