Kutna Hora Bone Church
Treading down the footpath of the open graveyard that surrounds the Cemetery Church of All Saints, situated just outside Kutná Hora, is a spine-tingling experience to say the least. The setting is akin to that of a horror movie - with chilling tombstones in front of a gothic medieval church, a cheerful blue sky overhead and the dissonant soundtrack of merrily chirping birds. The eerie atmosphere overcomes you as you walk ever closer, all the while quietly assuring yourself that all is well. And you mostly believe it.
Revered silence fills the air as you step towards the entrance. There you will hand over your 50 Czech Koronas to an attendant by the door who, in return, passes you a double-sided fact-sheet. It's loaded with quiver-inducing details about the 40,000 humans whose skeletons now elaborately decorate the interior of this 14th century chapel.
Scaling the steep staircase, you'll catch your first glimpse of skeletal creativity; adjacent walls flaunting matching chalices, fashioned largely from elbow joints and collarbones. At half-descent is when quiet awe strikes. Your eyes fail to find a point to rest upon as the small-scale basement chapel opens up to reveal a central room decorated from floor to chandelier in skeletal décor.
Absorbing the detailed design features of the Sedlec Ossuary (or in Czech, Kostnice) can be an overwhelming experience. Morbid curiosity often leads to irreverent staring and a troubling desire to inch ever closer to the centuries-old remains. If you can, try to momentarily tear your eyes from the spellbinding artworks and down towards the now likely folded and tucked away fact sheet - it truly adds to the experience. There is so much more to this place than eccentric medieval décor.
According to the legend, a local abbot was sent on a pilgrimage by the Czech king to Jerusalem in 1278 and returned with a handful of soil from Golgotha. This revered soil was then scattered over the Sedlec cemetery making it a highly a sought after resting place for the dead. Due to widespread epidemics, the cemetery was extended and the remains of 30,000 individuals were put to rest, only to be accompanied by a further 10,000 during the Hussite wars. At the end of the 15th century a portion of the cemetery was removed and the bones from the graves were moved into the Ossuary.
It was around this time that the legend of the half-blind monk, who arranged the bones and skulls into 6 pyramids, emerged. It is alleged that after this artistic endeavour his eyesight spontaneously returned. While the sight of 6 tall bone pyramids might still have drawn crowds, it was during a major reconstruction in the early 18th century that Jan Blazel Santini is credited with the current arrangement of the skeletons.
Regardless of the veracity of these eerie myths, it’s undeniable that this medieval church exudes mystery and creatively captures the mind. Artistic as the displays may be, it is the immensity that truly mystifies. With around 40,000 skeletal remains lining this chapel, it’s no wonder this place is recognized as a physical reminder of the impermanence of life and inescapable nature of death; a musing that draws hordes of visitors from all over the world every year.
HOW TO GET THERE*
By Train - If you’re coming from Prague it’s as simple as heading to the Hlavní Nádraží train station, the main station in Prague, and purchasing a ticket to Kutná Hora Station. Approximately one hour later you should arrive at the Kutná Hora. From there it’s a matter of walking towards the town centre and following the signs that will easily lead you to the peculiar attraction.
Between April and September: from 8:00 to 18:00
In October and March: from 9:00 to 12:00 and from 13:00 to 17:00
Between November and February: from 9:00 to 12:00 and from 13:00 to 16:00.
The Ossuary is closed on Christmas.
*Be sure to check the return train times while at Kutná Hora station to ensure a smooth return back to Prague.