From the catacombs to Chernobyl, tourists have always had a fascination with The Macabre. In previous eras, this would have meant orderly lines and quiet reflection. Or so your grandparents would have you believe.
In 2019, however, even if we haven’t (quite) degenerated into the slavering selfie salmagundi Murdoch predicted, how we show appreciation for our ancestors (and how we document our trips) has definitely changed.
Enter: the selfie, the tagline of Modern Travel, which the Czech Republic has now banned from one of its most morbid chapels, Sedlec’s “Bone Church,” as part of a wider prohibition on photography of its sombre displays.
Chapel director Radka Krejci told the Czech news agency CTK people are taking improper photos and desecrating the sanctity of the site’s human remains.
In other words: selfies with the dead are not cool.
Bone Church is a small chapel located about an hour east of Prague, and attracts over 200,000 visitors a year. Inside it features an assortment of 40,000 human skeletons, which are used to create everything from chandeliers to an ornate heraldic Schwarzenberg coat of arms.
View this post on Instagram
As The NZ Herald reports, “It was commissioned in the 1870s as a way to [put the] remains… into order and create something of a grizzly tourist attraction.”
“The artist behind the project František Rint even signed his work with a mosaic made of an assortment of bones – including vertebrae and tiny digits from fingers and toes.”
The current group of parishioners have less of a stomach for interacting with the deceased though, and would kindly ask you not to take selfies with the skulls.
How did the site become so popular? According to the NZ Herald, “While the bone collection first gained attention in the late 19th century, there is a new generation of tourists – almost invariably wearing death metal t-shirts – who have begun posing for photos with the piles of bones.”
View this post on Instagram
Still curious? Check out the 19,000 Instagram posts with the ‘Bone Church‘ hashtag. Anyway, as we reported earlier this year, European authorities are now cracking down on tourist behaviour and photo etiquette, now targeting people for disrespectful actions – even ones which cause no physical damage.
While this seems reasonable, some experts say we should be more forgiving of new-age tourists. Pawel Sawicki, for instance, a press officer at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, told Traveller.com.au that although the museum discourages selfies, we should not always assume the worst.
“We have to be careful not to judge… For a generation of teenagers, this is the language they use.”
“You can see from the caption that people are showing the memorial was important to them.” Which is more than can be said for some of the tourists that have played up in other places in Europe this year, with tourists camping out on the iconic Rialto bridge and fighting with Gondoliers in Venice.