Displaying death: the Ossuary at St. Leonard in Hythe

nottsarthistory

Despite living only ten miles from the largest of England’s few extant ossuaries for half my life, it was only recently that I finally managed to visit the church of St Leonard in Hythe. Sitting at the top of a network of tortuous winding lanes on a hill above the coast, the church appears unremarkable, a flint-built medieval structure. A small sign at the south door points “To the Crypt”, a ground-level building adjoining the east end. It is this room that makes St Leonard’s more than an average parish church.

Along the left-hand wall is a stack of what at first glance could be sun-bleached firewood, perhaps twenty feet long, six high and six broad. But every so often faces stare out from this stack, counterparts to the mass of long bones that make up the great white heap. Apart from these skulls around a thousand others are placed…

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