Postcard from... Spain


Alasdair Fotheringham
Saturday 16 November 2013 01:00

The tiny village of Wamba near Valladolid is not only famous for being Spain’s one locality that begins with a W. It is also home to Spain’s largest ossuary or bone church.

Rather than having walls or ceilings ornately designed with bones – as is often the case for other European ossuaries – Wamba’s collection of human remains is laid out in neatly organised piles lying from floor to ceiling in a side-chapel of the church of Santa María.

There aren’t as many as there used to be: Gregorio Marañon, one of Spain’s most brilliant intellectuals and best-known doctors of the twentieth century, once took away two lorries full of Wamba bones he needed for medicine students at Madrid’s Complutense University.

Wamba’s ossuary may have started simply because the local cemetery was full, another theory is it was used for dissident medieval monks.

The ninth-century church was definitely part of a now destroyed monastery occupied by the Knights Hospitalier order and is well worth a visit for its unusual architecture. However the side-chapel’s contents and its chilling inscription inside – “as you see yourself now, so I once saw myself. Everything ends like this” – may well linger longest in any visitor’s memory.

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