Tips for Trips: Kostnice Kutná Hora - Sedlec (Un-Buried Art)

Bones taken out of the ground and displayed in a church in Kutna Hora are a sight to see

You’re sure to feel a chill in your bones when visiting Sedlecká kostnice in the town of Kutna Hora. This church is home to over eight million single bones. It is probably one of the most unique and unusual churches you will ever see in your lifetime.

While it may look like an ordinary church from the outside, stepping inside reveals that the interior is decorated with proudly-displayed skulls, femurs, and other pieces of skeleton. These bones are arranged in interesting ways, with four massive bell-shaped piles of bones in each corner of the church, giant bone goblets on each side of the entry hall, pinnacles of skulls and wall ornamentation's that form unique patterns, or even spell out words.

Unfortunately, the famous and beautiful bone chandelier in the middle of the church is currently not on display due to restoration efforts. However, the cheap 90 crowns that you would pay for your entrance fee to the church will help pay to maintain this chandelier and restore the church. (For students, disabled or elderly visitors the price is only 60 crowns).

When you stand in the church, you’ll really need to give yourself a second to take it all in. The bones are hauntingly beautiful, and crisply white. When you look up at the ceiling and see lines of skulls strung together and hung like Christmas lights, it becomes hard to believe that they once belonged to living humans.

The church has a rich, if chilling, history. It originated as a monastery in the year 1142, and later, in the 1400s, a church was erected. Originally, the bones of roughly 40,000 people who had died of the plague in the early 1300s and who had perished during the Hussite wars in the 15th century were laid to rest in the church cemetery. The cemetery grounds were considered to be “Holy Grounds” after the 13th century, when one of the abbots of Sedlec, named Jindrich, returned from a visit to Palestine and sprinkled a pocketful of soil on the cemetery grounds.

This caused the graveyard to become a sought-after burial site, but unfortunately, the number of burials soon outgrew the space available. So, the older bones were dug up and stored in the chapel. The chapel houses the largest collection of human bones after the catacombs in Paris.

These bones are much more interesting to look at than the catacombs however, thanks to their artistic layout. The designs of the bones was done in 1870, by Frantisek Rint, a Czech wood carver whose name you can see on the right hand wall of the church, over a bench. (The name is spelled out with bones, of course.)

One great piece of macabre decoration in the church is the Schwarzenberg coat-of-arms, which even displays a raven made of bones, picking out the eye of a skeleton. Each bone in the church is unique, yet all have a uniform style, thanks to the fact that they have been bleached to reach a desired color. On display is at least one of every bone that exists in the human body. Some display cases feature skulls that show injury or damage and give a clue into these people’s lives. It provides a link to the past.

The church is small, and only takes about 20 minutes to walk through, or longer if you want to pay close attention to all the details of cracks on the bones and cobwebs forming around them. For English speakers, there is a guided English tour offered on certain days of the week at 1 P.M. Check the tour information desk in the Kutna Hora train station for more information.

Though it’s a quick visit, it’s well worth it, and is easy to access from Prague. Simply take a train from the Main Train station to Kutna Hora’s main train station and the journey should take about an hour, often with a changeover in Kolin. It will only set you back about 200-300 crowns, round trip. Be aware however that there may sometimes be delays with the trains. It’s possible too to drive to Kutna Hora from Prague, since it’s only about 73 kilometers outside of the city.

Visiting this bone church makes a lovely day trip, as the town of Kutna Hora can offer a relaxing adventure. After browsing through the Kutna Hora gift shop, where you can buy mini-replica bone chandeliers or bone goblets, you’re sure to find great traditional Czech food in the town. There are also many other different types of churches in Kutna Hora, which used to be a Royal town that briefly served as a seat for Bohemian kings. The town used to have a royal mint, which you can still see today, as well as the Czech Museum of Silver and medieval silver mine.

You’ll be able to learn about the past, and even stare it right in the face (or skull, literally), when you visit Kutna Hora, and still make it home in time for dinner.

More about this Topic: Kutna Hora, treasury of the Czech Kingdom (Prague.TV - Living Like a Local! - 29.04.2015)

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