Monday, April 23, 2012

The leg bone's connected to the ... never mind.

We didn't spend quite every waking minute we were in the Czech Republic walking around Prague. On Sunday we took a break from that to walk around Kutna Horá instead. Kutna Horá is a little town about an hour outside of Prague by train that for hundreds of years was a financial capital due to its silver mines and mint. We did a day tour with Sandeman's New Europe (I link them because they did a nice job) that took us to Kutna Horá's two biggest attractions: the Sedlec Ossuary (hereafter Bone Church) and St. Barbara's Church.

Kutna Horá was also a center of death in the 14th, 15th, and 18th centuries due to the Black Death and Hussite Wars. The Bone Church, built around 1400, is on the site of an even older graveyard belonging to a nearby monastery. The story goes that one of the monks went on  a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and brought back a jar full of earth from Golgotha. By sprinkling it around the cemetery he turned this tiny corner of the world into one of the most popular burial sites in Europe. When plague and then war broke out, the church was built to store the bones of the cemetery's earlier occupants and make room for more.

The bones of between 40,000 and 70,000 people still rest inside the church. They were organized at two points in its history in two very different styles. The first time, in the 16th century, a half-blind monk piled bones into huge pyramids, one in each of the four corners of the sanctuary.  


In 1870 a wealthy family commissioned a local artist to organize the bones in a more ... interesting ... way.


The chandelier above contains at least one of every bone in the human body. Where are the hammer, anvil, and stirrup, we ask?

This is the crest of the patron family. Nothing says power and influence like a family crest made from the bones of a couple hundred people, I suppose.


Detail: The bird is pecking out the eye of a conquered Turkish heathen.



Arr, matey. I think the weirdest thing about this place is that the "artistic" arrangements were made so recently. It feels so utterly contrary to modern sensibilities. It's not a scary place, but it's definitely unsettling.

On to a much more cheerful church, beautiful St. Barbara's.


Begun in 1388, St. Barbara's was conceived primarily as a display of the wealth of Kutna Horá. But since the town's fortunes fluctuated sharply over the years, it wasn't finished until 1905. Happily, one of the final elements to be completed was the stained glass windows--happily, because they were done in the Art Nouveau style popular at the turn of the century. It's awfully hard to take a good picture of a stained glass window, but I think Ty did a nice job with this one. I especially like the morning glories in the upper panes.


Two different architects directed the construction of the church's ceiling, as you can clearly see by the two styles of ribbing in the picture below.



Above, a view of Kutna Horá from just outside St. Barbara's. The long white building is (or rather was) a Jesuit college.

Here's a better view of the statues that line the walk. Remind you of anything?  


If you answered "the Charles Bridge," you're right! The Jesuits who built this street were homesick for Prague, apparently. If this blog were monetized you might win a prize, but as we're ad-free you'll have to make due with our congratulations on your cleverness.

Below, a plag (rhymes with flag) column in the center of town. Oh, you've never heard of plag columns? We hadn't either, but that's how our tour guide pronounced plague column.



The mines are gone now, but luckily the town they built remains. It is well worth visiting, even in the rain. So there are things to see in the Czech Republic besides Prague. Who knew?


  1. I'm left pretty speechless by this, so... um... wowzah!

  2. The bone church is just plain weird. . .weirdly creepy, that is. Very nice photo of you two!


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