Ossuaries & Charnels

The word “ossuary” is derived from the the Latin os (bone; plural ossa). An ossuarium was a container for bones, typically a box. Related words in other Romance languages derived from these roots include ossa, os, and ossos in Italian, French, and Portuguese respectively (all meaning bones), and cognates for ossuary itself: osario (Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese) and ossuaire (French). The word ossuary is found in an English dictionary from the 1650s, but was at that time still defined as a container–the dictionary in question specifically defined it as an urn containing bones. Eventually the word evolved from implying a simple container to having an architectural usage, and now describes a room in which bones are contained. This makes it synonymous with “charnel” (or “charnel house”). The Latin caro (flesh, and also referring to the remains of the deceased), provided the root of charnel, which evolved from carnarium, which designated a place where human remains were kept. Cognates for charnel include the French charnier and German Karner (although in German, Beinhaus, meaning “bone house” is more typical in modern usage).

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All photographs by and copyright Paul Koudounaris unless otherwise noted—photographs not by me are not watermarked.

Note regarding images and their use: ideally I would make original copies of these images available for public use. Honestly, I would be delighted if I could make them accessible so interested parties could use and enjoy them. But I cannot—and there are more than simply copyright and publishing issues involved. In many cases, I have made certain arrangements regarding the use of images with the institutions which gave me access, and providing them for download might violate those arrangements. Anyone who is interested in obtaining copies of certain images, either from this website or in the book, as prints or for other uses, should contact me for their availability.
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