willbryant.net

Day trip to Kutná Hora

Published Mon 08 October 2007 10:35 (+0200)
Tagged

We were keen to get out of Prague and see a bit more of the Czech Republic, so on day 3 of our time there we ran to the trains and headed out to Kutná Hora.

This small town (~20k residents) is about 50km away from Prague by train, and is best known today for having…

The Sedlec Ossuary

The Sedlec Ossuary
The Sedlec Ossuary

Bones. We've all got em, churches have got em, but usually they leave them in the ground. When they ran out of space in the the cemetery now containing the Sedlec Ossuary however (most notably during the Plague times), they ended up digging up the old remains up to make room, and stacking them around the place.

It wasn't long before they were organised into more carefully thought-out long-term storage, and this reorganising process was repeated several times over the centuries, under the care of various caretakers.

But it wasn't until a woodcarver named František Rint was put in charge that they changed from being “heaps of bones” to being works of craft & art – albeit somewhat macabre!

Bone pyramids in the Sedlec Ossuary
Bone pyramids in the Sedlec Ossuary

The bulk of the bones are stacked into four large “pyramids” which are shaped roughly like the simple houses we all used to draw as children – pointed tops (roofs), straight walls (sides), and a hole in the middle (where we'd put the door).

The Sedlec Ossuary chandelier, contains every bone in the human body
The Sedlec Ossuary chandelier, contains every bone in the human body

But the real feature is the more complex groupings, in particular the very large and ornate “chandalier”, which contains every bone in the human body! To give you a sense of scale, the chandalier is about 2-3m tall and hangs down in the middle of the downstairs space (which is the bit with all the bones in it – the chapel on the half-floor above is unremarkable) in the ossuary.

Coat of arms in the Sedlec Ossuary
Coat of arms in the Sedlec Ossuary

Another feature is the coat of arms, which has traditional shield shape and uses a number of smaller bones to show the various emblems of the coat of arms of the Schwarzenberg family, who commissioned this whole project.

The overall effect is certainly creepy – but I was surprised how quickly I got used to being in a room with the remains of ~40 thousand people!

More about the town

You may be wondering how this small town came to have so many remains in the first place. In fact, there's two reasons; the first is that the town used to be far more significant as it had a substantial silver mine (of course, mines run out eventually…).

The second is due to the chapel itself, or rather the cemetery it stands in; in the 13th century, a monk who was sent to the Holy Land by the Bohemian king of the time brought back some earth with him when he returned, and sprinkled it over the grounds of the cemetery. This made the location a desirable burial ground, and the later Plagues in the following centuries provided the numbers.

Other features in the town include a former royal residence known as the ‘Italian Court’, which we went to but didn't go in having discovered that you can only go inside with a mandatory tour – and you have to pay a lot extra to get it in English. In fact, we found this at several sites in the Czech Republic.

St. Barbara Church

St. Barbara Church, Kutná Hora
St. Barbara Church, Kutná Hora

But we did manage to see one other impressive site in the town. Up further on the hills the town is built on is the St. Barbara Church, a mammoth work of Gothic architecture, started in the 14th century but not completed for over 500 years (due largely to lack of funds after the silver mining dried up).

From the Wikipedia frontal photo you can see the scale of the church, but it's the unusual series of flying buttresses ribbing the long sides of it that make it really stand out visually – I found that unless you're standing straight on to one of the church's sides your perspective made the complex, decorative arches and associated towers look almost tangled – it actually reminded me of the messy look of Giger designs, personally (though not his organic style).

So, that's Kutná Hora. We finished up late afternoon and headed back to Prague for dinner and drinks.