The Bone Church of Kutna Hora Prague – Bones of 40,000 Souls!
Call me morbid, but I have to admit being a little excited about our visit to see the Bone Church of Kutná Hora just outside of Prague. I’d read so much about the Sedlec Ossuary or Bone Church Prague, 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 souls isn’t in itself that unusual – it’s the presentation of those bones that raises eyebrows.
The Bone Church Prague
Entering the Kostnice Chapel of the Bone Church 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 at Kutna Hora
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 Sedlec 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 of the Bone Church 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 Prague 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.
The Sedlec Ossuary
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 musty old books and 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 Prague and the Sedlec Ossuary, so there is a definite appeal to the more morbid side. I was fascinated, but photographing cemeteries and spooky places around the world also interests me.
What do you think? How would you feel looking at the skeletal remains of over 40,000 people?
Sedlec Ossuary Photos
Just in case you’re not squeamish, here are a few more photos from the Bone Church Prague.
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? 🙂
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30 CommentsLeave a comment
This is both freaky and cool! My son would think this is awesome! Making a note of this for when we visit Prague.
It is a little bit morbid but actually quite beautiful.
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.
Yes, eerie is a good word for it. What a creepy, strange place. I can’t even imagine being the curator there and having to stack all those bones up like that.
WOOWWW!!! I must say…I might be a little terrified if I went there…but definitely cool to see from the computer screen 😀
I think it’s a little creepy, and I’m not sure I would want to see it in person. I think it’s the presentation of the bones that I find unsettling.
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!
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!
I have been to a couple of bone chapels but not this one. Not that I have a list, but I would certainly include it!
I’ve seen a few before as well, but they were NOTHING like this one…I’m still having nightmares 😉
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!
This is creepy. I don’t think I’d be able to stay in the church for very long, but I like the idea of an episode of Bones being filmed there.
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…
I didn’t even know this existed, it’s seriously creepy! Need to see it for myself.
Oh, I visited Kostnice last year! It was bloody fantastic!!! They say that there are up to 70 000 bones there now, actually – so creepy! And yet at the same time, so invigorating in a weird way, isn’t it?
Chillingly beautiful. I believe a mad monk could start this. Don’t know how long I would’ve lasted in the sacristy smelling of ‘old bones!’
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.
wow! I was searching something else I don’t know how I am here and It fresh up my past visit Prague. Esp. this church. I don’t really comment on sites but this piece asking me to check my photos of this trip <3
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