Happy Halloween!

We interrupt the somewhat chronological order of this blog to bring you a very special Halloween post.

Now, I will admit to not being the biggest fan of this holiday. I’ve never been one for big Halloween parties, I come up with good costume ideas, but don’t execute them, and, most importantly, I miss trick or treating… So, I wasn’t too bothered by the idea of not celebrating this year. After all, I don’t really have room in my backpack to carry around a costume.

But then, this past weekend (Halloweekend, if you will) I took a tour of Kutna Hora, a small city, and UNESCO World Heritage Site, about an hour train ride outside of Prague. And friends, the highlight of visiting Kutna Hora is seeing its world famous bone chapel (officially known as the Sedlec Ossuary).

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Unassuming from the outside… (also it was snowing in October, nbd)

But inside…

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That’s me looking mildly unnerved under a chandelier made out of bones.

Real.

Human.

Bones.

The story of the Sedlec Ossuary is that in 1278, an abbot made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and returned with some earth (some holy land, ha!) which he placed in his abbey’s cemetery in Sedlec. When people found out about the abbot’s actions, this cemetery became a very desirable place to be buried. However, after the Black Death and the Hussite Wars, so many people had died and were buried there that the cemetery needed to be expanded. People were essentially being added to a mass grave from which their skeletons were exhumed when a gothic church was to be built there in 1400. The plans for the church were altered to include an ossuary that would house the many skeletons and the job of carefully stacking said skeletons was given to a half-blind monk (you can’t make this stuff up) in 1511. Finally, in 1870, Frantisek Rint, a woodcarver, was hired to make the skeletons into some sort of visually appealing, if macabre, order.

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Rint was employed by the Schwarzenberg family, who even narcissistically had him construct their family crest from bones.

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The bird’s tail feathers are made of the femurs of babies…

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Let’s hope that’s the creepiest thing I ever write on this blog.

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There are four of these piles of bones in each corner of the ossuary, and I was amazed to learn that there is no glue or cement holding them in place, just the wooden frame and the careful way in which they’ve been piled up. The crown on top is meant to represent the kingdom of heaven where all of these people strove to end up.

It is a church, after all.

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How are you celebrating Halloween this year?

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7 comments

  1. Love it! mom

  2. I’ve been there twice, definitely a memorable place. I actually like St. Barbara’s church in the centre a tiny bit more than Sedlec.

    Here in Brno, they opened up and old and forgotten ossuary to the public in early 2012. It’s not as artistically put together as Sedlec, but it is bit bigger by the remains of about 10,000 more people.

    1. St. Barbara’s church is gorgeous! I think it’s hard to compare it to the Sedlec Ossuary, but I definitely enjoyed visiting both.

      I’m sure the Ossuary in Brno is also striking. Before this trip, I had never heard of an ossuary, and it continues to amaze me that there’s more than one chapel decorated with bones.

  3. I’d not heard the term ossuary either before I moved to Europe, but things like that, crypts, catacombs and other ways of storing the dead when cemeteries run out of space are actually not that unusual in Europe. It actually surprised me a bit how common they are, most of them just sort of keep low profiles though.

    If you’re interested in the ossuary in Brno, I did a write up of it in one of my blogs, feel free to take a look. 🙂

    http://beyondprague.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/st-james-church-ossuary-bones-beneath-brno/

    1. Thanks for the link! I like your blog concept — I’d love to see more of the Czech Republic than just Prague.

  4. Thanks, glad you like the concept.

  5. […] Kutna Hora, a small town an hour outside of Prague, and saw the famous bone chapel. I wrote about that experience on Halloween last year, and I would recommend taking a tour. Most of the tour companies offer the […]

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