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In cities with extensive histories and generations of residents, there is often a tricky question: what do you do with those people when they are no longer living and space is limited? The answer in some places was to construct an ossuary, an underground space where skeletal remains could be placed for eternity. These remains had originally been buried in cemeteries but were then later moved after 12-15 years of decomposition. Europe’s second-largest ossuary (after the Catacombs of Paris) is located in Brno in the Czech Republic. Forgotten for centuries, the Brno Ossuary at St. James Church is now open to the public.

The Brno Ossuary at St. James Church (Kostnice u sv. Jakuba) (official website) is located in the city center near Liberty Square. Look for the staircase heading downstairs from the street. There is also a tourist information center on site. Entry is 160 CZK.

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The Church of St. James opened in the 13th century. The first sections of the ossuary were constructed underneath the church in the 17th century as an addition to the church’s cemetery. Although not used much at first, these burial chambers quickly became necessary due to the Thirty Years’ War and epidemics such as plague and cholera. These diseases can be seen in the colors of some of the bones, with plague victims having redder bones and cholera victims having yellower bones.

Eventually, in an effort to improve sanitation, Joseph II decreed that burials should no longer take place in urban areas, thus closing the cemetery in 1784. Over time, the bodies interred within were moved into the Ossuary.

For centuries, the Brno Ossuary sat underneath the city, forgotten to time. In 2001, underground corridors were discovered during construction & archaeological research. Inside these corridors was an incredible discovery: the skeletal remains of some 50,000 people.

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The Ossuary at St. James Church opened to the public in 2012. One of the chambers remains much as it was found, while the other rooms serve as exhibition spaces.

Much work has gone into ensuring that the Ossuary in Brno is a compelling historic space while respecting the remains of the deceased.

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Today, the Ossuary houses 10-15% of the original remains. The rest were buried in Brno’s Central Cemetery.

The first section of the Ossuary includes archaeological finds from the area as well as information about the Brno Ossuary’s history. While most of the signs are in Czech, a book with English translations is available.

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There are also art pieces mixed throughout the Ossuary, inspired by the space.

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These underground passages are spooky enough as it is, but there’s also some quiet, haunting music playing. The music was composed specifically for the space by Brno composer Miloš Štědroň. It’s a somber place. Be respectful when you visit, as you would hope others would be someday in your final resting place.

One chamber has been dedicated as a chapel.

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It contains coffin lids & other markers found in the Ossuary.

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The final chamber of the Sv. Jakuba Ossuary has been preserved in the way some of the remains were found when the Ossuary was rediscovered. Here, you will find piles of bones behind glass.

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The rest of the room also has columns and walls with carefully stacked bones.

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The Ossuary at St. James Church in Brno is a unique place that combines history with the macabre. For more nearby history, visit the Capuchin Crypt and Villa Stiassni.

Here are some great Brno tours & activities & other things to see & do in Brno.

If you’re looking for a place to stay in Brno, check out these hotels.

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