The Bone Church of Kutna Hora – 40,000 BONES! #JayWayPrague

bone church

Call me morbid, but I have to admit being a little excited about our visit to see the Bone Church (Kostnice) of Kutná Hora just outside of Prague. I’d read so much about the Sedlec Ossuary, I could hardly wait to see it for myself. Designated as a one of the 12 World Heritage Sites in the Czech Republic, the final resting place of the bones of over 40,000 people isn’t in itself that unusual – it’s the presentation of those bones that raises eyebrows.

bone church

Entering the Kostnice Chapel is a bit like entering a well-designed house of horrors. It takes a few seconds to realize that almost everything around you is made of human skeletons. The wall decorations. A large chalice. A coat of arms. An enormous chandelier. Even the angelic cherubs are decorated with gaping skulls.

From the moment you enter the church, DEATH stares you in the face.

bone church

Some say the monk who first created these displays was half-blind…or half-mad. I’ll let you decide.

bone church

Pyramids of Bones

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Step inside…if you dare!

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Bone Chalice and Greeters

History of the Bohemian Abbey

During the Middle Ages the Kutná Hora silver mines received worldwide recognition as the area experienced a Silver Rush, becoming the second richest town in the Czech lands after Prague. The first monks settled there in 1142 and the Ossuary became part of the first Cistercian abbey in Bohemia. As part of their “life by austere means”, all of the monastery possessions must be produced by the monks themselves.

Many of the bones were said to have originally come from the 14th century when the Black Death claimed thousands of lives in the area. The Hussite Wars in the early 15th century added many more dead to the creepy collection, but no one knows for sure exactly where all of these bones came from because the skeletal decorations in the Bone Church were mentioned for the first time in the 16th century.

The Cathedral of Our Lady in Sedlec was THE popular place to be buried since 1278 when Henry, the Cistercian monastery abbot, was sent to the Holy Land by King Otakar II of Bohemia. He returned with him a small amount of earth he had removed from Golgotha where Christ was crucified and sprinkled it over the abbey cemetery.

In 1511, it was said a half-blind (or half-mad) monk began assembling bones from local graves into ornaments and thus began the tradition. As more and more people were buried there, it became necessary to remove some of the bones from the cemetery. It was decided that the bones would be used to decorate the Sedlec Ossuary.

Master architect Jan Santini Blazej-Aichel had renovated the space in his unique Baroque Gothic style before the Schwarzenbergs bought the Ossuary in 1784. It was this noble family that had the idea to place 40,000 – 70,000 bones and skulls into various forms, such as the large chandelier, a Gothic tower and a chalice. There are even bones depicting the Schwarzenberg coat-of-arms that shows a severed Turk’s head and a raven.

bone church

Schwarzenberg Coat of Arms

The Ossuary Chapel or “Holder of Bones” was created as a reminder of the impermanence of human life and inescapable death. But you have to see it for yourself. Be warned, it’s not for the faint of heart!

A chandelier with EVERY bone in the human body accounted for…

bone church

A cheeky cherub with a skull on his chubby knee…

bone church

The raven picking clean a severed head…

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Coins in the eye sockets of grinning skulls…

bone church

Quiet alcoves with candles flickering against a garland of skulls greeted us as we entered the final resting place of these earthly remains. Our delightful guide from JayWay Travel made sure we were the first to arrive to get photos. We had the entire church to ourselves for a few minutes, so the eeriness factor went up tenfold! The chapel was completely quiet and smelled faintly of old bones. Everywhere you looked, there were skulls, femurs, or scapulas staring down from the rafters. Art made from bones and certainly like nothing else we’ve ever seen before!

bone church

The cherubs bothered me the most. Happy angelic little faces perched atop a tower of skulls. Creepy!

bones-0007

bone church

I wonder what the dear departed from the 14th century would think about their remains being on display today? Over 200,000 people a year visit the Bone Church, so there is a definite appeal to the more morbid side. I was fascinated, but photographing cemeteries also interests me.  🙂 Imagine an episode of BONES being filmed here – it would be awesome!

What do you think? How would you feel looking at the skeletal remains of over 40,000 people?

Just in case you’re not squeamish, here are a few more photos from the Bone Church.

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Just who were these people?

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A quiet moment of contemplation amid the skulls

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Adornments on the rooftop

Our private day trip to Kutna Hora was provided by JayWay Travel, a Boutique Travel Company specializing in putting together personal itineraries based on their guests special interests. The personal service on our #JayWayPrague tours are a highlight of our Great Summer European Eurail Adventure!

