A Church of Bones: Visiting the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora

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To stand outside the Cemetery Church of All Saints 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 Abbey 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 (now the All Saints Cemetery).

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

Sedlec cemetery and church

The current Gothic church was built next to the cemetery in the 14th century, and holds both an upper chapel and an underground ossuary. And it's this ossuary that makes this place so special. Because, inside, the Sedlec Ossuary is decorated with the bones of 30,000-40,000 people.

An important note: I visited the Sedlec Ossuary in 2013 during a summer trip around Europe. Back then, you were permitted to take photos of the inside of the Bone Church. Since then, however, they have banned all photography inside the ossuary, out of respect for the dead. Photos are still published online, however, so I'm still sharing a few of my photos here since they were taken back when it was permitted.

The Sedlec Ossuary (Bone Church)

Entering the Sedlec Ossuary Bone Church
Entering the Sedlec Ossuary

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.

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.

Arranged bones at Sedlec Ossuary
Arranged bones at Sedlec Ossuary

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, and once again in the 18th century when the Church of All Saints and the Ossuary were rebuilt again in the Baroque Gothic style.

The architect of the 18th century renovations – Jan Santini Aichel – is said to have introduced some additional elements, like the garlands of bones.

Preserving the Bone Church

The original Sedlec monastery was abolished in 1783, but the abbey was purchased by the Schwartzenberg family, 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 a chandelier that's said to include every bone in the human body, along with a Schwatzenberg coat of arms constructed from bones.

Bone chandelier in the Sedlec Ossuary
Bone chandelier
Schwatzenberg coat of arms made from bones
Schwatzenberg coat of arms

Today, ongoing preservation work continues to preserve the chapel and ossuary.

And while this may seem like a creepy or macabre place, 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.

Visiting the Sedlec Ossuary

Today, the Sedlec Ossuary is said to be one of the most-visited places in the Czech Republic. It's certainly the most-visited sight in Central Bohemia Region, drawing roughly 300,000 visitors per year.

How to get to the Bone Church

The “Bone Church” is located about 1 hour from Prague by regional train. You can take a direct train from Prague's main train station to Kutna Hora hl.n* (NOT to the main train station in Kutna Hora, which is Kutná Hora město). 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).

*There IS a Kutná Hora-Sedlec train station that is closer to the church, however it's not on the direct line from Prague, so it's honestly easier just to get off at Kutna Hora hl.n and walk.

You do not need to book train 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 usually leave Kutna Hora to return to Prague once an hour.

Bone garlands in the Sedlec Ossuary
Bone garlands in the Sedlec Ossuary

You can also book a guided tour from Prague if you don't want to bother figuring out transport on your own.

Things to know about visiting

There are some important things to know about visiting the Sedlec Ossuary.

  1. Photos are no longer allowed inside the Ossuary. (This rule was implemented in 2020; the photos in this post were taken in 2013.)
  2. In order to enter the chapel and ossuary, you need to be wearing “respectable clothing,” which usually means you should have your shoulders covered, and possibly also your knees.
  3. Tickets are required for the Sedlec Ossuary.

Sedlec Ossuary tickets

Entry into the Sedlec Ossuary is 220 CZK ($9.50 USD) for adults and 50 CZK ($3.50 USD) for children. You can purchase tickets online, or at the Information Center located near the Ossuary entrance.

You can get a combined ticket for the Ossuary, Sedlec Cathedral, and also St Barbara's Cathedral in Kutna Hora if you plan to explore Kutna Hora a bit, too. (The Sedlec Ossuary is itself fairly small, so making a whole day trip to Kutna Hora is a great idea.)

Arranged bones in the Sedlec Ossuary

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

"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: Visiting the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora

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  1. Amazing – definitely getting added to my bucket list.

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

    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…)

    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.

    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!

    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!

    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.

    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!

    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. 🙂

    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.

      Curiosity is definitely the drive behind traveling!

    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.

    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. 🙂

    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.

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