Charnel house

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The term charnel house goes back to the fourteenth century. Now considered a horror movie staple, the charnel house serves a very necessary purpose in everyday life. We will examine the definition of the term charnel house, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

A charnel house is a building or structure where human remains are stored, most specifically, human bones. Where burial space is at a premium, a corpse is only left in the ground of a cemetery for a fixed amount of time, usually between five and fifteen years. The remains are then exhumed, the flesh having rotted away, and the bones are piled inside a crypt or vault, also known as a charnel house. Charnel houses are often located adjacent to churches or monasteries such as Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, which still employs the use of a working charnel house. Most people are only familiar with the term as a feature of classic horror films, slashers, thrillers, gothic, zombie and supernatural stories. Charnel house may be used figuratively to mean someplace that is linked to violent death, such as the home of a serial killer or some other site of macabre murders. The expression charnel house is derived from the Latin word carnale, which means of the flesh.


Only a few steps away, in the subterranean charnel house, more than a thousand skulls stand neatly stacked. (Smithsonian Magazine)

In time honoured fashion, once the condemned had been beheaded and their bodies quartered, their heads and quarters were displayed in prominent sites around the area where the rebellion had taken place; the description by travellers of: “…a charnel house…” was frequently used. (The Dorset Echo)

An honorable soldier, Lee is an apt symbol for the Confederate rank and file whose sacrifices in the war’s charnel house shouldn’t be flushed down the memory hole. (The Charleston Post and Courier)