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“We bones that here are, for yours await”

I grew up with an interest in cemeteries. As an amateur historian, I loved the Victorian Period especially, with its romantic architecture, literature, and art. The Victorians, of course, were obsessed with death and the macabre. They gave birth to everything familiar about modern horror. But the Victorians weren’t the first to be fixated on this subject. There is a long undercurrent of morbidity in Western culture going back to the Medieval period.

Early Christians didn’t burn their dead like pagans–they stuck them in catacombs where they could be visited, as a reminder of our mortality and that life on this earth is fleeting. On the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones) in Portugal, it’s inscribed “Nós ossos que aqui estamos pelos vossos esperamos” or “We bones that here are, for yours await.” In other words, “this is where you’ll be someday.” The prospect of death emphasizes the emptiness and fleetingness of earthly pleasures, luxuries, and achievements.

For centuries, gravestones and monuments served as that reminder, as well as a lasting memento of a person’s life. Catholic cemeteries in particular featured beautiful statuary of mourning loved ones, saints, and the Holy family. I hate everything about modern cemeteries, with their flat, cheap, and mass-produced headstones. They represent our larger cultural denial of death. We think we’re immortal, and want to hide all reminders of our mortality.

When I was younger, I enjoyed visiting cemeteries and looking at the artwork, and naturally, I wanted to share what I’d seen. As I got better at photography, I thought back to people like Matt Hucke, also a native Chicagoan, who captured images of this beautiful and haunting artwork, much of which is in danger due to erosion and vandalism. Although I’m not nearly as good a photographer, I created this blog to share some of my work. I hope you enjoy seeing these images as much as I enjoyed taking them!

About the author Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

All posts by Michael Kleen →

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