It’s known as The Bone Church. Inside hangs a massive chandelier created with one of every bone in the human body. Nearby, a detailed coat of arms made entirely out of bones is prominently on display. And behind it, one of several gigantic towers of bones reaches from the floor to the ceiling.
Nondescript from the outside, the Bone Church — formally called The Sedlec Ossuary — contains the bones of an estimated 40,000 humans. It’s located in Kutná Hora, a small town outside of Prague.
As soon as I heard about the Bone Church I planned a day trip to Kutná Hora from Prague to see it. After the fiasco of going on a day trip to Champagne from Paris without a guide, I opted for a tour with transportation and an experienced guide through Viator.com.
A Day Trip to Kutna Hora from Prague
The tour left Old Town in Prague around noon; a small group of us jumped in a van for the hour-long drive to Kutná Hora. During the drive, the guide explained that the town was once a bustling city centered around the silver mining industry and where the kingdom’s coins were minted from 1300-1548.
The Sedlec Ossuary (“Bone Church”)
The first stop was the Sedlec Ossuary. After seeing pictures online and even reading a Buzzfeed article about it, I expected the Bone Church to be as creepy as the Catacombs in Paris. But it was actually strangely peaceful.
Even the story behind the bones was less morbid than I imagined. The Sedlec Ossuary became a coveted place to be buried after the abbot sprinkled dirt brought from the Holy Land in the cemetery in 1278. The ossuary expanded in the 14th Century after thousands died of the Black Plague and again in the 15th Century after the Hussite Wars. In 1511, a half-blind monk exhumed the bones and stacked them inside the church.
It wasn’t until 1870 that the bones were given an artistic touch. The Schwarzenberg family, an aristocratic Bohemian family, hired František Rint to organize the bones. He is responsible for creating the chandelier, giant goblets and the Schwarzenberg coat of arms out of bones, even signing his name in bone on the wall.
St. Barbara’s Church
Next we went to St. Barbara’s Church, a cathedral-style church built from 1388-1905. The construction was interrupted several times (once because of the Hussite Wars) and depended on the wealth of the nearby silver mines. As time—and construction—went on, the productivity of the mines declined and the size of the cathedral was downsized from the original plans to almost half of what was planned.
Inside are frescoes surviving from the Medieval times showing how everyday life was for those who lived in Kutná Hora and wooden choir benches hundreds of years old.
The Italian Court
Then we walked through the old streets of Kutná Hora to the Italian Court, where the silver was turned into coins. Named after the Italian experts who perfected minting, the large building doubled as a residence when the king was visiting Kutná Hora. Built in the late 13th Century, the building was once the town castle. Later, the fortress stored the mine’s silver and minted it into coins. Today, it is a museum of coin minting.
The Streets of Kutna Hora
But my absolute favorite part of my day trip to Kutná Hora was just walking along the ancient streets, past Medieval houses next door to 17th Century houses surrounded by modern apartments. We walked through a square with a Plague Pillar, a statue-like column of the Virgin Mary thanking her for ending the plague that killed more than a thousand people. We went by the former Jewish synagogue, now an administration building because all the Jews of Kutná Hora died in the Holocaust.
Walking through the streets of Kutná Hora was a reminder of how connected we are to the past. It’s so easy to think of the plague and even the Holocaust as such distant events in history, but not when walking by artifacts surviving from those time periods.
It’s funny to think I was drawn to Kutná Hora for a creepy church filled with human bones, but I left in awe of the history and the culture of Central Bohemia.
Notes :: The Viator.com tour is $43, including transportation to/from Prague, entrance into all sites and an English-speaking guide. I am in no way affiliated with Viator (and they did they sponsor this post in any way), but I highly recommend them for a day trip to Kutná Hora.