Kutná Hora: The Bone Church Blues

Any visit to the Czech Republic is incomplete without stopping by one of its more grisly monuments—Sedlec Ossuary, the Bone Church. Located in the village of Kutná Hora, this small cathedral is one of the most visited attractions in the country because of its unique decorative style: human bones.

Kutna hora 1The history of the church goes back to the 1200s, when the abbot brought back soil from the Holy Land and sprinkled it upon its cemetery, making it a pious and desirable place to be buried. During the Black Death and the Hussite Wars in the 14th century, tens of thousands of people were buried there. Piles of bones were created as mass graves, resulting in a disorganized mess that had to be cleaned up. Enter František Rint in the 1870s, a woodcarver with a macabre sense of interior decorating. He created chandeliers, coats of arms, chalices, and intricate scenes that still stand today.

Kutna hora 2Walking into the Ossuary gives you a decidedly creepy feeling. Descending steps flanked by bones into the crypt is a chilling sensation, and the sense of awe that comes from wandering around is definitely palpable. There are four large piles behind grates in the corners that stand several meters high and even more around, neatly stacked in layers. Empty eye sockets gaze out mockingly in long rows of skulls, victims of a plague hundreds of years earlier. Above, chandeliers including at least one of every bone in the human body light your path to the next display. An exact count of the number of bodies in the Ossuary is impossible, but it is estimated to be between 40,000 and 70,000. There are few places in the world that you can be surrounded by so much death, and those are usually in the most horrific of historical sites—Treblinka, the Killing Fields, and so on. Sedlec Ossuary is nowhere near as disturbing or depressing as the sites of mass murders and exterminations, and instead exudes a kind of odd amusement. You may frequently find yourself wondering at the absurdity of what is in front of you.

Kutna hora 3The rest of Kutná Hora is a pleasant town with a medieval charm. It has a variety of other cathedrals and churches of historical significance and undeniable beauty. There are also silver mines in the surrounding hills that offer tours and historical insights. Getting here from Prague is an easy 70 km ride by bus or train. While the Ossuary is definitely the highlight, other spots are definitely worth a visit as well. No vacation in the Czech Republic would be complete without this morbid stop!

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