6 Creepy Religious Sites Way Worse Than the Temple of Doom
Considering the most popular Western religion heavily features a man being mutilated in a gruesome public execution, we tend to forget just how hardcore most religions are. That might be due to our habit of hiding it all behind boring buildings featuring nothing crazier than steeples and stained glass. That's why it's good to appreciate the houses of worship that go out of their way to make it clear just how freaking metal their shit is:
The Italian Chapel With Skeletons Tangled in Metal Veins
Imagine you're attending a service at the beautiful Cappella Sansevero in Naples, when that Italian burrito you had earlier starts attacking your intestines. You scurry away in search of the bathroom and finally end up in an underground chamber that looks suited for your needs. That's when you notice that there are already two people there.
"I see you asked for extra guacamole, too."
Those two human "sculptures" have lived beneath the chapel for over 200 years, meaning that they've been creeping people out since way before posing fleshless bodies went mainstream. The male-and-female pair, dubbed Adam and Eve, used to also include a freaking fetus, but it was either stolen or it escaped on its own and is standing behind you right now. These are the only two possibilities.
Yet somehow, stolen, decorated fetus skeletons aren't even the freakiest part of this holy site. That honor goes to the so-called "black legend" of Raimondo di Sangro, the Prince of Sansevero, otherwise known as the guy responsible for these "Anatomical Machines." As well as being an alchemist, inventor, Naples' highest-ranked Masonic leader and probably a super fun person to hang with at parties, the prince was also the repository of many, many disturbing stories. Villagers suspected that he dabbled in the dark arts, and had discovered a process of injecting blood vessels to turn them into metal -- the implication being that the models for Adam and Eve were two house servants that he murdered and turned into large biology class props.
The servant who had the eyes plucked out was the lucky one.
To this day, nobody knows what procedure or materials he used in order to preserve the whole circulatory system in such remarkable condition. The creepiness doesn't stop there: the chapel, which is littered in Masonic symbols, also holds the famous Veiled Christ, a statue of post-crucifixion Jesus so disturbingly realistic that, for centuries, everyone assumed the prince had just turned some hippie into stone.
Presumably, then, the hippie is still alive. He's no good to Jabba dead.
France's Decapitation-Themed Cathedral (Includes a Saint's Actual Head)
At first glance, there's nothing particularly creepy about Amiens Cathedral, unless giant gothic buildings scare you on principle. In fact, this popular tourist spot is pretty much the only reason to visit the quaint little city of Amiens in northern France, so you might as well take your time in there and bask in the glory of all those magnificent statues of ... headless zombies?
For Halloween, they put little blood sprinklers up on their necks.
Huh. That's weird. You shrug off the decapitated saints by the entrance, thinking "even sculptors make mistakes," but then you walk in and slowly notice that headlessness is definitely a running theme in this place:
The other running theme is "fabulous skirts."
There's actually a good reason for that: Amiens Cathedral is where the faithful come to gaze at the decapitated head of John the Baptist, who, as covered before on Cracked (and the Bible, we guess), violently lost the upper section of his body after a tragic encounter with a horny king and a silver platter.
It's a little-known fact that John also doubled as a pirate.
But don't worry, that's not the actual skull of the guy who baptized Jesus -- it's only the front half of his actual skull, or so claimed a French knight called Wallon de Sarton in the 13th century when he "acquired" the half-head after looting a temple in Constantinople. The cathedral was built as sort of an oversized display case for the morbid relic, hence the grisly decoration. Here's John the Baptist's decapitation told in giant, 3-D, comic-book form:
There's a 30-part sequence about the game of volleyball they played with the head afterward.
In 1793, it was deemed the relic should be given a proper burial, as if parading someone's skull in a bowling ball to gore-hungry tourists wasn't "Christian" or whatever. But, thanks to a crafty mayor who instead kept it in his house, the Amiens Tourist Board keep their biggest earner on display like a high school football trophy. Hooray!
The Hindu Temple Where Rodents Rule
Karni Mata is a 15th century Hindu temple that looks just like many of the other thousands of religious buildings in India: it's full of silver statues, marble panels, and rat poop. In this case, however, that's actually intentional, since the people who visit the temple worship the rats that live there -- all 20,000 of them.
"Is this a Fritos wrapper? Aw, shit, guys. We have a people problem."
OK, first question: "eww?" Second question: "why?" Well, as the local legend goes, a sage-deity named Karni Mata once asked Yoma, god of death, to reincarnate the son of a grieving storyteller. Yoma was like, "Don't tell me how to do my job" and refused, and so Karni Mata promised that all male storytellers of that caste would be reincarnated as rats in her temple, which is ... not much of a consolation, when you think about it. Given the choice between "dead forever" and "rat," we're not sure if we'd go with the latter.
It's unclear how Lionel Richie's severed head factors into the story.
Anyway, as a result of this, all rats within Karni Mata's temple are highly revered and deeply cared for -- since people think of them as their sacred ancestors, they work shifts to clean up after them and bring them food and milk, much like you would with your grandpa. What's more, if someone accidentally steps on a rat, then temple law demands that it must be replaced with a rat made of silver or gold. That's partly why all visitors must remove their shoes before entering the temple, but don't worry: it's considered highly lucky for a rat to run across your foot.
"Sweet, one of them touched m- LOOK, A COCKROACH! AAIIIEE!"
Local culture also dictates that newly married couples must visit the temple before they begin their conjugal life, because nothing gets those sexy juices flowing like a room full of rats and rat shit. As for the rats immediately outside the temple: fuck them. They're just rats.
