Brno to open ossuary to public after surprise find of 50,000 human bones

Ossuary in Brno, photo: Kirk, CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported

One of the most popular destinations for visitors to the Czech Republic who venture outside Prague is the town of Kutna Hora, famous for its ossuary, or bone depository, in which thousands upon thousands of human bones are arranged into various shapes, including a chandelier. Now the Moravian capital Brno is planning to offer visitors a similar macabre treat.

Ossuary in Brno,  photo: Kirk,  CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported
Ahead of planned repair work on Jakubske namesti - just a stone's throw from Brno's main square namesti Svobody - the town hall took the routine step of commissioning archaeological research. Little could they have expected what secrets the ground beneath the square held: the research uncovered an estimated 50,000 human bones and skulls which evidently came from - as in the case of Kutna Hora - a graveyard that had been closed. The remains, believed to be from the 17th and 18th centuries, filled a tunnel from top to bottom and were mixed with mud. At one time they had been in orderly piles, but water and clay got into the underground chamber and destroyed that order.

So far a third of the work has been done, though a 20-metre stretch of tunnel packed full of muddy bones still has to be excavated. The cleaned bones will then be added to those which are already being stacked into slightly sloping walls.

Ossuary in Brno,  photo: Kirk,  CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported
A spokesman for the company preparing the ossuary for the public says the Brno bones are unique: while in most ossuaries bones are white due to the fact they have been exposed to sunlight, those in Brno are a brownish yellow due to having been underground so long.

Experts say that Jakubske namesti may not have given up all its secrets. More skulls have been found under the entrance to the square's St Jakub's church and it is believed that there are similar cellars full of bones there.