Sedlec Ossuary: Church of Bones

The ghoulish Sedlec Ossuary, one of the Czech Republic’s most popular tourist sites, hosts upward of 400,000 visitors and pilgrims each year for good reason. The entire place is decorated exclusively with human bones. 

“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.” – Anthony Doerr

The charming Bohemian town of Kutna Hora located about 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) east of Prague is home to an unusual tourist attraction. In the basement of the Church of All Saints is an underground chapel that houses what is popularly known as the Church of Bones, or more properly, the Sedlec Ossuary. will take you on a trip to this macabre, yet somehow beautiful, venue in the Czech Republic.   

Brief History

The Bone Church started out in 1142 as a Cistercian monastery. It remained obscure until 1278 when, according to local lore, an abbot made the pilgrimage to the Holy Land and brought back soil from the site of Jesus’s crucifixion. The abbot sprinkled the soil over the monastery’s cemetery to consecrate the land, and in no time, people were clamouring to be buried there. 

Many got their wish soon enough as the Plague tore through Europe in the 14th century, adding almost 30,000 souls to the spot. The Crusades then added another 10,000 and before they knew it, space was at a premium. 

When the Gothic church that now stands on the site was being built in the 15th century, vast amounts of bones were moved and stacked in neat pyramids in the ossuary beneath the new building. There they sat undisturbed until 1870 when the church brought in a local woodcarver called Francis Rint to turn the depressing scene into a work of art. 

What he did

Francis had a monumental task on his hands. He bleached and carved the bones and used them to decorate the space with some pretty impressive pieces. Chalices and crosses were fashioned from bone, archways and wall adornments made of bones were created, and strings of skulls were fashioned like streamers at a kid’s birthday party. He even “signed” his name in bone, dating it for good measure. 

Arguably the most impressive feature, though, is the giant chandelier, reputed to be made using almost every bone in the human body at least once. The light fixture is eight feet wide and impressive by any standard. Candles are placed inside skulls and the light comes out from the eyes giving off a sort of jack-o-lantern effect. 

Far from being meant as a gruesome reminder of death, its intent was to give believers cause to think about life and their relationship to their maker. 

The years and the crush of visitors have taken their toll on this extraordinary venue, and recently there have been restoration and reconstruction efforts made to preserve the site. The ossuary remains open, despite the works, and will soon be back in top form for generations to come to see and admire.



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