One of the most unusual churches in the world — Sedlec Ossuary (Czech: “Kostnice v Sedlci”), a chapel in the town of Kutna Hora in the Czech Republic — is decorated with skeletons of about 40,000 to 70,000 people.
The History of the Sedlec Ossuary
This Cistercian monastery was founded in 1142. It is located in Sedlec, a suburb of Kutna Hora. In 1278, Henry, the abbot of the monastery was sent to the Holy Land by Premysl Ottokar II, the Czech king. He brought back a handful of earth from Golgotha and sprinkled it over the abbey cemetery. When a rumor went that there was a piece of the Holy Land in the small town of Kutna Hora in the Czech Republic, many people from all over the world chose it as their burial site. Many thousands of people wished to be buried in this cemetery. The consequences of medieval wars and epidemics, particularly the epidemic of Black Death in the middle of the XIV century and the Hussite wars in the early XV century, filled the cemetery which kept expanding.
Around 1400, a Gothic cathedral with a tomb was erected in the center of the cemetery. The tomb was to serve as an ossuary for the bones recovered from graves due to not enough space in the cemetery. The vacated space could be used for new burials or for construction. The legend has it that after 1511, a half-blind monk of the Cistercian order was appointed the job of exhumating skeletons from the graves and putting them in the tomb.
In 1703 to 1710, the cathedral was rebuilt. They added a new entrance to support one of the walls leaning outwards and rebuilt the top chapel in the Baroque style. In 1784, the monastery was closed. The chapel and the monastery land were bought by the Schwarzenberg family. In 1870, the Schwarzenbergs hired Frantisek Rint, a woodcarver, to put the pile of stacked bones in order. The result of his work speaks for itself. There are huge bell-shaped piles of bones in the four corners of the cathedral. A huge bone chandelier hangs from the middle of the nave. It contains at least one instance of each of the human bones and is decorated with garlands of skulls. Among other “works of art”, you can see altar ostensories located at the sides of the altar, the coat of arms of the Schwarzenberg family, and a signature of master Rint also made of the bones.
The Sedlec Ossuary is one of the most visited tourist attractions of the Czech Republic. More than 200,000 tourists come here every year. The chapel is open to visitors 7 days a week, from morning to evening. Luckily, not from dusk till dawn.