The 40,000 to 70,000 skeletons within Sedlec Ossuary (known also as Kostnice Ossuary Beinhaus) in Czech Republic welcome you, literally, with open arms: the ossuary, located close to Kutná Hora is a singular place, displays some of the world’s more macabre art, and undoubtedly is a fascinating destination not to be missed.
Known to most as “the Bone Church,” its history begins in 1278 when the Abbot of the Sedlec Monastery (Abbot Henry) brought a handful of earth back from a journey to the Grave of the Lord in Jerusalem.
He scattered this “holy soil” across the Sedlec cemetery, securing its place as one of the most desired burial sites for people all over Bohemia but not only, also all over the surrounding countries.
From that moment lot of people from all over Europe wanted to bury their loved ones there, in that handful of the Holy Land, because they believed they were giving them eternal salvation. More than 30,000 were, and it wasn’t long before there simply wasn’t enough room for everyone to rest in peace. Over the years many bodies were accumulated in the cemetery mainly due to two major tragedies that struck the Czech Republic, in 1300 there was the black plague and in 1400 the Hussite wars.
In 1400 an ossuary was built which was placed in a crypt inside the new church built in the cemetery of Sedlec: “the church of all saints”. In 1511, the friars began to accumulate the oldest bones to make room for the new ones in the church warehouse.
In 1870, a local woodcarver, František Rint, who was in the service of the Duke of Schwarzenberg, thought of using those bones stacked to create unusual and macabre decorations. In addition to decorating the walls and the vault he created various sculptures with the remains of the skeletons which were about 40,000.
The artist came up with the Bone Church’s stunning chandelier, as well as the amazing Schwarzenberg coat of arms, which includes a raven pecking at the severed head of a Turk, all made, of course, of human bone.
Rint was responsible for bleaching all of the bones in the ossuary in order to give the room a uniform look. His artist’s signature is still on the wall today, naturally, in his medium of choice, bone.
Among the most famous works of art that we can admire in the ossuary, there is surely a splendid bone chandelier composed of almost every bone in a human body, two large bone chalices, four baroque bone candelabras, six enormous bone pyramids, two bone monstrances (a vessel used to display the Eucharistic host) and the imposing Schwarzenberg coat of arms. Festively looping chains of bone are hung throughout like crepe paper at a birthday party.
A curiosity? The American metal band Machine Head filmed in 2011 some scenes of the video clip of the song Darkness Within that is part of the album Unto the Locust.
The Irish writer John Connolly, in the novel “The Angel of the Bones”, set some parts in the Sedlec ossuary.