Travel

The Sedlec Ossuary

Church of Bones

One of the most amazing places we’ve ever been is The Sedlec Ossuary located in Kutná Hora, the Czech Republic.

We visited while on a trip to Prague in 2002 and took a day trip out of Prague to Kutná Hora, having read about this unusual church.

The trip consisted of an amazing train journey on a very old fashioned train followed by a bus journey followed by getting lost, asking for directions in a small shop and receiving said directions from a very friendly local who only spoke Czech.

As we couldn’t understand the locals, they resorted to sign language and we ended up crossing a field and climbing a fence to find our way – but we made it!  All part of the adventure.  There’s probably easier ways to go about it though.

Sedlec Abbey

Sedlec Abbey

Kutná Hora

In the 14th Century, Kutná Hora arose as a very busy silver mining town and was once the Czech Republic’s second largest town and a Royal City.

In 1995 it was ascribed to the UNESCO World Heritage List due to the churches, including the Church of St. Barbara which was established in 1380 and the Cathedral of Our Lady.

The Cathedral was established as part of the former Cistercian monastery that was established by King Wenceslas II in the early 1300s in the Gothic style though it was much later renovated in a highly unique Baroque style after a devastating fire.  The fusion of the two styles has made the Cathedral very popular.

The Sedlec Ossuary

Sedlec Ossuary

The bone church is a small Roman Catholic chapel located beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints which is part of the former Abbey.

This history is a little complicated but briefly in 1278 the Abbot of the Cistercian monastery was sent to the Holy Land by King Otaker II of Bohemia.  When he returned, he brought a handful of earth from the Holy Land and sprinkled it over the Abbey cemetery.

When the local people heard of this act Sedlec became famous and the desirable place to be buried throughout Europe.  Of course, due to the 14th Century plague ravaging Europe and various wars within a hundred years thousands and thousands of people had instructed they be interred at Sedlec cemetery.  So many in fact that the cemetery had to be enlarged to accommodate these bodies.

The infamous cemetery

The cemetery where the Holy Soil was sprinkled, leading to its immense popularity

Church of Bones

In the early 15th Century a small church was built in the Abbey cemetery.  This church had a lower chapel that was used as an ossuary, or a bone church, for mass graves that had been uncovered during the construction of this chapel or that had been dug up to make room for new bodies.  At this point, however, new skeletons were stacked up with the old in the chapel, accumulating unceremoniously.

Eventually a monk was given the task of exhuming the skeletons properly and arranging the bones which by this time amounted to more that 40,000 complete skeletons, stored in a tiny space, hence the title The Bone Church or Church of Bones.

Stepping into the ossuary

Stepping into the ossuary

Decorations

The bones were arranged into many macabre forms including a coat of arms for the Schwarzenberg family, pyramids of skulls and an enormous chandelier that is said to include at least one bone from each skeleton.  How wonderfully inclusive!

It all sounds very grim and dark but surprisingly it’s not.  The church is peaceful and serene and it’s worth remembering each person wanted to be interred at this special place (though perhaps not as some post modern art piece).  If you get the chance to visit, absolutely do.

Schwarzenberg Family coat of arms

Schwarzenberg Family coat of arms

Pyramids and the chandelier

The chandelier 

Closer look at the chandelier

Closer look at the chandelier 

Closer look at the chandelier 

Closer look at the chandelier 

Pyramid of skulls

Pyramid of skulls

More photos

Bone decorations

    Bone decorations

Bone decorations

Bone decorations

Bone decorations

Bone decorations

Bone decorations

Bone decorations

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