WTF: A Church of Bones

Have you ever sat at your dining room table and been like, “You know what? This chandelier doesn’t look dead enough”? Of course you have. 

Head about an hour outside of Prague to Kutna Hora, where the remains of 40,000 people decorate a chapel’s interior.

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WTF, you ask? Great question!

Several churches around Europe repurposed human skeletons for decoration, but perhaps one of the more well-known examples is the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora. But just how did this morbid landmark come to be?

Sedlec Ossuary: A Brief History

To make a centuries-long story short, there once was an abbot named Henry. He worked at a (then boneless) Roman Catholic monastery in Sedlec (SED-lets).

At the end of the 13th century, Henry went on a trip and brought home a jar of dirt. Okay, so it was technically a jar of soil. And this soil came from Jerusalem. Alright, so it was a jar of genuine, certified-fresh Holy Land soil. Courtesy of Henry; much cooler than dirt.

Good job, Henry!

The holy soil was spread over the monastery’s cemetery, which made it an instant hot-spot for being buried and other non-alive activities, like breath-holding competitions or freeze tag. The popularity wasn’t too much of a problem until a thing called the Plague sort of killed everyone at once. Some 30,000 people were buried at Sedlec in year 1318 alone; thousands more would follow during other times of war and disease.

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Around the 15th century, the abbots built an ossuary (AKA a giant room to hoard stuff) for a more economical use of space, or just in case they needed skeletons for artwork in a few hundred years. You never know, ya know?

A few hundred years later…

They used them for artwork! It was like giving Michelangelo a paintbrush, throwing him in the Sistine Chapel and telling him to go for it. Except this time, it’s a guy named František and it’s a giant room full of decomposed humans. Same thing, right?

Anyways, František (FRAHN-tee-shek) Rint’s final product from 1870 is worthy of a Renaissance Man merit badge, depending on which Boy Scout you ask. Rint decorated a whole freaking chapel out of the skeletons, complete with a chandelier, candelabra, altar, and other intricate details found in ordinary chapels. He even assembled a family coat-of-arms, using smaller bones for intricate detail, hence the old saying: “One man’s finger is another man’s Schwarzenberg’s raven’s upper beak!”

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The skeletons may not exactly be pushing up daisies, but they’re doing a damn good job holding up those walls. In all, it’s estimated that there are over 40,000 bodies decorating this ossuary. Kutna Hora is one of the Czech Republic’s most visited sites, and the Sedlec Ossuary is there to add a tiny bit of flavor to the experience, even if that flavor is an odd one.

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Sedlec Ossuary: morbid or beautiful? Decide for yourself; you might find you have what it takes to be the next Schwarzenberg’s branch’s left twig! See it during free time on Berlin, Prague and Munich, Highlights of Eastern Europe, or Ultimate Europe