I have taken some strange selfies over the past few years but my selfies inside the Church of Bones in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic were very unusual, even for me. Do I smile? Look scared or somber? Since I smile a lot, I did what came naturally to me and smiled. It was one of those strange moments during travel that you do what comes natural to you. I suppose that I was just pleased that I got to visit after wanting to see the Sedlec Ossuary for quite awhile.
When I had initially posted my photos on social media, my friends were saying how brave I was to enter due the macabre interior. I did not consider it being brave, I was curious about it and had set my mind to visit several years ago. I had seen many videos of it and pictures, but it was truly a different experience when visited. My first thoughts were “There are just so many bones!” and “Wow, that monk was a little crazy.”
I had heard several story variations of the chapel’s gruesome decor, as I suppose over the centuries it became a game of ‘telephone’. The first legend that I heard regarding the church was about an eccentric monk in the 1500s who was half blind. He was in charge of exhuming and sorting through the bones of the plague victims and placing them in a tomb. Instead he ornately decorated the church with the human remains. I thought this story was fascinating until I got to the church and questioned, “He was half blind? No way!” For being half blind, he did a marvelous job with the chandeliers!
Then it became clearer that the half blind monk had just sorted through the bones during the 1500s. Prior to that the Bohemian King Otakar II dispatched an abbot, Jindrich, who was from a Cistercian monastery to the Holy Land in 1278. Jindrich arrived back with soil from Calvary, which was the hill where Jesus Christ was crucified. News spread regarding Calvary’s soil being spread onto the earth of the cemetery at the Sedlec Abbey, and it became one of the most popular cemeteries to be buried throughout Europe.
In the 1400s a proper church was constructed on the cemetery grounds, with the lower level created to house the excess skeletal remains of the mass burials. More bones had accumulated of the centuries due to the Thirty Year War (1618-1648), the Plagues during the 1600s and 1700s, as well as the extensive amounts of deaths in Kutna Hora’s Silver mines. The bones were stacked neatly in the bottom level of the chapel for centuries.
In 1870, the regal Schwarzenberg family had made the decision to do something more than just stack the bones. Frantisek Rint, a woodcarver, and his family were hired to create the skeletal sculptures that are up today. Although the feeling of the chapel is very dark and macabre, the intention was to create a momentous reminder that life was not permanent, but death was inescapable.
Within the Bone Chapel there were some other unusual skeletal workings, which made me wonder of the thought process behind every bone creation. I was playing in my mind the ideas that came across the woodcarver’s mind, “Let’s put together hanging chandeliers, bone chalices and create my signature in finger bones”, which all do exisit inside the chapel.
With that noted, a coat of arms of the Schwarzenberg family was also created with skeletal remains. The shield features a crow attacking the severed head of a warrior in the lower right, which when created with bones was quite unnerving but cool at the same time.
The Bone Chapel was one of the most bizarre and dark places that I had visited in Eastern Europe, by far. I am glad that I made the journey to Kutna Hora from Prague, to lean into my curious nature of what is out there in the world. If you do not mind a lot of bones, then I strongly suggest the visit to this old silver mining town to catch a glimpse of the old Sedlec Ossuary.
The Bone Church is part of the UNESCO World Heritage in conjunction of the Historical Center of Kutna Hora. The city of Kutna Hora was dedicate as a UNESCO site in 1995, noting that many buildings had high architectural and artistic quality, notably the Church St Barbara.
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