Sedlec Ossuary: Skeletons, Monks and a Church

The small church of Sedlec looks from the outside like any village church. Once inside, you will notice that this is not merely a chapel. The complete interior of the bone chapel consists of 40,000 bones and the skulls of 70,000 deceased skillfully made into objects d’art. The two main questions are: why are there so many skeletons in this little church and who decided to make art out of all these bones and skulls?

Sedlec is close to the provincial town of Kutna Hora. Public transport from Kutna Hora train station to Sedlec is not very user-friendly, neither is it very frequent. If you want to enjoy a hassle-free trip, book the half-day tour to Kutna Hora and the Ossuary. You will be picked up at your hotel in Prague, brought back and travel by air-conditioned bus. During the guided tour you will walk through the historic town of Kutna Hora, visit the St Barbara Cathedral and visit Sedlec Ossuary.

Sedlec Ossuary: a Macabre Work of Art?

The highlight of this tour is the visit to the ossuary, a small church entirely decorated by human bones. In the thirteenth century, the graveyard of the Sedlec Monastery had become a popular burial place. On a pilgrimage to Golgotha the abbot brought back holy sand and sprinkled it over the monastery’s graveyard. A clever ploy, as from then on, the graveyard became a popular place to be buried. The graveyard soon became over-crowded because of frequent plague epidemics. Older human remains were stored in the chapel. When the Schwarzenberg Family bought the monastery in the nineteenth century, they found a heap of bones and commissioned a woodcarver to decorate the chapel with these skeleton parts. The work of art is not a macabre attraction but has a deeper meaning: resurrection, forgiveness and equality of everyone in the eyes of God.

A Chandelier Made of Bones

The ossuary is located in the basement of the church. As you walk down the stairs, you will see a huge pile of bones, 4 meters wide and 3 meters high, to the left and right. These are the bones that were left after the works of art were created. A chandelier made entirely of bones hangs from the ceiling in the middle of the hall. Garlands consisting of skulls and bones decorate the walls. A chalice and monstrance entirely made of bones stand in a niche next to the Schwarzenberger’s family crest which also consists entirely of skulls and bones. A raven picking the eye from a skull is one of the macabre details.

Kutna Hora: Miniature Prague

Kutna Hora is located 70 km southeast of Prague. This small provincial town with a beautiful medieval centre is on the World Heritage List of UNESCO. Silver ore ran in threads through the surrounding hills and, in the fourteenth century, the city became the seat of Wenceslas II’s royal mint. Two centuries later when the silver mines ran dry, Kutna Hora was no longer Prague’s rival. Yet, it preserved its riches as is reflected in the many imposing buildings such as the Italian Court, the Jesuit College and St Barbara Cathedral.

You will lose easily your way in Kutna Hora even though the town is compact and well-arranged. Paleckeho namesti, the central square, is triangular and surrounded by pastel-coloured houses in baroque style. You will be delighted by the peace and quiet. Kutna Hora has only 22,000 inhabitants, and the city feels like a big village. It is the perfect day trip to escape the hustle and bustle in Prague

St Barbara Cathedral: a Gothic Tribute to a Silver Mine’s Town

The St Barbara church immediately catches the eye because of its tent shape roof construction. The cathedral has an abundance of flying buttresses. The cathedral is a textbook example of Gothic architecture; an many arches, pillars and turrets. The cathedral is dedicated to Saint Barbara, the patron saint of miners. Inside the church, you immediately notice the coat of arms, the guilds and, painted between the vaults, the portraits of rich citizens. All decoration are silver mine related. There is a very touching is a baroque statue of a miner with a lamp in his hand standing against a pillar in the centre ship. As with many cathedrals, its construction took many centuries. Building began in the fourteenth century, but the church was completed in the sixteenth century, and the facade was not finished until the twentieth century.

Trains, Buses and Taxis: How to get to Sedlec and Kutna Hora

The easiest way is on a half-day excursion from Prague. If you want to go under your own steam, getting to Kutna Hora is a bit of a hassle. The town is located 70 km southeast of Prague. The train journey takes approximately 1 hour, and the train leaves from Hlavni Nadrazi, Prague’s central station. Take the train direction Brno via Kolin. Get off at Kutna Hora station (first station after Kolin) which is not in the centre of the town. When the train arrives, a bus is waiting to take you to the town centre. There is another bus going to Sedlec ossuary. But there is no transport from Sedlec ossuary to Kutna Hora. If you don’t feel like taking the bus, get one of the taxis waiting in front of the station. Or book the excursion to Sedlec and Kutna Hora with hotel pick up.

TIP from the editor of Prague-Now:
Take this trip on a weekday because on Saturday the shops in Kutna Hora close at 1 p.m. and on Sunday they are closed all day but some souvenir shops are open.

Photos; Marianne Crone

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