The world-renowned ossuary at Sedlec just outside Kutná Hora is a medieval Gothic chapel that for centuries has stood on the remains of 40,000 people, offering a quiet reminder of the transience of human life and the existence of death. Today, visitors from around the world are astonished by its bizarre decorations made from human bones in the form of chandeliers, a pyramid, crosses and coats of arms. Visit and you too will discover the story of a fascinating place that ranks as one of the most mystical in the Czech Republic.
The ossuary is located in the basement of the chapel of the Cemetery Church of All Saints, which was originally part of a Cistercian abbey. The chapel itself is composed of two chapels, one built on top of the other, with the lower one home to a chilling theatre of life and death, a controversial place that to this day inspires humility and awe.
A piece of the Holy Land in the heart of Europe
Legend has it that one of the local abbots, who had travelled to Jerusalem, scattered a handful of earth from the Holy Land on the local graveyard. This made the cemetery a Sacred Field, the oldest in Central Europe, and turned it into a hugely desirable burial place. The plague and the Hussite Wars left around 40,000 dead here. However, the church later burned down and was abandoned to its fate.
The unusual beauty of chilling decorations
The ingenious architect Jan Blažej Santini Aichel breathed new life into this place by arranging the ossuary in his typical Baroque Gothic style. However, the most important event in its history was the work of a certain František Rint, a master builder employed by the Schwarzenberg noble family. It’s thanks to him that you can today admire the exceptional decoration of the lower chapel formed from human skulls and bones. All of the bones were disinfected, bleached in chlorinated lime and carefully arranged into shapes and pictures that have no parallel in Europe.
Who dares enter the ossuary at night?
At the Sedlec Ossuary you can enjoy the unique experience of viewing a massive chandelier, a cross, a chalice, a monstrance, or even a large coat of arms of the Schwarzenberg family made from all of the bones in the human body. It is also worth looking closely at the Turk whose eyes are being pecked out by a raven. If you are up for an unrepeatable experience, you can actually enter the ossuary at night during the summer months, when the impression this original construction delivers is intensified by dark vapours and flaming lights against the backdrop of thousands of human remains. In Sedlec you should not neglect to also visit the newly renovated Cathedral of Our Lady, which is located nearby. Along with the wonderful Gothic St. Barbara’s Cathedral, it is one of the most valuable historical landmarks of Kutná Hora, which is included on the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List.