What happens to our remains when we die?

When death comes, our religion and beliefs guide our choice as to what happens to our remains. What role did Cremation and Charnel house play in the past?

A short Look at Cremation and Charnel house History

  • Charnel houses played a role in the storage of human bones when cemeteries became overcrowded
  • The displayed bones were to honour the dead
  • They catered to the thousands of fallen soldiers, dumped into mass crypts
  • Today they are tourist attractions to reflect on our mortality


Cremation and Charnel house – Saving on Cemetery space 

Cremation and Charnel houseStoring human remains when burial space was at a premium, brought about Charnel houses. They consisted of bones exhumed after 10 years then piled inside a crypt.

These houses, often found near churches, have all but disappeared, but there are still some in existence. Research tells us that there are a number of these chapels in medieval Europe. Some of them are still in use.

Used by many cultures, and called vaults or crypts, these places store human skeletal remains.

Cremation and Charnel house – A find in Scotland

Different cultures and time periods have used these houses. Recent archaelogical digs in Scotland have revealed a house with more than 1 000 human bones. The bones, preserved by divided layers of silt, helped determine how long the tomb has been in use.

Cremation was not an accepted way to dispose of the dead in the medieval period. The church used Charnel houses instead.

In England, after the Protestant Reformation, Charnel houses were more or less demolished and their contents sometimes reburied.

Cremation and Charnel house – Other sites World wide

In London during excavations, workers discovered a medieval Charnel house which for many years served as storage for bones.

The Hallstatt Beinhausin in Austria,  is a Charnel House. It houses more than 1,200 skulls.  In 1700 the church dug up corpses to make way for a new intake of dead bodies and stacked them inside the Charnel house.

In 1720, they began adding artwork to the skulls with symbolic images. The skulls also had data such as date of birth. This practice has died out. However, by request, the skull of a woman who died in 1983 was entered into the ossuary in 1995.

Cremation and Charnel house – Thankfully we Have more Choice

Today we have more options when it comes to choosing how we want to be disposed of. And Cremation is one of the most popular.

There is a lot to take into account when death comes. Our religion, beliefs and thoughts will all come in to play when we decide on our final resting place. Go in peace.

All info was correct at time of publishing