The Ossuary of San Bernardino in Milan, Italy

Stunned Meditation

My visit to the Ossuary of San Bernardino in Milan was one of the most profoundly impactful of my life. I often steer clear of places where large numbers of human remains have been laid (visibly) to rest. My presence somehow seems disrespectful as I and others gawk in our tourist’s stupor, so acutely aware of how quickly our vacation is slipping away. Truth be told, I have always been a bit freaked out by the idea as well. I have always been a bit…sensitive to things many others don’t seem to pick up on. I’m not talking about some sort of Shirley MacLaine, out-of-body experience, but I also don’t so much discount people and their other-worldly experiences.

When I entered the small chapel, I was overwhelmed. It’s hard to describe what went on there. Mostly it was quiet. I sat down. Many people came and went, some were solemn, some giggled, some prayed. I sat there for perhaps an hour and a half before I even realized what had happened. Thousands upon thousands of hollow, vacant eyes stare down at you, no matter where you are. The gaze of the dead is inescapable, it closes in on you and somehow they WERE ACTUALLY watching me. I could feel those eyes penetrate to my very soul, my walls were no use in this place. The interesting thing was, how un-judged I felt…and that feeling was very specific.

Two things permeate the space; that eternal gaze of the dead and the sacred heart. Both of these overwhelm. The message is clear to Catholics, but it had a different call for me. Life is so very, very short. Find your heart Brian, before it’s too late.

The people in the Ossuary didn’t die especially good deaths, nor were they in many cases good people, but I so desperately hope they have found peace.

Photo Technical Info

  • Aperture: ƒ/8
  • Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
  • Taken: 4 April, 2014
  • Focal length: 16mm
  • ISO: 100
  • Location: 45° 27.7483′ 0″ N 9° 11.7518′ 0″ E
  • Shutter speed: 3.2s
  • Title: The Ossuary of San Bernardino alle Ossa in Milan, Italy