EU shipping is temporarily suspended

The Empire of Death

A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses

Paul Koudounaris


A remarkable and richly illustrated volume detailing the manifold ways in which human bones have been displayed around the world. Glorious, gruesome and unique


In this tour de force of original cultural history, Paul Koudounaris takes the reader on an unprecedented international tour of macabre and devotional architectural masterpieces in nearly 20 countries. This book brings together the world’s most important charnel sites, ranging from the crypts of the Capuchin monasteries in Italy and the skull-encrusted columns of the ossuary in Évora in Portugal, to the strange tomb of a wealthy 1960s Peruvian nobleman, decorated with the exhumed skeletons of his Spanish ancestors.

Illustrated with specially taken photographs of sites rarely open to the public and forgotten archive images of others long destroyed, this mesmerising, shocking and deeply moving book is an essential memento mori for our modern age.

Read More


'Impressive and readable … an excellent memento mori for our age and a work which is the result of considerable endeavour by the author'
The Historical Association

'Well written, richly referenced and contains some cracking quotes … the book is imbued with a timeless, classy appeal … If you’re into art, history, culture, eschatology or are just plain weird then you will be impressed by this beautiful book'
The Royal College of Pathologists Bulletin

'Death can be so beautiful. That’s what comes over most powerfully in this cultural history of charnel houses ... Many of the buildings are closed to the public, making reading the book feel rather like a date with destiny'
Time Out London

'The extraordinary displays of human bones in Europe’s charnel houses may now seem utterly bewildering to us, but 'The Empire of Death' reveals fascinating insights into these misunderstood religious monuments'

Read More

Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback with tipped on colour plate to front board (without jacket)

Size: 30.5 x 22.5 cm

Extent: 224 pp

Publication date: 3 October 2011

ISBN: 9780500251782

Contents List

Introduction: A Dialogue with Death • 1. Ars Moriendi: The Early Charnel Houses • 2. The Golden Age: Counter-Reformation Macabre • 3. The Triumph of Death: Nineteenth-Century Visions in Bone • 4. Heavenly Souls: Spiritualism and Mythology in The Bone Pile • 5. Forget Me Not: Ossuaries as Commemorative Sites • 6. Resurrecting the Dead: Conservation and Reconstruction

About the Author

Paul Koudounaris has a doctorate in Art History from the University of California and has written widely on European ossuaries and charnel houses for both academic and popular journals.

Related Topics