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Wikimedia Commons

10 Buildings Made With Bones

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

It might sound grotesque, but bones have been an architectural staple for millennia. Here are some of the world’s greatest osteological marvels.

1. The Skull Tower of Niš 

Using the skulls of your enemies to build a tower sends one powerful message—even if the structure winds up measuring a scant 15 feet in height. In 1809, midway through the first Serbian uprising against the Ottoman Empire, Turkish general Hurshid Pasha gathered 952 rebel skulls for this grisly project near the city of Niš. All but 58 were later removed and given dignified funerals, but thanks to the Serbian government’s preservation efforts, you can still see the building today.   

2. The Czermna Skull Chapel


This unique temple is adorned with some 3000 skulls and countless shin bones. Vaclav Tomaszek, a priest residing in the small Polish villiage, collected and assembled the necessary skeletal remains from 1776 to 1804. Where did he find so many bodies? A combination of recent disease victims and mass graves hastily left behind by the Thirty Years’ War gave him more than enough. 

3. The Seldec Ossuary

Also known as “the Kutna Hora bone church,” this Czech building looks like an unassuming monastery on the outside. But venture indoors and you’ll see a bony chandelier, a bony candelabrum, and strings of assorted bones dangling from the ceiling.

4. The Capela Dos Ossos

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Evora, Portugal is home to yet another worship center built with human remains. Local history maintains that, during the 16th century, a few nearby cemeteries were destroyed, unearthing some 5000 corpses. The cathedral’s resident monks began putting them on display and utilizing them in the structure’s very framework, where they came to serve as a glaring reminder of death’s inevitability. Above the chapel’s doors is this haunting message: “We bones that are here, for your bones we wait.”

5. The Eggenburg Charnel

Atlas Obscura

The remains of 5800 Austrians were utilized in this marvel of ghoulish beauty, which was largely constructed in 1405. 

6. Dinosaur Bone Cabin

Courtesy of Yelp user Jessica H

It isn't just the bones of Homo sapiens that have been converted into building materials. Wyomingite and gas station owner Thomas Boylan finished assembling this piece of prehistoric real estate in 1933 (luckily, dinosaur fossils are quite abundant in the cowboy state). 

7. Our Lady of the Conception of the Capuchins

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Beneath this Roman church lie the meticulously-arranged bones of some 4000 friars laid out to form a myriad of gorgeous designs (including stars and flowers). A few have even been posed like ghostly mannequins under drooping robes.  

8. Cattle Bone House

Dan Phillips of Texas has been building houses with recycled materials for over 15 years, and cites cattle bones as one of his favorite materials. One particular home he oversaw in the eastern part of the state used bovine skeletons to forge countertops, door handles, floor tiles, and patio furniture. 

9. Mammoth Bone Huts

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Some of the oldest man-made dwellings in recorded history were primitive huts made with these ice age giants’ remains. The best-known examples hail from an archaeological site near the Ukrainian village of Mezhyrich

10. Church of San Francisco

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The cellar of this Peruvian church features femurs, skulls, and other bones gingerly laid out in ornate circular patterns, which attract tourists to this day.

BONUS:  Paris Catacombs

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Twelve million people currently inhabit France’s largest city. The bones of an additional 6 million have been laid to rest in the labyrinthine caves and tunnels which lie under it. Originally intended to tackle the area’s overflowing cemeteries, many of the skulls and other bones were later re-arranged to produce some truly eye-catching walls in this fascinating subterranean world.

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10 People Whose Hearts Were Buried Separately From the Rest of Them
Richard the Lionheart
Richard the Lionheart
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Though it may seem bizarre today, having your heart buried apart from the rest of your body wasn’t uncommon for European aristocracy of the Middle Ages and beyond. The practice arose in part during the Crusades, when high-ranking warriors had a tendency to die in “heathen” places that weren’t seen as desirable burial locations. But transporting a whole body back to Europe made things pretty stinky, so corpses were stripped of flesh and ferried back to Europe as skeletons, with the inner organs (including the heart) removed and buried where the Crusaders had died. By the 12th century, members of the English and French aristocracy also frequently had their hearts buried separately from the rest of them.

Heart burial became less practical and more symbolic by the 17th century, partly as a religious practice associated with the Jesuits and other Counter Reformation groups. (Some scholars think the heart’s powerful symbolism became particularly important while the Catholic Church was undergoing a moment of crisis.) In Western Europe, it became common for powerful individuals, such as kings and queens, to ask that their hearts be buried in a spot they'd favored during life. In more recent years, Romantic poets and other artists also picked up the practice, which has yet to be entirely abandoned. Read on for some examples.


Richard I, a.k.a. “Richard the Lion-Heart,” ruled as King of England 1189-99 but spent most of his reign fighting abroad, which is how he earned his reputation for military prowess. (He also may or may not have eaten the heart of a lion.) He died after being struck by a crossbow while campaigning in Chalus, France, and while most of his body was buried at Fontevraud Abbey, his heart was interred in a lead box at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Rouen, France. The organ was rediscovered during excavations in the 1830s, and in 2012, forensic scientists examined it—now mostly reduced to a grayish-brown powder—to learn more about Richard’s precise cause of death (some think a poisoned arrow dealt the fatal blow). The crumbling heart was too decayed to tell them much about how Richard had died, but the scientists did learn about medieval burial rituals, noting the use of vegetables and spices “directly inspired by the ones used for the embalming of Christ.”


Robert the Bruce, King of Scots 1306-29, asked for his heart to be buried in Jerusalem. But it didn't get all the way there—the knight he entrusted it to, Sir James Douglas, was killed in battle with the Moors while wearing the heart in a silver case around his neck. Other knights recovered the heart from the battlefield, and brought it back to Melrose Abbey in Scotland for burial. Archeologists rediscovered what they believed to be the heart in 1920 and reburied it in a modern container; it was exhumed again in 1996, and reburied beneath the abbey’s lawn in 1998.


