Back in May when we visited Prague, we wanted to do something a little out of the ordinary. Months earlier, IFLS, a science blog I follow via Facebook, ran an article about a chapel that had a chandelier made completely out of bones. Well, it's not just a chandelier, the entire place is decorated and line with bones. In any case, I filed it away in the back of my head for "later." When we planned Prague, I remembered that this place existed and we made it a point to visit. And I'm so glad we did.
Kutná Hora is a sleepy little village located about an hour and a half east of Prague. It's main claim to fame is it's Ossuary and St. Barbara's Church that attract over 200,000 visitors annually. It's also one of 12 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Czech Republic. If you're driving yourself, you'll find that it's a beautiful drive through the Czech countryside. You pass through even sleepier towns with only a few residents, and maybe an ice cream shop. The rolling fields were a welcome reprieve from the concrete buildings and cobblestone streets we were used to seeing. It was a warmer than expected day and I was thankful for the AC in the car.
We pulled into Sedlec, which is a "suburb" of Kutná Hora and, technically, where the Ossuary is located and found parking not far from the St. Barbara's. To see the Ossuary, tickets must be purchased in conjunction with admission to the St. Barbara's. Since we were already there, we poked around the church for a bit. Surprisingly, this was a pretty cool church. On either side, there is a spiral staircase leading up to the choir loft. Spiral staircases in churches are not unique in and of themselves - you'll find them all over Europe as the main way to get to the tops of towers and steeples - but these lacked one feature, a center support. It made for an interesting view from the top!
I am a big fan of "secret" spaces and this church had one you could wander through! Construction on the church first began in 1388, but was halted during the Hussite Wars, and never resumed. It remained unfinished until 1905 when construction began again and the church was completed. In the intervening years, damage occurred to the original structure, and it is in a space between the original walls and the newer constructions that you can walk. This space leads from the choir loft on the side, to the loft in the back allowing one to view the entire main floor and altar.
From there, we headed to the main attraction - the Ossuary. It's a small, underground chapel located within a cemetery and from the outside, it doesn't look like much. A Monastery was built nearby, disturbing a number of graves in the process. The Ossuary served as a place to house the remains. Two big, wooden double doors open into a vestibule from which a small staircase descends. Each side of the staircase is flanked by a large chalice made from bones and a sort of crest is on the wall above. The temperature drops and the airs smells musty as you descend the stairs, adding to the creepiness of being surrounded by the remains of 40,000 - 70,000 people. The sunlight pouring in from the windows does nothing to warm the space (which, on a hot day, isn't a bad thing). After you have descended the stairs, you can then see the even more impressive art work (?) within the ossuary. Above you hangs a giant chandelier that contains every bone in the human body. From it drape pennants made from skulls and femurs. On the ground are four obelisks, standing taller than me also decorated with skulls and, in my non-medical opinion, arm bones. In each of the four corners of the chapel are neatly stacked piles of bones. They are surrounded by a wire cage which sounds an alarm if you get too near. On one of these is a huge depiction of the Schwarzenberg family crest.
While Kutná Hora took us out of our way before heading back to Mannheim, it was definitely worth a stop. If you're visiting Prague and looking for a more off-beat day trip, the Sedlec Ossuary should be on your list. You can either rent a car to drive yourself or locate a tour operator (there are lots) to take you there.
Tweet It! @This chapel in the Czech Republic has a chandelier made completely out of human bones!@