I took a step away from my typical travel ways when I went to Prague; I showed up with no ideas on what to see and never once glanced at a guidebook. The breakfast banter at my cozy hostel served as an excellent stand in.
In that little kitchen I learned about the city of Kutná Hora, about a two hour train ride away from Prague. Its main point of interest is what a group of French guys referred to as the “Church of Bones”. Intrigued, I followed up with them the morning after their excursion, and they confirmed that it had been worthwhile trip out of Prague. And in that way things fall into place when you travel solo, a fellow solo traveler from South Korea also planned on visiting Kutná Hora that day and invited me to go with her.
After an encounter with a hostile train station ticket agent and a few lost in translation moments, we got on a train to Kutná Hora. When we arrived, we were dropped off in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere. I liked it. I have this attraction to being a little lost — it’s where adventure starts to kick in and I develop that true sense of discovery. For that, a trip outside of Prague was worth it.
We eventually found a bus stop and waited and waited in the rain until a local bus came. On this bus we encountered the kindest people who understood that we had no idea where we were going. Despite the language barrier, they made every effort to confirm that we were on the right bus, to not let us get off the bus too soon, and let us know when we arrived at our stop. It was a nice change from the tourist weary locals of Prague, and these pleasant little interactions also made a trip out of the city worth taking.
Then we finally found the “Church of Bones,” officially called the Sedlec Ossuary. It’s a site with a long and unique history. In the late 1200s, a monk from Sedlec traveled to the Israel and brought home dirt from the Holy Land which he sprinkled on the cemetery. As word spread, the Sedlec cemetery became an auspicious place for Central Europeans to be buried. In the 1300s and 1400s, the plague and the Hussite Wars greatly increased the number of burials here. Eventually, the skeletons were exhumed in the 1500s, supposedly by a half-blind monk. In 1870, the well-to-do Schwarzenberg family hired a woodcarver named František Rint to organize the massive amounts of bones. The artistic license he took with arranging the bones is what draws visitors to the tiny town.
Here and there in Prague, I’d gotten glimpses into the darker sensibilities of where I was, and the ossuary in Sedlec fully revealed a macabre aesthetic beneath the mass appeal of the pretty tourist sites. Inside, we entered a chapel that was part catacombs, part installation art:
The artist signed and dated his work in bones.
The Schwarzenburg family coat-of-arms.
There’s more to the Kutná Hora area than the ossuary. Nearby Sedlec, in the actual city of Kutna Hora is the incredible architecture of the Gothic St. Barbara’s Church.
Statues along a walkway at St. Barbara’s Church rival those of the Charles Bridge in Prague.
Overlooking the town of Kutna Hora.
Back at the Kutna Hora train station.