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In planning the trip to Prague there was one place I just HAD to visit and that was Kutna Hora. Now Kutna Hora is famous for a lot of things. It’s home to St. Barbara Church and The Cathedral of Our Lady. It is a quaint little Czech town full of history and it played a very important role in Bohemia due to the now long depleted silver mines that were found around the 10th century. Anyway, you can read all about that in the linked Wikipedia article. I wanted to go there to see the Sedlec Ossuary.
In researching it looked a little tough to sort out the train ride so we opted for a guided tour. This was reasonably priced and seemed it would take the headache out of getting there and back as well as trying to find our way around. The tour was advertised to last about 5 hours, two of which would be the ride there and the ride back.
We got to the tour guide stand early and were on our way at 9:30 am. The first stop, Sedlec Ossuary. Yay, we thought. Then we were reminded why we don’t travel with tour groups. The total amount of time allocated for the Ossuary was 20 minutes. The was way too rushed for me to really relax and take the photos I wanted to take.
You see, the Sedlec Ossuary is a very unique thing, not only in The Czech Republic, but I would bet you would be hard pressed to find anything like it in the entire world. The ossuary is a small Roman Catholic chapel, located beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints in Sedlec which is a suburb of Kutná Hora. And it is tastefully decorated….with the skeletal remains of an estimated 40,000 to 70,000 people.
The abbot of the Cistercian monastery in Sedlec, was sent to the Palestine Holy Land in 1278. When he returned, he brought with him a small amount of earth he had removed from Golgotha, the biblical location of the crucification of Jesus Christ. He took this and sprinkled it over the cemetery to consecrate the ground. This caused the property values of this small plot of land to go through the spiritual roof! Everybody wanted to be buried there so they flocked to Sedlec to die. Add to that the victims of The Black Death in the 14th century and those who were killed during the Hussite Wars in the early 15th century, you had many thousands of new residents is a rather small cemetery.
The graves had to be dug up and the remains removed to accommodate new arrivals. The ossuary itself dates back to 1511 and it was the task of a half blind monk to gather up the bones of the former residents and stash them in the crypt.
So what do you do with a crypt containing the skeletal remains of 40,000 to 70,000 people? Well, if you’re Duke Shwartzemberg in 1870 you find yourself a wood carving artistic type like Frantisek Rindt and you tell him to go nuts!
When viewing from baldheretic.com you can click any of the images to see a larger version. For some of these, this is a must.
Here is the entrance to the ossuary
Descend the stairs and enter the ossuary.
The room is dominated by a skeletal chandelier
Here you see the signature of the artist, spelled out and dated using bones
And here is the Shwartzemberg coat of arms done in, you guessed it! Bones!
Bones are piled in 4 corners of the ossuary in a pyramid shape with ventilation holes going through the center
You can get up real close and personal, just don’t touch!
Bones decorate everything. Strings of skulls adorn the walls like those ornamental chains made of popcorn you used to decorate your Christmas tree with.
All in all, I’m very happy I had the chance to see this. I wish I would have had more time and it wasn’t so crowded. I could have done better. But I pulled this off in 15 minutes, 1 lens change and no flash or tripod.