What Is a Charnel House? – Origin & Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

When you see or hear the term charnel house, you probably think it has something to do with a boarding school or student quarters in Harry Potter, but you’d be wrong. The term actually has a dark and eerie origin—one I’ll explain in this quick guide. If you want to understand the definition of a charnel house and learn how to properly use it, stick around for a second.

Charnel House Meaning Explained

What Is a Charnel House Origin Meaning

The term charnel house is meant to describe a tomb or special building where the skeletal remains of humans are stored. Yep, you read that right. We’re talking about a bone depot, a skull storage unit or a place to park your femurs. It’s a repository for bodies, often associated with places of worship, where bones from graves are collected and stored when burial space is scarce. Ew, but also…kind of cool.

How to Pronounce Charnel

Pronouncing charnel isn’t as frightening as its meaning. Simply say char, like you’re about to grill some burgers, followed by nel, like well. Put it together, and you’ve got char-nel.

Origin and Etymology of Charnel Houses

The term charnel house came about during the late 14th century and derived from the Old French word charnel, which means fleshly (ew!), and also from the 16th-century Latin word carnale, which translates to graveyard.

So, while it might sound like a sweet brand of hot cocoa, it’s actually far less cozy. Over many years, the term evolved into charnel house and symbolized mortality and the fleeting nature of human life.

Synonyms for Charnel House

I know charnel house is a pretty specific term, but there are a few synonyms you can choose from, especially when you’re penning that horror novel or spooky Halloween poem.

  • Ossuary
  • Mortuary
  • Crypt
  • Catacomb
  • Vault
  • Mortuary chapel

Charnel House Examples in a Sentence

What Is a Charnel House Origin Meaning 1

To help you use this term correctly, here are a handful of sentences that show how to apply it in everyday conversation.

  • I absolutely loved touring the catacombs beneath Paris; they’re a haunting charnel house of centuries past.
  • The eerie silence of the charnel house sent chills down my spine, but we continued our ghost-hunting expedition.
  • The young archaeologists discovered a medieval charnel house while excavating an abandoned graveyard.
  • So much death happens in hospitals; I always thought they were like charnel houses.
  • The grisly crime scene resembled a charnel house, striking fear into the hearts of the investigators.
  • My favorite author’s new horror novel describes an ancient charnel house hidden beneath the city’s bustling urban streets.
  • Her brother has a weird enthusiasm for bones, so we’re touring an old chantry chapel with a charnel house beneath it. 

Don’t You Love Spooky Words?

And that’s my guided tour on the usage of charnel house. Now that you understand the definition and how to use it, practice slipping it into conversations and see what others say! Just remember, while it might add a touch of macabre to your vocabulary, it might not be the best topic for dinner conversation unless you’re a bit dark like me.