This is a rarity in Europe. A small chapel in one of the districts of the town of Kudowa-Zdrój hides a gruesome secret – it was built from thousands of human skeletons.
From the outside, it looks very inconspicuous. Just a yellow baroque chapel. It was built in Czermna, part of the health resort of Kudowa-Zdrój, right on today’s Polish-Czech border. It is more than 200 years old, but that is not what makes it different. Those who decide to go inside will find themselves among… thousands of human skulls.
There is one such place in Poland, and nine in all of Europe. About 3,000 human skulls and bones were placed on the walls. The exact number of remains in the crypt beneath the floor has never been determined – estimates range from 20-30,000.
Skull Chapel – history
What are the origins of this strange building in the Kłodzko Land? The answer goes back to the history of the bloody wars that swept through the region. The neighborhood was the site of a dispute between Prussia and Austria. As many as three wars swept through the region in the 18th century, after which Silesia, along with the Kłodzko Land, fell into the hands of Prussia. Unfortunately, it was not without huge losses – it is estimated that about 20% of the population died as a result of the Silesian wars. The work of destruction was completed by pestilence.
In the second half of the 18th century, the parish in Czermna was taken over by the Czech priest Wacław Tomaszek. By then he had already had a visit to the Roman catacombs, which made a great impression on him. After the tragic events of wars and epidemics, the bones were probably simply sticking out of a nearby slope, although according to local legend the remains were dug up by a dog.
No matter how it happened, the parish priest, having seen the skulls, sent for a gravedigger and a churchman to help him extract the shallow-lying skeletons. Neither of them expected what an enormous amount of them hides in the ground.
The bones were then collected for nearly two decades. With the financial support of a local magnate, the priest created this quaint place of remembrance and reflection out of found bones.
Skull Chapel today
Since then, for the next more than 200 years, the building has hardly changed. Thousands of empty eye sockets. Tibia in the walls and ceiling. A modest altar, a baroque cross, wooden figures of angels with trumpet and scales, and inscriptions in Latin: “Rise from the dead” and “Go before the court.”
The Skull Chapel can be visited from Tuesday to Sunday. Depending on the season, opening hours vary slightly. A tour of the Skull Chapel takes about 15-20 minutes. Entrance to the chapel is in groups of about 10 people, with a guide only. You can buy tickets on the spot.