Photo Essay: Kutná Hora and the Church of Bones

by Ekua on May 7, 2012 in captured on memory card,Czech Republic,d.i.y. travel

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.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Wandergirl May 7, 2012 at 6:29 am

Wow! I find ossuaries so fascinating. I was only in Prague for a few days so opted out of going to Kutná Hora, but now I kinda wish I did. Next time! 😉

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Ekua May 8, 2012 at 10:05 pm

Yeah it was pretty fascinating and relatively short trip out of Prague. I’ve been to the catacombs in Paris, but I’d never seen anything like this before. Beyond the ossuary, it was really nice to have a quiet day in the village!

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Andi of My Beautiful Adventures May 7, 2012 at 6:55 pm

I have never heard of this place before, how eerie! Great photos though!!!

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Ekua May 8, 2012 at 10:11 pm

Definitely not the run of the mill tourist attraction, huh? Even though I knew I’d be going to a church of bones, this is not at all what I was expecting!

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Hannah May 9, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Wow that looks incredible! Bit spooky, mind!

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Ekua May 9, 2012 at 8:34 pm

I had a feeling a lot of readers would find this to be a bit freaky – it’s about as dark as art can get. I guess part of what makes it interesting to me is that using human bones to decorate a church is shocking to a lot of people in the world today, but the mentality of another time and era allowed this to be created…

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Sunee May 11, 2012 at 9:39 am

That’s gruesome but creative. I would have thought that his 19th century patrons would be a little more conservative. Strange to think that we’re more freaked out by it in this modern day and age!

Love the lion statue. Reminds me of the one in Lucerne and suddenly I’m craving Swiss chocolate 🙂

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Ekua May 12, 2012 at 11:56 pm

I also think it’s so strange that it was an aristocratic family that arranged for this and they were fine with the result. I don’t know much about that time in Prague, but in general I’d guess that previous eras’ more up close and frequent experiences with death has something to with how this came to be.

The walkway and the statues were great. It was pouring when we got there, but I still had to get some shots 😉

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Michi May 19, 2012 at 3:25 am

I wanted so badly to make a stop in Kutna Hora when we were in Prague, but alas, my friends and I had half a day left before catching our flight and there just wasn’t enough time. Your photos of the old church of bones are terrific, did it feel eery walking in?

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Ekua May 21, 2012 at 11:16 pm

Yeah, half a day probably would’ve cut it close. It definitely took a whole day because it was 2 hours each way! It wasn’t all that eerie walking into the church… although I’d never been anywhere quite like this, I have been to catacombs before.

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erika ritchie October 10, 2012 at 12:29 pm

recenly visited Prague. wha a wonderfull city and it’s people. there is so much history and myths
about the place and it’s people. will defenitely visit again for more than ten days otherwise you would’nt be able to visit all the places and to see them all is a must. czech men are for real!

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Ekua October 13, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Thanks for stopping by! I actually had less time in Prague than you did. I felt like I got in a lot of basics, but there is still much more to see!

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