The Cathedral of Bones

I seem to have written many morbid articles about ossuaries, ghosts and skeletons lately. There are plenty of these stories here in Czechia so this shouldn’t be surprising. I haven’t written about the most popular morbid sight in the country. Until now.

Most people mention Kutna Hora as one of the things to see if you have time for a day trip from Prague. What they mean is you should go and see the ossuary in the town of Kutna Hora. It is impressive, especially if you haven’t seen anything like it before.

The train from Prague takes about 40 minutes or so to get there. The station is a small building; nothing more than an appendage to the railway tracks that cut through the landscape. The walk to the World Heritage listed [2] Sedlec Ossuary takes about 10 minutes. As I headed that way, I passed a few other skeleton-chasing tourists too.

A photo of the church - Kutna Hora, Czechia

The chapel

The chapel is not too large and is surrounded by a quiet graveyard. A small queue of people fumbled with foreign Czech coins to pay for their entrance. I joined in and shivered a little as the damp chapel cellar engulfed me. I stared; nothing but bones wherever I looked.

In 1278, Bohemian King Otakar II [2] sent an abbot from a nearby abbey to Jerusalem. The abbot brought back a jar of soil with him from the Golgotha, the hill where Roman Catholics believe Christ was crucified. He sprinkled this soil in the graveyard here. People heard about this and started to insist on being buried on “holy ground”, or ground holy by association. The church expanded the cemetery several times due to demand, especially during the Black Plague. [1] [2]

A photo of the Bone Chandelier - Kutna Hora, Czechia

The Bone Chandelier

Two hundred years later, the Baroque chapel was built and its cellar was used as an ossuary. (This happened in many places; I’ve written about the Brno ossuary for example). In the nineteenth century, the local bishop asked a wood-carver to sort through the bones there. Being an imaginative type, he used the bones as decoration. In total he used more than 40,000 skeletons to create the works of art here. Most impressive is a chandelier made out of bones which contains at least one of every type of bone in the body. If this doesn’t move you, there are 6 bone pyramids and bone candle holders too.

Like the Chapel of Bones in the north of the country, or the ossuary in Brno, I didn’t think of this place as morbid. It’s a curious place and it did make me think about my own mortality but there is no attempt to scare people or to be tacky. The place is small and it took me 20 minutes to walk around and take a few photos. Some of the tourists were creeped out, if the nervous laughs around me are anything to go by.

A photo of embedded skulls - Kutna Hora, Czechia

Embedded Skulls

I walked around the chapel wondering how someone can look at a pile of bones and say, “Hmm …” I suppose it does take a certain original way of looking at the world around you.

Maybe I’ll start saving the left-overs every time I eat a plate of ribs …

A photo of skeletal decor - Kutna Hora, Czechia

Skeletal Decor

Have you seen any similarly creepy artistic exhibit? Leave a comment and tell us about it!


[1] Sedlec Ossuary, The Ossuary (Retrieved 2017-04-13)
[2] Wikipedia, Sedlec Ossuary, 2017-02-19

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