Inside Kutna Hora's Bone Church

With its macabre interior decor, the Sedlec Ossuary is known the world over

Stories differ on how exactly the bones of 40,000+ individuals, royalty and mass-burials alike, became intermeshed underneath a small chapel in the middle of the Czech Republic. Legends say that in the 13th century Jindřich, an early abbot of the Cistercian order, returned to Kutna Hora from a visit to Palestine and sprinkled dirt from the Holy Land onto the graveyard near what would become Kostnice Sedlec, or the Sedlec Ossuary.

The associations with the holy land and this small piece of land reached royalty far across Central Europe, and the graveyard became a popular burial ground. Add to this popularity the deaths caused by the Black Death and the Hussite wars, and suddenly the graveyard had to be greatly enlarged. Even before the latter, bones were already being exhumed and stacked in the chapel, reportedly by half-blind monks.

The chapel's, um, interesting interior design comes courtesy of Czech woodcarver František Rint, who was hired by the wealthy Schwarzenberg family to decorate the chapel with the bones therein. The result? The familial coat of arms made entirely of bones, four large piles of bones depicting pyramids leading to heaven and hell, and a world-famous candelabra that holds at least one of every bone in the human body. In case you were wondering, it is absolutely as macabre as it sounds.

The ossuary, colloquially known as "the Bone Church," is much more famous than a much-smaller bone chapel in nearby Mělník due to Kutna Hora's status as one of twelve UNESCO heritage sites in the Czech Republic. Expect to find the chapel crawling with people taking pictures of the bones both in admiration and slight (or not-so-slight) discomfort. Upon entering the chapel—in case the surrounding graveyard and its accompanying statuary did nothing to sate your macabre explorer's appetite—you will be greeted by a large cross that is also, of course, made entirely of bones.

Walk around the cathedral, and take in the fact that these are all human bones. Whether this incites awe or disgust is entirely up to you, but it does not take away from the fact that there is nothing quite like this in the entire world. Besides, when you're done there, the surrounding town has a lot of other attractions that aren't centered around death, as well as delicious restaurants, a bridge, and the enormous Church of St. Barbara. UNESCO site. After indulging in death, don't forget to breathe air that's not stale from the crypt, and there's nothing quite like the air of the central Bohemian region.

For more information on the Sedlec Ossuary, visit its official website.


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