Kolín to open its own Bone Church

The Central Bohemian town is renovating an 18th century chapel to attract tourists

Kolín is getting set to challenge Kutná Hora by opening up its own ossuary, or bone-filled basement. The one in Kolín dates back to the 18th century but has never been open to the public.

Don't book a trip just yet, though. Restoration work has just started and will last until the end of 2019, as the room has long been neglected.

The renovation is part of a larger project to put Kolín on the tourist map. The town is located 56 kilometers from Prague and is prime for day trips but currently lacks very many attractions.

The Kolín ossuary, located next to the Church of St Bartholomew, has its own distinctive characteristics when compared to others, like the famous Bone Church in Kutná Hora.

“Although it is smaller and simpler, it has a somewhat more interesting decoration scheme. It offers a more prominent picture of Baroque thinking,” Vladimír Rislink, director of the Regional Museum in Kolín, said, according to daily Mladá fronta Dnes (MfD).

The chapel serves as a memento mori, meant to make people consider the transience of life.

The ossuary has a two-level ceiling with a vault decorated with skulls. All of them are symbolically looking up to the upper ceiling, where there is a mural of an archangel and the Last Judgment.

There are also four pillars made of bones and other decorative designs.

Near the entrance are the names of soldiers with the year 1757, when there was a battle in Kolín during the Seven Years' War. Soldiers had been camped close to the church.

The ossuary was built earlier, in 1733 on the foundations of a Gothic structure, and is in the shape of a Romanesque chapel.

Many of the bones in the chapel came from local cemeteries. People at that time often did not renew the rental fees on family tombs, so the bones were moved out to be stored elsewhere, and the tomb space in cemeteries was reused.

Some of the bones will be replaced with replicas, as the originals are too deteriorated. The designs were photographed, and the bones have been removed for conservation. They will be put back according to the photos and documentation.

The chapel itself needs extensive restoration. Plaster, windows, doors, the roof and stonework will all be repaired. Copper gutters and a lightning rod will be installed on the roof to protect the building. The altar will be rebuilt and the murals will be restored. The facade will also see extensive restoration.

Restoration is taking place under the supervision of the National Monument Institute (NPÚ).

Some 90 percent of the cost of restoration will come from a subsidy from the Ministry for Regional Development. Approximately Kč 85 million is earmarked for the Church of St Bartholomew complex, with Kč 13.5 million going to the ossuary.

Repairs will also také place to a Gothic bell tower, historical parish school and landscaping. Barrier-free access will be improved.

The school will have a replica 18th-century schoolroom and a historical kitchen, for example. The bell tower will also house sculptures.

Much of the work will finish by the middle of 2019, but the ossuary will take until the end of the year.

While a chapel decorated in bones sound grim, they are common in Central Europe and can be found in other places in Europe as well.

The Sedlec Ossuary in Kutná Hora, commonly called the Bone Church, is the most famous one in the Czech Republic. The adjacent church and cemetery is undergoing restoration, but the ossuary is open as usual. There is also a small ossuary in Mělník below the Church of Sts Peter and Paul. It is less impressive that the one in Kutná Hora.

Brno, South Moravia, has the second-largest ossuary in Europe, after Paris. It is larger than the one in Kutná Hora, but not as fancy. It can be found below the Church of St James the Greater and has been open to the public since 2012.

Related pages
Church of St. Bartolomeus in Kolín
Kolín (Czech Tourism)

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