Monthly Archives: February 2018

Glimpses of Munich #3: body parts

Pope Eleutherius’s skull

When my kind of people think of sightseeing in Europe, one of the first things on their minds is checking out all of the dead people on display.  In Munich, there is a full skeleton just off of Marienplatz, but today I want to point out the largest collection of random bones from corpses of possible saints in Bavaria.

In 1557 Pope Paul IV gave Duke Wilhelm V of Bavaria permission to start collecting relics.  Wilhelm is well known today in Munich for founding the Hofbräu brewery, building St. Michael’s church, founding the Old Schleissheim Palace, forcing all protestants out of the country, bankrupting the state,  and eventually abdicating.  I guess I should also mention that his wedding is at the center of the glockenspiel, which is that thing that goes on at Marienplatz that you could just watch on youtube (don’t, it should be watched in person) if you want.  Wilhelm V’s son, Elector Maximilian I, expanded the collection to what we see today.

The collection of relics is kept in a room half way through a tour of the Residenz in downtown Munich.  It is a vaulted chamber with sixty display cases of mostly small bones that were originally displayed in the Reiche Kapelle, which is also in Munich’s Residenz.  However, the best part is probably having a glimpse at Saint John the Baptist’s 4th skull.  That’s right, according to the Catholic Church he had four heads, or there was a horrible trade in fake relics for a few hundred years, one or the other. 

Before you go:  As mentioned, the reliquaries are located inside the Residenz museum which is a sprawling palace in downtown Munich.  The entrance is just off of Max-Joseph-platz and the entry fee as of 2018 is €7 for the entire museum.  You can check out the map here.  Audio guides are free with paid entrance.  Expect to spend two hours or more in the museum.

On a side note:  if bones don’t do it for you, have a look at the preserved organs over in Altötting.  The hearts of the Wittelsbachs are on display daily in the Gnadenkapelle and the body of Count Johann Tilly of the thirty years war fame is in the crypt of the Stiftspfarrkirche St. Philipp und Jakob immediately next door.  Don’t worry, I’ll have more disturbing posts later in the year.