So what do you think of the Bone Church? Creepy? Ghoulish?

I want to see it! or

NO WAY? 🙂

 

About the author

Lisa Chavis

Lisa is a traveler, photographer and pharmacist. She and her partner Cheryl MacDonald enjoy sharing inspiration and good health with fellow travelers!

29 Comments

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  • You can call me a bit morbid or creepy too, because I would love to go there! It is a little unsettling, but also beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  • This church is so awesome (so to speak)! How did I miss it? I’ve been in Prague several years ago but didn’t see it. Thanks for letting me know about it.

    • The Bone Church isn’t actually in Prague, it’s in a town called Kutna Hora about 45 minutes or so outside of Prague. Lisa and Cheryl went there on a day trip we organized for them.

  • Wow! This place looks pretty intense! It does look morbid, but I love strange places like this and really want to visit now. I wish we would have known about this when we were in Prague this past spring!

  • Kutna Hora is probably the best day trip from Prague! and the bone church is a must visit there, no matter how spooky it is! Did you know that in Poland, just at the border with Czech Republic, there is a similar place too?

    • No, I didn’t! Now I have another fun place to explore on my bucket list! We just left Poland, so we’ll have to catch it next time. Thanks for letting me know!

  • This is just crazy. I don’t know if I would go check that out.. but definitely will pass this tip on to whoever asks me for things to do in Prague!

  • Hi Lisa,

    I was very excited to see that you’d written this article.

    I visited this church in March 2001, long before I got my first digital camera. As a result it is great for me to be reminded now of all those amazing sights inside.

    It really is a weird and somewhat eerie concept. I found the idea very bizarre yet once inside looking around I admit it was very fascinating. I just hope that nobody now gets an idea to copy this in the 21st Century!

    • I agree! Finding the bones of 40,000 people would be a creepy endeavor! 🙂 We had a few minutes with the place completely to ourselves so it was fun to snap away.

  • Yes, we’d like to see this church. Death is a part of life, and as living humans we are fascinated with the past and what lies ahead when we pass. The Mexicans have a great attitude toward death – dancing and toasting to your ancestors with food and drink in a cemetery for Day of the Dead celebrations sounds good to us :-).

  • We visited the Bone Church last year in winter, and while I found it unsettling, the energy was more sad than creepy. Kutná Hora is such a wonderful city. We quite thought we might want to live there for a bit. Perhaps it was the gingerbread dumplings. 😉

    • We loved Kutna Hora, too! The Santa Barbara Cathedral was one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen…my jaw dropped when we rounded the Jesuit Church and there it was! Ahhh… I can’t believe we had the exact same dish in the exact restaurant – so funny! It was one of my favorite meals so far in Prague. Wild boar goulash and gingerbread dumplings..yum! 😉

  • To be perfectly honest, I am completely creeped out by this. That being said I so appreciate you visiting and reporting back! Yikes I am way too big of a wimp to go in this building. But now I have a great story to tell and a blog to send people to!

    • Lol! Cheryl was a bit creeped out, too. She only lasted about 15 minutes and then she’d had enough. It’s definitely not for everyone, so thanks for being brave enough to take a look!

  • How fascinating! Fancy even thinking of doing something like this! We have been to the Capuchin Crypts in Rome and Palermo where bodies line the vault walls but have never seen anything like this. I’ll definitely visit when we go to Prague!

  • Somehow I find the idea of the Bone Church less creepy than cemeteries! It’s a great way to look death in the face and acknowledge that this is how we all end up. I had also never heard about these bone chapels and found your post very interesting. Thanks.

  • Ooh I’m so torn! Not sure if I’d freak out a little at the sight of that many skeletal remains or if a morbid fascination would take hold and allow me to look through the entire building. Very interesting though. I’d not heard of this bone church…

  • There are several dozens of bone churches in the Czech Republic, the biggest one is at St. James church in Brno, that is also the largest bone collection after Paris catacombs. Near- Kutna Hora, there are several others, one is by St. Bartholomew in Kolin, which is as big as the one presented here in Sedlec. Another can be seen in Melnik, Mikulov, and Krtiny. The majority of them are not open to public.
    These bone churches and chapels had deeper meaning for medieval people in Bohemia. The bones are a building block of the human body and were seen as a part of the spiritual building within these churches. It reminded the futility of life while the death is eternal. And finally, bones in the church showed that live or dead, all Christians are united as one community in front of Jesus Christ.

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