If you want to go to a place where you can be reminded of your own mortality, there’s no better place on earth than the Sedlec Ossuary at Kutna Hora, just outside of Prague, Czech Republic. This Bone Church is one of the most unique places of worship in the world. When I stepped in the chapel I was greeted by human bones covering every available space. There were bones everywhere! I was overwhelmed with shock, sadness, and curiosity all at the same time.
From the outside, the Church of Bones looks like a regular Gothic church. However, as soon as you walk in and see the chandelier of a thousand bones, you will realize that you are in a sacred and special place. Some may say its an evil place, or even sacrilege, but the story of the Bone Church is neither of those things.
The story of the Church of Bones begins in 1278. In that year King Otakar II of Bohemia sent a Cistercian monk to the Holy Land to collect a jar of earth from Golgotha to sprinkle on the cemetery. Due to its connection to the holy land, the grounds of the monastery soon became a very popular burial spot. During the mid-fourteenth century, the Black Death resulted in many thousands of burials at Sedlec. In 1400, construction began on the church pictured above, including the small chapel used as an ossuary.
That is the background of the church, but the story of the bones begins in 1511. In that year a half-blind monk was tasked with exhuming and stacking the bones in the chapel. The reason is not given, but it was most likely to make room for more burials. I find it strange that the bones were piled up inside what must have been an already crowded ossuary.
The layout of the church today is the result of the efforts of a woodcutter named František Rint. In 1870 the Schwarzenburg family tasked him with organizing the bones in the chapel. Rather than simply stack the bones up in a corner, he chose to create unique works of art. The most spectacular creations are an enormous chandelier, and the Schwarzenburg family coat of arms. Like many artists, Rint even left his signature on the wall, in bones of course.
When I visited Sedlec, it was snowing outside, which I somehow found appropriate for the somberness of the place. As I was walking up to the church, it was eerily quiet, except for the damp sounds of the heavy snow, and some random birds calling from somewhere out of sight. The best time to go is when you can experience Sedlec with few others present. Only two other travelers had braved the snow to see the bones that day.
If you visit Sedlec, it may be necessary to suspend ideas of what is right or normal, or even what is art. Not everyone will enjoy this place, but its uniqueness cannot be denied. When looking at the remains of those who died so long ago, from the plague or from battle, you may become overwhelmed with emotion and sadness. There are just so many that died of wounds from long-forgotten battles. It is estimated that the remains of more than 40,000 people were laid to rest at Sedlec.
If you’d like to visit the Bone Church on a day trip from Prague, it’s very easy. It’s just an hour by train to the community of Kutna Hora The entrance fee is a little more than $2.00. The church hours are:
- 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.
Sedlec Ossuary Address: Starosedlecká, 284 03 Kutná Hora, Czech Republic Tel: +420 326 551 049 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- 10 Incredibly Unusual Churches (oddee.com)
- Chapel Furnished With the Bones of 40,000-70,000 People! (americanlivewire.com)