A Church of Bones

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To stand outside the Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech town of Kutna Hora, it doesn't look all that extraordinary. It's just a little Gothic-style church and cemetery. But the church and burial ground in Sedlec has always been a bit special.

The legend goes that, in 1278, the local abbot of the Sedlec monastery was sent by the Czech king to Jerusalem. There, he scooped up a handful of soil from Golgatha (the place where Jesus was crucified) and brought it back, scattering it over the Sedlec Cemetery.

Because the cemetery was blessed with soil from the Holy Land, it became a desirable place to be buried in Europe.

Sedlec Ossuary Kutna Hora

Today, though, Sedlec is special for another reason. Inside, the Ossuary is decorated with the bones of 30,000-40,000 people.

Sedlec Ossuary Kutna Hora

Bone chandelier in Sedlec Ossuary
Yes, that's a bone chandelier.

The Sedlec Ossuary (Bone Church)

The history of this Roman Catholic church and its cemetery is actually quite fascinating. The original cemetery dates back to the 1100s, and the Gothic church was erected in the late 14th century (and reconstructed in the 18th century). The cemetery, as I mentioned above, was a popular burial spot from the late 1200s onward. It was also greatly expanded during the Black Plague era, when many people in Europe lost their lives.

By the time the Hussites (Czech Christians) captured Kutna Hora and attacked/burned Sedlec's church and monastery in 1421, tens of thousands of people were buried there. At least 10,000 more would find their final resting places there during the Hussite wars.

Sedlec Ossuary

By the end of the 15th century, bones began being moved from the cemetery into the ossuary of the church. There is a legend that a half-blind monk began carefully arranging the bones into pyramids — they say he got his sight back after his work was done.

Sedlec Ossuary Kutna Hora

Historians know for sure that the bones were definitely decoratively arranged in the ossuary by the 16th century (perhaps by that half-blind monk), and they were re-arranged again in the 1660s when the church underwent renovations.

Sedlec Ossuary Kutna Hora

The original Sedlec monastery was abolished in 1783, but the abbey was purchased by the Schwartzenberg family of Orik, and the Ossuary was maintained by them.

The Baroque bone decoration was then expanded by Czech woodcarver Frantisek Rink in 1870. He disinfected and bleached all the bones, and added his own touches — including the chandelier and a Schwatzenberg coat of arms.

Schwatzenberg coat of arms at Sedlec Ossuary
Schwatzenberg coat of arms… in bones.

The “Bone Church” is located about an hour from Prague by train, and I knew I wanted to visit it long before I ever added Prague to my Europe itinerary. Call me morbid, but I'm fascinated by things like this.

The church itself is small, and it IS kind of a long trip to make from Prague just to see a church decorated with human bones.

But, for me, it was worth it to see something so unique.

Sedlec Ossuary Kutna Hora

Today, the Sedlec Ossuary is said to be one of the most-visited places in the Czech Republic. I myself convinced 9 other people to make the train journey with me, and there were people coming and going from the church the whole time we were there.

Is this macabre? Perhaps. But, just like at Merry Cemetery in Romania last year, the church in Kutna Hora chooses to focuses on a more positive message. “It is not a celebration of death,” the church says, “but it symbolizes the equality of people before the throne of God.

Skulls at Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora

Whatever the message, the Bone Church was pretty darn interesting to visit.

If You Go…

Address: Starosedlecká, 284 03 Kutná Hora, Czech Republic

Getting there: You can get to Kutna Hora via a direct train from Prague's main train station that takes roughly 1 hour (there are slower trains, too, which take about double the time). You want to get a ticket for Kutna Hora hl.n — not actually the main train station in Kutna Hora. The hl.n stop is a 10-minute walk from the Bone Church (and there are signs that will point the way for you from the station). If you are traveling in a group, buy one ticket for all of you and you will save money (10 of us went together and our total ticket price was about 1200 Czech Koruna — just over $6 USD per person for a round-trip fare). If it's just you, expect to pay perhaps 80-100 CZK each way. You do not need to book tickets ahead of time, though it would be worth it to check out the train schedule to decide when you want to leave Prague. Trains leave Kutna Hora to return to Prague on the hour.

You can also catch a bus, but since I took the train I won't pretend to know anything about the bus option.

Cost: Entry into the Sedlec Ossuary is 90 CZK ($4.50 USD) for adults and 60 CZK ($3 USD) for children. You can get a combined ticket for the Ossuary and some other churches/attractions in the area if you want to make a whole day out of it.

