Human bones as decoration

January 27, 2012 § 21 Comments

Decoration on the ceiling at the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora. Dec 17, 2011.

It was about 12 years ago, after dinner during a summer evening. I was watching a girl introducing a very unusual church in Czech Republic on an episode of Lonely Planet in the living room. It was a church with every decoration made out of human bones. I’ve seen a map made out of skulls in Cambodia, but that was for a painful political history. Nothing like this. In a holy house of God, scary human skulls were on display in plain sight? Since then this place has always been on my mind. Now, the dream of visiting this strange church I saw on TV came true. I jumped on a train in Prague and went on a day trip to a town called Kutna Hora.

The train ride was supposed to be an hour, but about 15 minutes before it reached my stop, it stopped. I wasn’t aware of what was happening, until another 15min had gone by, I started to think maybe my train just got broken down. I asked a passenger which confirmed my theory… Perfect, I wouldn’t be able to catch the connecting train and reach the church before it closes on lunch break. The train stopped in the outside of a town, and no English announcement what-so-ever. All I could do for this 45min of delay was to stare at this strange smiley face  painted on a cement block.

At the transfer station, there was an information center where a lady nicely printed out the time and the platform of the train I needed to catch. It was then a short 10 mins ride, but the train was very small, most of the people just stood in the corridor, holding on to the old hand rail by the window.

Arriving at the main station “Kutna Hora hl.n.”, I was greeted by a rusty station name plate. Everyone walked out of the station, and pretty much headed to the same direction. It was like a 15 mins walk to the area called Sedlec, and there was nothing interesting on the way. There were some closed shops, and some dusty looking restaurants. Lots of traffic though, so I think this is probably just an area connecting the other livelier towns. After a few turns, the roads gets more quiet and I finally arrived at this church that I’ve been thinking of for 12 years!

Entrance that lead you to the bones. The Sedlec Ossuary. Dec 17, 2011,

The story of the Sedlec Ossuary was that in 13 century, the head of the Sedlec Monastary brought some soil back from Jerusalem and scattered it around the cemetery, which makes the people to believe it turned this cemetery ground holy. Since then, it became a very desirable burial site. However it wasn’t until 1870, when a woodcarver was commissioned by the House of Schwarzenberg to turn all those human bones into artsy decoration. It said that all the bones on display was from 1870 onward.

It was just really really really strange to stand inside such a place. I’ve seen the catacomb in Paris, but this is in a bigger scale…just look at that bone chandelier! Even this place isn’t huge, but it had a lot more interesting arrangement. I was amazed by how on earth someone could come up with the thought that beautiful art piece could be made out of human bones. I believed you have to be a really creative person, to stare at a piece of human bone and think that it fit perfectly inside a coat of arm; or you must be quiet patient to look for that one piece that could be a candle holder.

Down the stairs, it was a different world in front of me. Sedlec Ossuary. Dec 17, 2011.

They really lit up candles here, and let the wax drips on the skulls. Must be a macabre sight at night. Sedlec Ossuary. Dec 17, 2011.

The coat of arm of the House of Schwarzenberg. Sedlec Ossuary. Dec 17, 2011.

At the center of the room was the impressive bone chandelier, in which you can find at least one of every bone of a human body. Sedlec Ossuary. Dec 17, 2011.

I spent half an hour just being lost in this strange dimension created over a century ago. It was not scary to be in here. The place was light filled, airy, and clean. It actually felt very peaceful here… maybe it’s the magical effect of the holy soil from Jerusalem.

At any other church, it would be a heavily carved marble vase here. Sedlec Ossuary. Dec 17, 2011.

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