Ossuary

The ossuary is a practice of primarily three major religious cultures; Persian, Christian, and Jewish. An ossuary is basically either a chest or large box, a tomb, or a well, in which are laid the bones of humans. For example, you know how people with kids, often have models of popsicle sticks, because just throwing them away seems like a waste? That’s the basic, –though crude, I admit, –concept behind an ossuary. When cemeteries fill up, and there’s nowhere else to put the remains, it’s just as easy to pack them all together. Depending on the culture, the preservation and nature in which the bones are collected, moved, and are stored in quite different.

In Persia, the Zoroastrians would make an ossuary out of a very deep well, just about three thousand years ago, and the term for the place was “astudan”, which translate into “the place for bones”, –not exactly a very sensitive word, but at least it was practical. The rituals and ceremonies conducted in and around the astudans, are numerous, –probably especially for adding to them. The word for ossuary in other regions surrounding Persia, is “tanbar”, which originated from the pre-seventh-century Sogdians living in and around Central Asia.

The most famous ossuaries are attributed to Christianity however, which includes locations such as the Sedlec Ossuary. Photos of the Sedlec Ossuary bring to mind something similar to a furniture catalog designed by Ed Gein, with bone chandeliers, and chairs, all constructed with human remains. The Jewish ossuaries however, probably contain more famous religious people; they were actually  “burial caves”, constructed more to preserve burial traditions, rather than to just throw a bunch of bones down a well, or make furniture out of them. Many recently discovered Jewish ossuaries contain the names of several characters from the New Testament, and one cave even contained the remains of Jesus’s brother, Joseph, –which is naturally, quite suspect.

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