Sunday, 11 May 2014

The Chapel of Bones

My Chinese publisher recently sent me this ghoulish picture of one of Malta's top nineteenth century tourist attractions: the Chapel of Bones in Valletta, reputed to be decorated with the neatly organised remains of those who died in the siege of Malta in 1565 - skulls round the arch and lined up in gawping rows beside the entrance, arm bones crossed like images from a pirate flag. The overall arrangement is quite a work of art. I didn't know about this when I was writing Empires of the Sea  - and was grimly fascinated. But as the chapel was said to contain the remains of 33, 000 people it must have been an ossuary drawing on the remains of Maltese people over a much longer period.

It was destroyed by a Luftwaffe bomb in the Second World War and is reputed to lie somewhere underground - waiting to be resurrected.

Otranto, on the heel of Italy, has a similar monument to the dead in the Ottoman-Christian wars. The Cathedral of Bones embeds the remains of 800 defenders executed after the shock Ottoman invasion of 1480. What times...


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