Chilling tales from the crypt: bones of child go on display in Warsaw church

The remains of what is thought to be the Ossoliński child along with the bones of unknown others. Kalbar/TFN

The mysterious bones of a five-year-old boy have been put on display in a newly opened crypt in Warsaw’s oldest church.

The enigmatic remains were discovered two years ago by workmen when they were renovating a small catacomb underneath the St. John the Apostle Church in the Tarchomin parish of Warsaw.

The remains of 13 adults and several unknown children were also discovered in the church.Kalbar/TFN

The bones almost certainly belong to Ignacy Ossoliński, who as a five-year-old was tipped to become the head of the landowning aristocratic Ossoliński family who were the church’s founders.

It’s known that the boy succumbed to disease in 1755 but the location of his remains have remained unknown until now.

Built 500 years ago, the church on Mehoffera Street is the oldest fully preserved church within the current boundaries of Warsaw.Kalbar/TFN

Father Andrzej Kowalski, provost at St. John’s, told TFN: “The historical and archaeological research we carried out suggests that the bones we found are almost certainly those of the five-year-old Ossoliński.

“It was unusual at the time for children to be buried in crypts, and this case testifies to the eminence of the young boy,” he continued.

A metal panel covering the entrance to the crypt inside the church just before the chancel bearing the Ossoliński coat of arms in the form of an axe.Kalbar/TFN

Built 500 years ago, the church on Mehoffera Street is the oldest fully preserved church within the current boundaries of Warsaw.

The first information about the church comes from 1427. It was originally a wooden temple built on a small artificially built hill in order to protect it from the Vistula floods.

“It was unusual at the time for children to be buried in crypts, and this case testifies to the eminence of the young boy,” says Father Andrzej Kowalski, provost at St. John’s.Kalbar/TFN

It was rebuilt in brick in the beginning of the 16th century, a fact which is known as one of the bricks in the presbytery has the year 1518 carved into it.

In the first half of the 18th century, the Ossoliński family became the owners of Tarchomin and planned to make the temple its own ancestral church.

The last resting place.Kalbar/TFN

It was then in the 18th century that the building was restored and extended, and a treasury, sacristy, vestry, vestibule and bell tower were added to it. The interior was furnished with new altars, a pulpit and a baptistery.

The Ossolińskis built a crypt under the church where members of the family were to be buried. Evidence of this can be seen by the metal panel covering the entrance to the crypt inside the church just before the chancel, which bears the family’s coat of arms in the form of an axe.

Information on the church dates back to 1427.Kalbar/TFN

Ignacy Ossoliński was buried there in 1755 at the age of five and laid there at peace until the 1970s, when he was discovered during earlier reconstruction of the crypt into an altar room. Until his rediscovery it was not known where the boy lay.

Then, then two years ago conservators removed secondary plaster from the northern wall of the crypt, they noticed a bricked-up hole. After taking out a few bricks, it turned out that there were stairs leading up to the main nave of the church.

The church was rebuilt in the 16th century.Kalbar/TFN

Research on the bones found in the crypt confirmed that those of the boy belonged to a child between four and five years old, so it is almost certain they are the remains of Ossoliński. Additionally, bones of 13 adults and several children were discovered.

“The historical and archaeological research we carried out suggests that the bones we found are almost certainly those of the five-year-old Ossoliński,” says Father Kowalski.Kalbar/TFN

Their identification and the arrangement of their exhibition in the crypt was handled by Dr Anna Drążkowska from the Institute of Archaeology at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń. The project was financially supported by the Warsaw Monument Conservator's Office.