Ossuaries & Charnels

Lima, Peru sacerdotal skulls (?), crypt in Cathedral

Lima, Peru sacerdotal skulls (?), crypt in Cathedral

Lima, Peru sacerdotal skulls (?), crypt in Cathedral

The large ossuary in the catacombs at San Francisco in Lima is well known among and popular with tour groups, but in fact there are several other collections of bones in the city’s churches. Nearby in the crypt of the Cathedral is a display of skulls in a glass-fronted niche. It is assumed that they are sacerdotal since the crypt otherwise houses primarily the tombs of bishops, but in fact this is not at all certain. It may be notable that many of them are numbered (see the detail photo)–at some point, someone apparently went to effort of inventorying them, although the inventory and its purpose are no longer known. There are also known bone crypts at churches in Cuzco, although there they are not nearly as accommodating to visitors as the churches in Lima. I have always assumed that ossuary crypts were most likely typical features of numerous early Spanish churches in South America, and many of them are simply sitting there to this day, unexcavated and inaccessible; once when I was in Peru, I picked up the phone and randomly called one of the oldest churches in Ayacucho, told them them that I heard they had an ossuary under the church (it was a lie–I had never heard such a thing) and asked if I could come take photographs of it. The man on the other end seemed surprised, and told me that yes, in fact there is an old ossuary under the church, but it is buried in rubble and there is no possible way anyone could enter it. Anyway, it proved the point for me–there are most likely plenty of ossuaries in South America, but they are not enterable and little known to the public.
Bookmark the permalink.