Tag Archives: skulls

Skeletons, skulls and Franciscan monks

Lurking under the San Francisco Monastery in Lima, Peru is one of the finest collections of skulls and bones to be found!

Skulls, San Francisco Monastery and Catacombs

Skulls in a pit at the San Francisco Monastery and Catacombs, Lima

Originally constructed in 1546, it is one of the oldest churches in South America. It also served as the first official Catholic cemetery in Lima, at a time when the dead were laid to rest in catacombs beneath the church. The process for the bodies brought down to the catacombs was roughly to lie the fresh bodies in troughs of lime – to isolate the bones and then move the bones to larger storage areas – ordered on size.

It’s a great place to visit – with a tour guide and no photos allowed (something I choose to disregard!). There is much that still hasn’t been excavated, but what is there is well worth a visit.

Chamber in the San Francisco Monastery and Catacombs, Lima

Pit of bones, San Francisco Monastery and Catacombs

Pit of bones, San Francisco Monastery and Catacombs

Face lift Roman style

Lived fast, died old and left an ugly corpse? Why not consider a Roman lime mask to idealise your looks back to their heyday?

This example from AD 100 – 170 disguised its owners worn teeth and eroded dental palate, think what one of your own could do for you!

Painted lime plaster mask and skull of man, Roman period about AD 100-170

Painted lime plaster mask and skull of man, Roman period about AD 100-170

Shrunken heads, trepanned skulls, tattoos and torture in Euston

Childhood memories are sacred things. An abiding fixation of my formative years relates to weekend visits to the upper echelons of the Science Museum and to the Wellcome collection that still today resides in some semblance there.

Shrunken Head

Shrunken Head, Shuar people

One object out of all the treasures in that collection became a vivid obsession for me – a shrunken head. This object of such complete wonder, such allure is now housed in the Wellcome Collection on Euston Road in London in their ‘Medicine Man’ gallery. It is now presented in all its wonder alongside other artifacts from all corners of the globe that were amassed by the great medical curiosity collector Henry Wellcome.

Henry Wellcome was a man of many parts: entrepreneur, philanthropist, patron of science and pioneer of aerial photography. He also created one of the world’s great museums: a vast stockpile of evidence about our universal interest in health and the body.

More than 150 years after his birth in 1853, this exhibition reunites a cross-section of extraordinary objects from his collection, ranging from diagnostic dolls to Japanese sex aids, and from Napoleon’s toothbrush to George III’s hair. It also provides a very different perspective on some of our own obsessions with medicine and health.

In ‘Medicine Man’ some objects are gathered by type and others by broad cross-cultural themes. Objects that can to some represent the grotesque and repellant are shown to be fascinating reflections of the culture they were products of. What is clear to me even all those years ago with my nose pressed to the glass display case of the shrunken head is that beauty can be found in places far from where you would expect, and while I still want a shrunken head of my own I will content myself with visits to this fine gallery for now!

For those wanting to know more about the Wellcome collection Frances Larson’s An Infinity of Things: How Sir Henry Wellcome Collected the World is a fine insight into the mind of the man behind it all.