In Kutna Hora: Near the Bone Church there's not a whole lot. But you WILL find a cafe and a couple of bars, so it's totally possible to pass any extra time you have near the church. You could also catch a bus into Kutna Hora town, where there's more to do.

Take a tour: Kutna Hora Day Tour from Prague Including Sedlec Ossuary

Sedlec Ossuary Kutna Hora

Is the Bone Church somewhere you'd want to visit on YOUR travels?

 

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Visiting the Sedlec Ossuary (Bone Church) in Kutna Hora, Czechia

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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32 Comments on “A Church of Bones

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  1. Well I guess we’re both a bit morbid because this looks AWESOME. I would totally go out of my way to visit. I love the legend behind it too. I have been looking forward to this post and it didn’t disappoint! Another place to add to my list…

    Happy travels 🙂

      I’m so glad that the post didn’t disappoint! And also glad to hear that it’s a place you would enjoy too.

    Fantastic! This looks so amazing and yes I want to go here and yes I plan on going here when I visit Prague in February. This information will come in handy big time!! Thanks for the transportation details in particular. Mmmm I can’t wait to see this: I love creepy stuff or tombs and cemeteries. 🙂

    I’ve been to the Sedlec ossuary, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I went mainly due to my morbid curiosity. 🙂

    I went with an organised group excursion via minibus from Prague. There are additional things to see nearby; the historical town centre of Kutna Hora is a UNESCO world heritage site, and also features a medieval silver mine that you can take a tour of (although I didn’t get to the mine).

      Good to know that there are some organized options, too, for those who don’t want to figure out the trains/buses on their own.

    I’d like to go too. I guess that our curiosity, that one thing that makes us want to travel, is the reason. And yes, it’s morbid, but I like it.

    As usual, you’ve got amazing pictures and wonderful history tidbits to share. I would love to visit here, and I don’t think it’s necessarily morbid. It’s a part of history and we’re all curious. Morbid, that does not make. 🙂

    As eerie as it may look, this church of bones really tickles my curiosity. Absolutely fascinating destination in Eastern Europe.

      Fascinating indeed – exactly the reason why I wanted to see it!

    Great timing with your post, Amanda! When I was in Prague at the end of July, a group of us also went to Kutna Hora for a daytrip. Although I’d read up a little before hand, I hadn’t expected the Bone Church to be so … creepy. Although the Ossuary is not part of the listing, Kutna Hora is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for the Church of the Assumption, just down the street from the Ossuary, and the Cathedral of St. Barbara, which is in town proper. Thanks again for your post!

      Yeah, it IS kind of creepy to see all those bones stacked so neatly, and to realize that they at one time belonged to living people…

      But I’m still really glad I went to see it.

    Creepy for sure, but also a very cool experience. I’ve been meaning to go when I’m in Prague, but haven’t made it happen yet. One day!

      Definitely check it out the next time you’re in Prague!

    I visited Prague with my mom a few years ago and really wanted to make the trek out to this church. The idea of all the bones freaked her out, though, so we never went. I find it so fascinating and definitely plan to see it next time I’m in the area.

      Ah, too bad you missed it! I can understand some people not being into it, though. I guess you’ll just have to go back to Prague!

    I love really random and weird places! I think I’ve come across this before in a post about the spookiest places in the world! I’d probably have nightmares after visiting though!

      Nah, it’s really not all THAT spooky! It’s definitely weird, but I’ve been to far creepier places than this.

    Do Busabout not stop here on their loops? I went with them on the Rhapsody trek.
    It was much smaller than I was expecting… I mean, I wasn’t expecting it to be huuuge, or anything, just perhaps about the same size as the church in my village, but it is very small.

      Nope, the Busabout loops are pretty limited. In the Czech Republic, the only stops are Prague and Cesky Krumlov. The loops really aren’t like the tours though – they are just a way to get from Point A to Point B!

      (And yes, it IS a pretty small church! Which makes it all the more impressive that the bones of 40,000 are inside…)

    Amazing – definitely getting added to my bucket list.

      It’s so creepy, but in a really fascinating way!

    I was there last week and it was awesome! We enjoyed a couple of the cafes/restaurants around there too… Very cheap! All in all, very worthwhile to take the trip from Prague!

      Agreed – it’s definitely a worthwhile day trip from Prague!

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