April 28, 2015

"X" is for X-Bones

The Skull and Crossbones is a familiar symbol likely first used by the Knights Templar in the Middle Ages. Today the symbol is a warning of poison (or pirates) so you probably wouldn’t expect to find the image adorning a church.  But the Skull and Crossbones also represents a religious order, the Brotherhood of Death and Prayer.

Pirate Symbol: Skull and Crossbones

The brotherhood was established in the 16th century in the Cinque Terre town of Monterosso al Mare to support local families in their time of grief. Above the doorway of the Oratory of the Dead you’ll find a skull and two crossed bones but don’t be afraid to step inside. The chapel is actually very inviting – despite the sculptures of skeletons hanging about.

Oratory of the Dead, Monterosso al Mare

The Skull and Crossbones: Symbol of the Brotherhood of Death and Prayer

There’s only one other church where I’ve noticed a Skull and Crossbones: at the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence, on a tomb slab set into the flooring.

Santa Croce Tomb Slab, Florence

Have you come across any other Skulls and Crossbones in churches?


  1. We saw a church made entirely from bones in Evora, Portugal. As for the X-bones, they are one of my Xs today too.

    1. I've never been to Portugal. I'll stop by to check out your X-bones.

  2. The skeleton in the church? Creepy.

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