Sedlec Ossuary is a Roman Catholic chapel located in Kutná Hora, in the Czech Republic.
It is also known as the Church of Bones. And do you know why?
Because this church is decorated with human bones! Yes, you read well, human bones.
First time I heard about this church about a year ago. I watched a short film about the Sedlec ossuary on one cable channel. I was amazed and shocked at the same time because it looked so unreal to me.
But, one month ago, when I found out that Serbian agency Calypso tours organized a trip to Prague and a tour to Kutná Hora, I immediately decided to go there and visit it. And it was a really unbelievable experience!
A few words about Kutná Hora
As I have mentioned at the beginning, the Sedlec ossuary is located in Kutná Hora, in the Central Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic, about 70 kilometres from Prague. The city is known as one of the most important silver mines in Medieval Europe. In the 14th century, it became a royal city, a place of prosperity and wealth.
But in 1541 the richest mine was totally flooded. Then, king Ferdinand I conquered Bohemia and the city lost all its privileges and importance. The plague and 300 years of war ruined the city. In 1770 the city was also devastated by fire as well. The mines were abandoned at the end of the 18th century.
Because of the rich history and unique architecture of the historical centre with Church of Saint Barbara, Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in Sedlec, and the Sedlec ossuary as well, Kutná Hora is inscribed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.
We will talk more about Kutná Hora in the following posts.
But now let me tell you something more about the unusual history of the Sedlec ossuary.
History of the Sedlec ossuary
Sedlec Ossuary (Czech: Kostnice v Sedlci) is an underground chapel of the Cemetery Church of All Saints. Originally it was a part of the Cistercian Abbey in Sedlec founded in 1142. The church was built in the 14th century and consisted of two chapels built above each other.
According to a legend, in 1278, the King of Bohemia sent Henry, one of the Sedlec Cistercian abbots to Jerusalem with a diplomatic message. The abbot brought with him a small amount of the land from Golgotha. He scattered the soil all around the monastery cemetery. In this way, the cemetery was connected with the Holy Land and became the so-called Holy Field, the oldest in Central Europe. Because of this “connection”, a lot of people wanted to be buried exactly in Sedlec cemetery.
And the cemetery started to grow, but not only because of the holy land. The terrible plague in 1318 killed 30.000 people. About 10,000 people died during the Hussite wars in the early 15th century. And all of them were buried in Sedlec cemetery.
Around 1400, a gothic church was built in the centre of the cemetery with an upper and lower chapel. But there were so many skeletons underground and no place for new burials in the cemetery.
So, in 1511 it was decided that skeletons should be exhumed and moved into the lower chapel. That job was given to one half-blind monk, who collected and arranged the bones into six large pyramids.
And that is how the ossuary was made.
Between 1703 and 1710, a new entrance to the church was constructed in the Baroque style.
Then in the 19th century the Schwarzenberg’s (the Schwarzenberg family), one of the most important Czech (Bohemian) and German (Franconian) aristocratic family, which traces its roots from the Middle Ages, bought the Sedlec monastery and the cemetery church. In 1870, the family employed a local woodcarver František Rint to put the bone heaps in order. And he really did it, in an unusual and a little bit scary way.
Decoration made of bones
František Rint took the bones from two pyramids.
First, he cleaned the bones, disinfected and bleached them the lime solution.
And then he started with the interior decoration of the chapel using more than 40.000 human skeletons.
The bones and skulls are everywhere.
They are hanging free from the ceiling or they are placed around the walls.
The macabre decoration includes the huge chandelier in the centre of the chapel as well.
It consists of all kinds of human bones.
Below the chandelier, in the centre is a construction consisting of the skulls that hold the candles.
It looks amazing, scary, and shocking. Really. You don’t know where to look first.
The bones are placed and arranged without wires or wooden parts.
He just put and arranged them in some freaky way, making the fascinated and unusual decoration.
The Schwarzenberg family coat of arms
Using bones and skulls he also made the Schwarzenberg family Coat of arms.
It consists of four parts and crown on the top.
One of them is particularly horrifying and unusual.
It is a raven pecking at the severed head of a Turkish soldier, at the place where his eye was.
Yes, it really looks scary.
There is Rint’s signature on the wall near the entrance to the chapel. It is made of the bones, as well.
The tickets and visiting time
You can buy tickets at the information centre at Zámecká 279. It is about 200 meters away from the Bones Church. The entrance fee for adults is 90 Czech Koronas (about $3.50 or 3.2 Euros). And for students and children, the entrance fee is 60 CZK.
The Sedlec Ossuary is open every day except on Christmas, during the following hours:
- between April and September: from 8:00 to 18:00h,
- in October and March: from 9:00 to 17:0h,
- between November and February: from 9:00 to 12:00h and from 13:00 to 16:00h.
A visit to Sedlec Ossuary takes approx. 30 minutes to 1 hour.
At the entrance there is a little souvenir shop if you want to bring home, for example, some souvenirs skull-shaped, but not of bones!
How to reach to Sedlec ossuary?
You can visit it on organized tours from Prague. Actually, there are a lot of tours to Kutná Hora that include Sedlec ossuary, together with the gothic St. Barbara’s Church and the historic town of Kutná Hora. Usually, they are half-day tours.
Or you can travel solo, taking the train from Prague’s main railway station. The train departs every two/three hours. It takes about one hour and a one-way ticket costs about 100 CZK. From the station in Kutná Hora, it takes about 10 minutes on foot to the Sedlec.
Well, everything depends on your time and plans.
Visit Sedlec ossuary
Now you are probably wondering whether Sedlec ossuary is worth visiting. Well, more than 200.000 people visit it every year.
And now, when I am looking at the photos of the Sedlec ossuary, I could say, yes, it is worth visiting. Even though it is scary to look at human bones hanging from the walls or skulls arranged in the pyramids. But it is also one amazing way to honour all those deceased persons buried in this cemetery. The Sedlec ossuary contains the skeletons of approx. 40,000 – 70,000 persons, from local people to nobles.
So, if you are in Prague and have enough time, go and see this amazing and unusual site.
It is certainly one of the unique churches in the world, known for its specific decoration made of human bones.
And someone said that “Life without a soul is just a bunch of bones”.
So take care of your soul. Because in the end, we will remember the things we have done and the people with whom we shared our dreams, days and nights.