Thailand's "Black House" Is Like a Giant Serial Killer's Shrine
If Thailand's famous White Temple is like Heaven and Hell had a terrifying baby, then the Black House (also in northern Thailand) is like Hell had sex with its own cousin and gave birth to a deformed spawn. Everything about the Black House is insane, starting with the fact that it's not a house -- it's actually 15 quasi-religious buildings decorated to resemble a serial killer's burned down hideout.
Except the one that looks like a giant fish, for reasons you'd need a 4-D brain to understand.
The place, which officially goes by the action-packed name of Baan Dam, was created by Thawan Duchanee, a Thai artist who apparently had a master/mentor relationship with the White Temple's Chalermchai Kositpipat artist (the Internet can't seem to decide which of the two is master, but judging the length of Duchanee's beard, we're guessing it's him). His purpose was to evoke "past Thai civilization in a contemporary manner" -- apparently, ancient Thailand was way into death metal, because this place is painted all black and full of bizarre, intricately arranged animal corpses and weird decorations made from mutilated animal parts.
And this is just the bathroom.
Other decorations include a complete elephant skeleton, unidentifiable blindfolded skulls, and a gigantic crocodile skin painted black and surrounded by candles. And then you have the more "traditional" Buddhist statues, which showcase a whole other brand of creepiness:
Thailand's penile enlargement methods may be extreme, but you can't argue with the results.
All of the 15 buildings are accessible apart from one: a strange submarine structure that lets in just enough light to allow one to view a torture chamber on the inside. As far as we know, the recent earthquake didn't do any major damage on this place, presumably because even natural disasters are afraid to go there.
Poland's Underground Cathedral Made of Salt
An 800-year-old salt mine that's more than 1,000 feet under the ground doesn't immediately sound like a good place to put a cathedral -- it would be a much better fit for a supervillain hideout or like, we don't know, a mining operation maybe. No one told this to the city of Wieliczka in Poland, apparently, so they went and carved themselves a whole subterranean church out of solid salt.
The congregation is half mole people, half foodies.
The entire cathedral was painstakingly carved into the blackened salt rock (the purest, whitest salt was mined long ago) by three chronically bored miners in their spare time over the course of 68 years ... just for kicks. Not content with just crafting floor tiles, stairways, and pillars out of this incredibly brittle material, the miners also sculpted several religious statues ...
We're assuming all of these have working salt organs inside.
Fashioned fancy chandeliers out of polished, reconstituted salt ...
This praying spot also doubles as a pretzel stand on weekdays.
And even carved a huge (and hugely detailed) copy of the Last Supper into a wall, because what good is your salt palace if you don't have salt Jesus paintings decorating it? Yes, that's plural.
In this version, Judas never sold out Jesus because the food was properly seasoned.
Given the dangerous nature of the miners' jobs, it's not so surprising that they were such a devoted bunch -- if there's even a small chance that making a salt sculpture decreases your odds of dying in an underground explosion then, hey, it's worth a shot. As a result, the tunnels are littered with smaller handcrafted chapels and dozens of creepy historical statues and mythical creatures. It's worth noting that they were probably rife with cabin fever and missing female company a bit too much, so there's a good chance there's a stash of salt wives hidden somewhere. By the way, if you, like the miners, have a lot of spare time on your hands, the whole place is now explorable by Google Street View.
The Gold-Encrusted Corpses of German Churches
We've already told you about plenty of worship rooms that happen to be decorated with people's skeletons, some of them in this very article. What makes Germany's bone-filled churches so special, then? The bling. Oh god, the bling.
Just a few of the victims of Europe's seldom-mentioned Golden Plague.
As documented by Paul Koudounaris in his book Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs, Europe, and Germany in particular, had a tendency to keep the bodies of their long-dead Christian martyrs and pimp them out for show. The three fellows above are St. Valerius, St. Valentin, and St. Valentinus, and all three of them would disagree with 50 Cent about the "or" part. Their bodies are hollowed, dressed, posed, and blinged to hell and back, giving the impression that the Catholic afterlife is a cross between Cleopatra's court and the music videos of the world's gaudiest rappers. We're assuming Mr. T has already requested to be buried in the same fashion.
For the most part, the skeletons remain indoors, but once a year, the ones in Roggenburg Abbey and Waldsassen Basilica (both in Germany) are taken out for a posthumous parade around town, like a far more debauched Weekend at Bernie's. Speaking of debauchery, some appear ready for some hot undead action ...
... while others don't seem too impressed with this whole "facing eternity as a fancy church ornament" thing.
This 11th-century teenager actually died from rolling her eyes too far back (probably).
As for the question of who would have the grit, the nerve, and the stomach to undertake the long and grisly task of making these corpses all pretty, the answer is: nuns. Alongside embroidering, the nuns have to remove damaged bones and coat them in animal glue and cloth. When you go to sleep tonight, let the last image that enters your mind be a cramped, candlelit room full of middle-aged nuns sowing gold leafs into a skeleton's rib-cage. Sweet dreams.
Alex Sinclair Lack is a writer living in Vietnam. Follow his photo-quote blog of Vietnam's crazy roads. Like the page and submit stories to Ildrenchay areyay Upidstay, his compilation of funny and inspiring children's stories and anecdotes.
For more faiths we can get behind, check out 5 Inspiring Religions That Worship Penises. And then check out 23 Movies That Put Insane Detail Into Stuff You Missed.