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Underneath it all: Cemeteries that remain a mystery

The world was amazed last week when the bones of Britain's King Richard III (1452-1485), last of the Plantagenet monarchs, were positively identified by means of mitochondrial DNA (extracted from the female line) obtained from a known living descendant.

A crown and a cross for a king long lost
Photo by Jennifer Weber

The burial place of the remains of Richard III -- who died in battle at Bosworth Field at the age of 32 -- was located in 2011 in Leicester, England, and the bones themselves unearthed in August 2012.

But it was the match of DNA taken from the skeleton to that of Michael Ibsen, a Canadian who is a direct descendant of Richard III's sister, Anne of York, that brought the long-awaited news: the remains of the last English king to die in battle had been located.

They had lain for over 500 years beneath what is now a parking lot.

Finding the bones was the years-long quest of one Philippa Langley, a passionate Scottish Ricardian (member of the Richard III Society). She kept digging for the truth and for the most part, victory has been sweet.

Contrast this unusual lonely burial place -- lots of traffic above but not many on the same level -- with caverns such as the Paris Catacombs, reliquary of the remains of over six million French dead.

If you're ever in Paris, buy a ticket and take a guided tour of the legendary Catacombs. You could wander the acres alone but you wouldn't want to get lost down there, or encounter a lawbreaking cataphile.

Other "bone churches" include the Capuchin Crypt in Rome, Italy, in which the walls of a series of small chapels beneath a church are decorated with the bones of more than 4,000 Capuchin monks.

The bone-encrusted chapels are themed. For example, there is a Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones and a Crypt of the Pelvises.

Similarly, the Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic, features a massive working chandelier made entirely of bones.

You may read more here about the strange bone churches of Europe.

Back stateside, at Magnolia Plantation in Charleston, South Carolina, the cremains of John Drayton Hastie (1917-2002) are interred within a 300-year-old oak tree in the gardens.

Taking burials to a new level is the Neptune Society, which has created the Memorial Reef 3.25 miles east of Key Biscayne in Miami, Florida. It is "the largest man-made reef ever conceived and, when complete, will have transformed over 16 acres of barren ocean floor."

Cremains of loved ones may be interred in and around the reef, which is a member of the Green Burial Council.

From British monarchs to the most unknown, unsung individual who has ever lived, the ground beneath us is populated with the remains of those who were once as we are, and like whom we will one day be.

Jennifer Weber is the owner of Angel Funeral Photography and Jennifer Weber Photography. When she's not preoccupied with casual portraiture, funeral photography, or taking pictures in cemeteries, she blogs at I'm Having A Thought Here and A Route of Evanescence. She is a frequent contributor to Find A Grave, where she is known as AngelSeeker.


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