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Permanent Tourist

A personal website by Mark Howells-Mead

Cimiterio delle Clarisse, Ischia

A centuries-old castle is going to contain some grim history, and the Aragonese Castle at Ischia Ponte is no exception. Aside from the small torture museum, which contains relics and illustrations of various hideousnesses from history, the Cimiterio delle Clarisse (Cemetery of the Order of Saint Clare) has a pretty gruesome story, dating back to the sixteenth century.

The cemetery doesn’t contain any bodies, but a plaque on the wall explains how the crypt was used. Due to the limited space in the fortress village, an alternative solution to burials was found. After death, nuns were sat upright on stone chairs built into the walls and left to slowly decompose, with their remains draining into special vases placed below the chairs. Eventually, the skeletons were removed and placed in a communal grave elsewhere on the island.

The remaining nuns in the order would retreat to the crypt for several hours every day, to pray for their predecessors and to contemplate the nature of death and the fragility of human life. As one would expect, the crypt was highly unsanitary and so most of the nuns succumbed to sickness as a result of their meditations.