This post is also available in: German
It doesn’t get much creepier than a small church, in the middle of nowhere in the Czech Republic, filled with over 40’000 human skeletons.
If you have never heard of the Sedlec Ossuary (or in Czech Sedlecká kostnice) you sure are missing out on one of the stranger attractions the world has to offer. From the outside, the church looks fairly unassuming, just like any other average small-town house of worship with a cemetery attached to it. Neither the lack of hoards of tourists, nor the somewhat hidden location in the suburbs of Kutná Hora, 74 km outside of Prague, would suggest that this is one of the Czech Republics main attractions.
Who the heck came up with the idea to fill a church with thousands of skeletons, craft chandeliers out of their bones and hang them from the ceiling like garlands, you ask? Well, of course it all goes back to the middle ages, a time period best known for its unusual amount of twisted and weird ideas. The story originates in 1278, when the abbot of the Sedlec monastery made a trip down to Golgotha and brought back a jar of dirt (excuse me, holy soil of course). This in turn inspired copious amounts of people from all over the place to be buried in this location, now apparently blessed by said dirt.
Of course, the existing church was soon too small to hold the influx of dead people from all over central Europe. Therefore, a few hundred years later, someone from the House of Schwarzenberg – back then the rulers of Bohemia – had the brilliant idea to exhume the skeletons, instruct a half-mad and half-blind monk to stack the bones, and later, a woodcarver named Frantisek Rint, to craft some abstract and macabre art out of it. Yes, it is in fact as weird as it sounds.
Surprisingly, the place isn’t haunted by thousands of spirits, all of them furious about the unorthodox use of their bones as a tourist attraction. The ossuary, in fact, has a serene atmosphere to it. The prominent chandelier in the middle of the room, apparently made from every bone in the human body, attracts the eye and everyones attention instantly. Apart from the huge coat of arms of the Schwarzenberg family, it is the main feature of the church. In the four corners, big mounds of skulls and bones are piled up and from everywhere the empty sockets of hundreds of skulls stare down at the visitor.
Admittedly, the Sedlec Ossuary is a slightly creepy. But it is fun as well as different and I recommend it to everyone who has a penchant for the macabre and wants to escape the masses of people in Prague with an unconventional day trip.
Make sure to check out the town of Kutná Hora itself. It’s a beautiful little city, full of coloured houses and charming alleys. Kutná Hora ist a UNESCO world heritage site and offers not only the Sedlec Ossuary, but also the impressive St. Barbaras Church and a few other gothic buildings.
How to get there:
Finding the Sedlec Ossuary can be a bit tricky, especially since there is a number of train stations and no indication of which one to use. If you’re not a local, it is difficult to know where to get off and where to switch trains. With some wonderful help from a Czech train conductor and due to thoroughly getting lost once, I luckily managed to eventually find my way to the church. And in the process I became somewhat of a Kutná Hora expert.
If you are travelling from Prague, you have to take a train to the town of Kolin, which takes about an hour. In Kolin, switch to the small, yellow two-carriage regional train. There is only one and it is easy to find. If you want to go to the town of Kutná Hora itself, you have to get off at the station called Kutná Hora Město, if you plan to go to the Ossuary, disembark at Kutná Hora Sedlec. Then follow the only road leading away from the tracks all the way to the church. The stations are barely more than bus stops, so keep your eyes open.
And here are some more impressions of a pretty creepy day for you to enjoy: