Welcome to Sedlec Ossuary, the Czech church decorated with bones

The Sedlec Ossuary  | © Todd Huffman / Flickr
The Sedlec Ossuary | © Todd Huffman / Flickr
Photo of Diana Bocco
23 February 2017

This small Catholic chapel, located in a Czech village, might not look like much from the outside, but step inside and you’ll discover something unique. Decorated with human bones, this is a church like no other. The Culture Trip finds out more about the history of Sedlec Ossaury.

The Sedlec Ossuary is located in the small village of Sedlec, near Kutna Hora. A World Heritage Site, the chapel is located under the Cemetery Church of All Saints. It attracts a large number of visitors every year, who come here to discover the “Bone Church” and the history behind it.

Inside the Kutna Hora Ossuary / | ©david__jones / Flickr

Sedlec Ossuary is estimated to contain the bones of anywhere between 40, 000 and 70, 000 people, most of which died during the Black Plague that ravaged Europe in the 14th century. Some of the skeletons also belong to people who died during the Hussite Wars, which took place about a century later. Most of these people were orignially buried in the abbey cemetery that previously occupied the area.

It wasn’t until the early 1400s that a church with a small chapel (that would eventually become the Ossuary) was built next to the cemetery. A century later, the mass graves were exhumed and the half blind monk in charge of the chapel took over the task of dealing with them. He piled them up in the Ossuary and they remained there until the 1870s.

Bones are arranged into works of art / | ©Mr. Theklan / Flickr

In 1870 the Schwarzenberg’s (Bohemian nobility), a family with strong ties to the church and the community, commissioned the woodcarver František Rint to put the bones in order. He created the unsual displays you can see today. Rint also bleached all bones in the chapel at that time, which is why they look so uniform in color now.

One of the most shocking and surprising sections of the chapel is the pyramid of skulls that lies behind wire mesh near the entrance. Another is a chandelier created using at least one piece of every bone found in the human body.

Bones are arranged and piled all around the church / | ©Luiyo / Flickr

The official coat of arms of the royal House of Schwarzenberg, made of bones, is displayed at the entrance of the church. Although it sounds macabre and disturbing, visitors have said that Sedlec Ossuary is actually a tranquil place and very interesting to visit.

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