By Jackie Gruber, FFE 2015-16
Close your eyes and think about the scariest moment in your life… I can guarantee it will probably not even come close to the story I am about to tell you. While on a recent trip to the Czech Republic, I found myself underneath a church in a room full of dimmed lights and 40,000 skeletal remains. But I am not here to tell you about how I would look over my shoulder with every step I took. I’m going to tell what you are probably wondering: Who put them there? For what purpose? How did this became one of the top tourist attractions in the world?
Traveling 83 kilometers east of Prague, you will enter the town of Kutna Hora. The town began with the settlement of the first Cistercian monastery in 1142. By the year 1290, the town quickly became the center of silver mining in central Europe. Since the year 1995 Kutna Hora has been recognized on the UNESCO World Culture and Heritage List. The top tourist attractions in Kutna Hora are Saint Barbara’s Church, the Sedlec Ossuary, and the historic city center.
The Sedlec Ossuary, also known as the Bone Church, is one of the most unique churches you will ever see if you get the opportunity to visit it. The church received its name “Sedlec” from its location in a suburb of Kutna Hora with the same name. What makes the Sedlec Ossuary so unique is that it is decorated with over 40,000 human bones. In fact, the first thing you notice when walking into the church is an impossibly complex chandelier made up of every bone in the human body.
The second most impressive aspect of the church is the coat of arms from the Schwarzenberg family, a Bohemian aristocratic family. But what are all the bones doing there? In 1297, the King of Bohemia sent an abbot of the Sedlec Cistercian Monastery to Jerusalem. When the abbot returned he brought back “holy soil” with the desire to bury it in the town, which caused the cemetery to grow. About 100 years later, a Gothic church was built near the cemetery and the basement was used as an ossuary. The bones stayed there until 1870.
One interesting fact I learned from my tour guide is that the bones were actually cleaned with bleach before being displayed, which is why they look so pristine. Also, the 40,000 bones used for the Ossuary was the same as the number of people living in Kutna Hora at the time. There are currently half as many people living in the area. Definitely check out this incredible tourist attraction if you are ever in the Czech Republic!