When you visit Sedlec Ossuary, it looks like nothing more than an average old medieval Gothic church on the outside. But you will discover that it is no ordinary chapel once you walk inside the small Roman Catholic church.
Sedlec Ossuary looks like an ordianry church on the outside
Located in Sedlec, in the suburbs of Kutna Hora, Czech Republic, Sedlec Ossuary is popularly known as the Church of Bones. It contains skeletons of approximately 40,000 people. Those are people who died of the plague in 1318 and during the Hussite wars in the 15th century. It is the second largest Gothic architecture of this type after the Catacombs of Paris.
The entrace of Sedlec Ossuary
The interior of Sedlec Ossuary
It takes about 1 hour by train from Prague to Kutná Hora, which was once the second largest city in the Czech Republic. The modern Kutná Hora is small in size and population, so visitors can reach the Sedlec Ossuary by foot after they get off the train.
The chandelier in the centre of the church
When you get inside the church, in the centre, you will see a big chandelier of bones which contains at least one of every bone in the human body. Another impressive work is the coat of arms of the Schwarzenberg family, a Bohemian aristocratic family whose members are Czech nobility that achieved the ranks of Princes of the Holy Roman Empire.
Coat of arms of the Schwarzenberg family
Coat of arms of the Schwarzenberg family made of bones
How did all these bones end up being craved in a small chapel located in the Czech Republic? The story traces back to 1278 when the King of King Otakar II Bohemia sent Henry, the abbot of the Cistercian Monastery in Sedlec to the Holy Land in Jerusalem. The abbot brought back a jar of earth from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the place where Jesus was crucified at Golgotha. The soil was spread across the abbey cemetery and that made the place a desirable burial site throughout Central Europe.
In the mid-14th century, many people died due to the outbreak of the Black Death. Many of them went to Sedlec before their death. Then the Hussite Wars in the 15th century brought more casualties to rest in this cemetery. The community started to build a Gothic church near the cemetery and many bones were moved and stacked in pyramids in the basement, where it was used as an ossuary.
In 1870, Frantisek Rint, a local woodcarver and carpenter, was employed by the Schwarzenberg family to organise the bones. After bleaching and carving the bones, he decorated the interior of the church with these bones and successfully created a breath-taking macabre result.
The signature of Frantisek Rint on the wall
40,000 human bodies are artistically arranged to form decorations and furnishings for the chapel that is now known as the Church of Bones. Visitors can find the signature of Rint, executed in bones, on the wall near the entrance to the chapel.
Though the macabre place is creepy in one sense, many find it peaceful rather than scary. Looking at the bones and skeleton of people who died centuries ago, some may ponder the question about the ephemerality of mortal life, as well as the meaning of one’s existence.
Address: Starosedlecká, 284 03 Kutná Hora, Czech Republic
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