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.
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.
Some say the monk who first created these displays was half-blind…or half-mad. I’ll let you decide.
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.
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…
A cheeky cherub with a skull on his chubby knee…
The raven picking clean a severed head…
Coins in the eye sockets of grinning skulls…
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!
The cherubs bothered me the most. Happy angelic little faces perched atop a tower of skulls. Creepy!
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.
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? 🙂