Incredible 18th century Polish ossuary is the subject of skull-laden Mint of Poland silver coin

Ossuaries are strange constructs. In use in various forms for over five millenia, right back to the Persian Zoroastrians, an ossuary, at least those on a larger scale, is a site or building used for the collection of human skeletal remains, the purpose of which is respectful rest. Europe is a particularly rich location for them, with the world’s largest one being the Paris Catacombs under the French capital, home to the remains of six million people.

On a smaller scale to that, the Skull Chapel in Czermna still manages to pack in 3,000 skulls, with the remains of a further 21,000 in the crypts underneath it. The Mint of Poland’s new coin has a cool design, but one that doesn’t seem to be too specific to the Czermnan building. There are no recognisable views of the chapel inside or out, which would lead us to believe this is a singular release, rather than a series, but that remains to be seen.

The reverse face of this rimless one-ounce coin is packed to the edge with skulls and bones. The obverse is full of flowers, ponies and sunshine. Not really – it’s more skulls and bones. A border on the obverse holds all of the inscriptions bar the denomination, which sits at the top in a larger, fancier font. The reverse face is struck to a high relief, but both faces are antique-finished.

It’s a neat coin. Obviously this isn’t one of the mints many, and quite stunning, ancient mythology series, but it’s also quite a bit cheaper (just over €100). Even allowing for the lower spec and price, the mintage is still just 500 pieces – likely because the subject is quite specific to Poland. Despite that, it has an appealing design and the subject is certainly fascinating. Supplied in a latex-skin floating frame, it’s available to order now and should ship in a couple of weeks time.

SKULL CHAPEL in Czermna, Poland

The Skull Chapel  or St. Bartholomew’s Church, is an ossuary chapel located in the Czermna district of Kudowa, a town in Kłodzko County, Lower Silesia, Poland. Built in last quarter of the 18th century on the border of the then Prussian County of Glatz, the temple serves as a mass grave with thousands of skulls and skeletal remains “adorning” its interior walls as well as floor, ceiling and foundations. The Skull Chapel is the only such monument in Poland, and one of six in Europe.

The chapel was built in 1776 by Bohemian local parish priest Václav Tomášek. It is the mass grave of people who died during the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), three Silesian Wars (1740–1763), as well as of people who died because of cholera epidemics, plague, syphilis and hunger.

Together with sacristan J. Schmidt and grave digger J. Langer, father Tomášek who was inspired by the Capuchin cemetery while on a pilgrimage to Rome, collected the casualties’ bones, cleaned and put them in the chapel within 18 years (from 1776 to 1794). Walls of this small, baroque church are filled with three thousand skulls, and there are also bones of another 21 thousand people interred in the basement. The skulls of people who built the chapel, including Tomášek, were placed in the center of the building and on the altar in 1804. Inside are a crucifix and two carvings of angels, one with a Latin inscription that reads “Arise from the Dead” are among the bones.

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SPECIFICATION
DENOMINATION 1,000 Francs CFA (Cameroon)
COMPOSITION 0.999 silver
WEIGHT 31.10 grams
DIMENSIONS 38.61 mm
FINISH Antique
MODIFICATIONS High-relief
MINTAGE 500
BOX / COA Yes / Yes
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MINT OF POLAND