Ossuaries & Charnels

London, UK charnel in crypt of St. Bride’s

London, UK charnel in crypt of St. Bride’s

London, UK charnel in crypt of St. Bride’s

St. Paul’s in London once contained a cemetery with charnels which were almost as famed as those at the Innocents in Paris, but they are long gone. The only substantial charnel left in London is under St. Bride’s Church on Fleet St. It is discussed in the last chapter of the book. I did not have room to relate every fascinating anecdote connected to these sites (and if I had, the book would have lost any sense of order), but I will provide an additional story from St. Bride’s here: the site needed to be excavated after it was rediscovered post-World War II, but things did not always go well with the work crews. They were not particularly happy about laboring in an old vault full of human remains, and they went on strike on a couple occasions. The crypt contained not only bones, but several old caskets, and these all had to be moved out. Some of them combusted when they were removed from the room–this was officially blamed on “gasses,” but exploding coffins helped cause a general sense of anxiety and paranoia among the laborers. Several of them finally quit the job completely after an especially disturbing incident. The lid fell off of one of the caskets when it was being moved, and revealed a body that was in especially good condition, showing very little degeneration, and the face of the corpse (a woman) was emblazened upon the minds of the crew. That night, after work, they went to a tavern and a man walked in whose face bore an intense resemblance to the woman in the casket. They went and talked to him about this, and it turned out his ancestors had once been parishoners at St. Bride’s and the incorrupt woman they had see in the casket was in fact this man’s great-great-to-some-power grandmother. For some of the laborers it was the final straw, and they quit the next day to look for less haunting employment.
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