St. Laurence O’Toole, the second archbishop of Dublin and one of that city’s patron saints, died in 1180 in France. His heart was sent back to Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral, where it rested inside a heart-shaped wooden box within an iron cage—at least until 2012, when it was stolen. The dean of Christ Church Cathedral has speculated that the heart might have been taken by some kind of religious fanatic, since it has little economic value, and much more valuable gold and silver objects were ignored. (Weirdly, the thief, or thieves, also lit candles on one of the altars before fleeing.) The item has yet to be recovered.


The prince-bishops of Würzburg (part of modern Germany) practiced a three-part burial: their corpses were usually sent to Würzburg cathedral, their intestines to the castle church at Marienberg, and their hearts, embalmed in glass jars, to what is now Ebrach Abbey. The practice was common by the 15th century, though it may go back as far as the 12th. Their funerals at the Marienberg castle also featured what may be one of history’s worst jobs: a servant was required to hold the heads of the corpses upright during the funeral, which featured the body seated upright and impaled on a pole. The funerals lasted for several days. There were more than 80 prince-bishops; a German cardiologist who made a special study of heart burial says "about 30" of their hearts found their resting places in the abbey.


According to legend, after Anne Boleyn’s beheading in 1536, her heart was removed from her body and taken to a rural church in Erwarton, Suffolk, where the queen is said to have spent some happy days during her youth. In 1837, excavations at the church uncovered a small, heart-shaped lead casket inside a wall. The only thing inside was a handful of dust (it’s not clear whether it was actually the heart), but the casket was reburied in a vault beneath the organ, where a plaque today marks the spot.


Twenty-two hearts from various popes—from Sixtus V in 1583 to Leo XIII in 1903—are kept in marble urns at Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio a Trevi in Rome. Traditionally, the hearts were removed with the rest of the organs as part of the postmortem preservation process, and kept as relics just in case the pope became a saint.


Romantic composer Frédéric Chopin died in Paris in 1849, and most of him is buried in that city’s Pere Lachaise, but he asked for his heart to be buried in his native Poland. His sister carried it back to their home country, where it is preserved in alcohol (some say cognac) within a crystal urn inside a pillar at the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw. In 2014, scientists conducted a late-night examination of the heart to make sure the alcohol hadn’t evaporated, although their secrecy frustrated scientists who hope to one day examine the organ for clues about what killed the composer.


The burial place of Thomas Hardy's heart in Dorset
Visit Britain, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The English poet and novelist Thomas Hardy wanted to be buried in his hometown of Stinsford, Dorset, but friends insisted that a burial in Westminster Abbey was the only appropriate choice for someone of Hardy’s literary prominence. But when town officials found out that Hardy’s body was destined for the abbey, they threw a fit, and so a compromise was reached—most of Hardy went to Westminster, but his heart was buried in Stinsford churchyard (where it has its own grave marker). A persistent, but unproven, story has it that a cat ate part of the heart when the doctor who was removing it got distracted; a gruesome addendum says the animal was killed and buried alongside the organ.


When the poet Percy Shelley died sailing the Mediterranean in 1822, local quarantine regulations dictated that his body had to be cremated on the beach. But his heart allegedly refused to burn, and a friend, the adventurer Edward Trelawny, supposedly plucked it out of the flames. After a custody battle among Shelley’s friends, the heart was given to Percy’s wife Mary, who kept it until she died. Her children found it in a silk bag inside her desk, and it is now said to be buried with her at the family vault in Bournemouth, England.


The powerful House of Habsburg practiced heart burial for centuries, with many of the organs buried in copper urns in Vienna's Augustiner Church. In 2011, Otto von Habsburg, the last heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire (which was dissolved in 1918), had his heart buried in the Benedictine Abbey in Pannonhalma, Hungary. The rest of him was buried in Vienna. The erstwhile crown prince said he wanted his heart buried in Hungary as a gesture of affection for the country—one half of his former empire.

Additional Sources: "Heart burial in medieval and early post-medieval central Europe"; Body Parts and Bodies Whole.

This story originally ran in 2015.

Smoking Just 1 Cigarette a Day Can Significantly Damage Your Health, Study Finds

Cutting back on smoking is a noble goal, but simply decreasing the amount of cigarettes you smoke—rather than quitting entirely—isn't as helpful as you might think when it comes to the health risks of tobacco use. ABC News reports that new research published in the BMJ finds that smoking just one cigarette a day still increases the risks of heart disease and stroke significantly.

Led by researchers from University College London and King’s College London, the study found that compared to not smoking at all, smoking one cigarette a day resulted in a 46 percent greater risk of heart disease and a 25 percent greater risk of stroke for men, and for women, a 57 percent greater risk of heart disease and 31 percent greater risk of stroke. Even if a person cuts down from smoking 20 cigarettes a day to one, the study found, the risks of developing heart disease and stroke are only halved—not reduced by 95 percent, as would be proportional. (Previous research has found that lung cancer risk, by contrast, decreases proportionally depending on the number of cigarettes smoked per day.)

The researchers examined 141 previous studies, reported in 55 publications, analyzing the risks of heart disease and stroke among men and women who smoked. The studies each examined risks of light smoking (defined as one to five cigarettes a day) and the risks associated with heavy smoking, or 20 cigarettes per day. The researchers adjusted for whether the studies considered factors like age, cholesterol, and blood pressure, all of which can also impact a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke.

The findings show that any amount of smoking carries high risks. While one cigarette a day might seem like nothing to a heavy smoker, its impacts on the body are significant, and shouldn't be underestimated, either by smokers or by their doctors.

[h/t ABC News]


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