THE ROSY PINK FACADE OF Brno’s Capuchin Church belies the haunting contents of its underbelly: the mummified bodies of dozens of monks, laid solemnly to rest in the crypt.
Before arriving at the main vault, the visitor must navigate some claustrophobic passageways, displaying stonework and the bodies of dignitaries. The corpse of one woman is frozen in a stricken pose, and a neat label informs the visitor that she was accidentally buried alive. Such errors were common during a time when paralysis and coma were little understood, and more than one such unfortunate in the crypt met this fate.
However, it is primarily the resting place of the Capuchin monks, who placed their deceased brothers beneath the church over a period of 300 years. This practice was banned by hygiene laws towards the end of the 18th century.
Mummification was never the intention. In keeping with their vow of poverty, the monks thriftily re-used a single coffin time and time again. After the funerary rites, they would move the deceased into the crypt, and lay him to rest on a pillow of bricks. The dry air currents and composition of the topsoil gradually preserved the bodies where they lay.
The result is remarkable. Twenty-four monks lie perfectly preserved, arranged in rows across the floor. All are clad in robes and a number are draped with rosaries, or clutching a crucifix. A few lie peacefully, but others have fear or sorrow etched into their papery features.
A warning, common to many such crypts, is inscribed in Czech above their final resting place: “As you are now, we once were; as we are now, you shall be.”