Czermna, Poland Chapel of Skulls (Kaplica Czaszek)
One of the most visually striking of all ossuary chapels. Its fascinating history is discussed in Chapter Three of the book. Because of its regional influence it is one of the sites I really could not have completed the project without some degree of cooperation from–and this was the closest I came to being turned away at a site I really needed to photograph. I tried writing them numerous times, both in Polish and English, and never received any reply. Eventually I had no choice but to just show up and make my case in person. It was March, and I took a bus from Prague, and trudged through the snow to get to the chapel. I found a stern-looking nun on duty, which I knew from previous experience was a bad sign, since stern-looking nuns tend to be a tough audience. I had copies of letters in Polish and I showed these to her, but she would have none of it. In fact, she told me absolutely not–under no circumstances would anyone be allowed to photograph in the chapel again (meaning they had at one time–apparently someone came one day and completely abused the privilege, and I am not sure what they did but it must have been grievous). This should have been defeat, but I was saved by the sudden intervention of a Polish man who had been standing nearby, listening. He had once lived in the United States and spoke English, and he now came over and took up my cause. He told her that she must let me photograph the site, that I was doing something important in writing this book and the chapel in their village must be represented in it. The nun relented; she allowed me to set up and take only three photos–this one, another which is published in the book, and a third. They are all three wonderful. I don’t know who this man is, but he is one of the angels who somehow shepherded me through the project.