An Entire Museum Dedicated to Funereal Culture
A German museum preserves artistic and cultural expressions related to death, tombs, coffins, funeral carriages, masks, tombstones and epitaphs...
Death has always been one of humankind’s greatest inspirations. From the funerary complex known today as the Pyramids of Giza, to the majestic Taj Mahal in India (the world’s most beautiful tomb), people have been fascinated by death since time immemorial and have created endless rituals related to it. In the German city of Kassel, one strange museum is dedicated just to death and, above all, to the culture surrounding burial and funeral rites. It’s the Museum of Sepulchral Culture (Museum für Sepulkralkultur).
The collection of this unique museum —open since 1992— includes items dating from the Middle Ages and traces a journey through the history and development of funeral rites in the West, through artifacts, and graphic maps. Among the many objects in the collection are shrouds, funeral clothing, tombs, coffins, funeral carriages, jewelry, and even invitations to funerals, to name just some of what can be found there. It’s also a collection of historical and contemporary testimonies on the culture of burial, cemeteries, and mourning, especially in the German-speaking world.
Among its many temporary exhibitions, based likewise on aspects of death, we might highlight one dedicated to festive and colorful coffins made in Ghana. Another revolved around the relationship between death and dance, embodied in the Tibetan dance to death, and the many rites to commemorate the death of a person within this culture. One of the most extravagant sections of the museum is dedicated to skulls used as ornaments on clothing, books, and jewelry.
The museum also contains a library devoted to death, and a center for studies of sepulchral culture, both on the upper floors of the building (an old mansion). Some of the museum’s cultural activities have included performances, concerts, and theatrical plays. This place also stands out for an extensive educational program which includes guided tours, conferences, and seminars, including some intended for children.
In reviewing death’s many aesthetics and adornments, the museum is dedicated, finally, to restoring the awareness we carry around with us on the issue of death. It’s topic often enough ignored, but one which ultimately gives meaning to life: in its finite quality, we can find meaning, unity, coherence and, perhaps above all, inspiration.
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