Most people come to Sedlec to just see the Ossuary. Frankly, it would be a mistake to come and skip the magnificent Church of St Barbara in Kutna Hora, just a short walk from the Ossuary. Sedlec is a suburb of Kutna Hora, though in reality, both were controlled by the Cistercian Monastery since the original silver deposits were found on land belonging to the Monastery.
The Church itself is a masterpiece of design, perhaps even more so because of its colorful history.
Take a look especially at the flying buttresses, the beautiful carved altarpiece and a very pretty Gothic church.
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In tribute to his patrons, František Rint created a replica of the Schwartzenberg family crest, made entirely of human bones from the ossuary! It is a large display, certainly one of the centerpieces, and I had to wonder whether the family really objected to this at all. (Apparently not, it's still there after all these years!)
One of my photos shows a bird plucking out the eye from a head of the skeleton. This motif is taken directly from the family coat of arms' lower quadrant where a raven is plucking out the eye of an invading Turk.
The Schwartzenberg family is a branch of the German Seinsheim family of Franconia. By the time of early historical mentions of them in 1172 they already owned some fiefdoms in Bohemia. They were later elevated to Counts and in 1670 to Princes. Through marriage they acquired enormous land holdings in Bohemia. Until 1918, their main holding was the castle at Český Krumlov,. This family has been a powerful part of the Czech nobility for a long time, its members having occupied a variety of important posts including Archbishop of Salzburg and Prague, statesman and military leaders. The present head of the family, Karel (Karl VII) Schwarzenberg, is the foreign minister of the Czech Republic.
The ossuary that had existed since late Middle Ages probably would have been of no particular interest to anyone except relatives of the dead buried there, However, the Sedlec Ossuary that you see today is the result of a fateful decision by the House of Schwartzenberg, the noble family that controlled the area.
In 1870, a woodcarver/carpenter named František Rint was hired to organize the bones in the ossuary. What his exact instructions must have been and how far exactly he was told he would be allowed to go must still be open to question. However, what he did was make art of something inherently un-artistic. After all, you're dealing with peoples' bones here.
A further question would have to be why the Schwartzenberg House financed this. After all, they were an important family in Czech nobility, large landowners and a distinguished presence in the power structure of the country. In fact, the head of the Schwartzenberg family today is the Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic!
Regardless, upon accepting the commission, František Rint set forth and created something certainly unique. Regardless of value judgements, he had a job to do. How much input he had from the Schwartzenbergs is, of course, open to question, but their financing of the whole project speaks for itself.
Everything you see in the Ossuary, save for two side chapels, are made of, or decorated by human bones! Now some might certainly argue that using the bones in this way desecrates them fundamentally. After all it is a macabre show. Bones are used to create chandeliers and all sort of other carvings.
In honesty my own feelings changed somewhat as I went through the ossuary. I have always felt that the body that is buried is inviolable, though I felt this display was less than desecrating.
A chandelier made of human bones? Cmon! This chandelier is, in fact, made of human bones. The story says that it makes use of every bone in the human body! It uses hands from the nave with rows of human skulls adoring the vault. I didn't really look at it closely enough to wonder..hey where are the bones of the toe or something like that. Guess you just have to take their word for it.
I hadn't really thought of it before. But it turns out that ossuaries are not at all uncommon throughout the world. They differ somewhat in the different religious traditions. Really, an ossuary is set up for a very practical reason, lack of space to bury the dead and keep all those bones and coffins. So, they gather the bones together and put them in a common place, like a common grave.
What I wondered really was how they reconcile the idea of a person being buried, gone off to eternal rest when their body is disinterred and placed with the remains of others. Normally to disturb that rest is a grievous sin, right? In The Bible, (1 Corinthians ) it says the body of a believer is "the temple of the Holy Spirit." I don't entirely understand then the practice of disinterring a body, and placing it in a common grave, an ossuary.
But, for example, it is common practice at Greek Orthodox monasteries. The body is interred for only three years and then disinterred and put in an ossuary.
How did this ossuary come to be? Well, the ossuary was built in the Sedlec suburb of the town of Kutna Hora. Now remember, at the time, Kutna Hora was one of the more important cities in the Czech Lands because of the wealth generated by the silver mines.
Perhaps the single most important factor was the fact that Sedlec became a very popular place to be buried. Why? Well, Henry, the abbot of the Cistercian monastery, went to the Holy Land in 1278, something not at all uncommon in those times. While there, however, he got himself a jar of soil, presumably from the place where Jesus was crucified. This jar of soil was brought back to Sedlec and spread over the cemetery there. Now it became "Holy Soil" and being buried in a place that mixed with Holy Soil from the Holy Land was considered an enormous privilege. All of a sudden this became one of the more popular places to be buried in Central Europe. By the 14th century some 30,000 persons were buried there.
Around 1400 the All Saints Chapel was built. But this, combined with the additional number of bones/corpses accumulated as a result of natural deaths as well as the Black Plague, created a bit of a problem in that space would have to be made. Some of the older graves would have to be excavated to make way for new "customers". But what to do with these excavated bones?
The ossuary itself was built in 1511 and a half blind monk was tasked with removing the bones from the graves in the cemetery and placing them in the crypt. A reasonable solution to the overcrowding problem. Sure.
When you buy your entry ticket (40Kc in 2007) to the bone church, you'll probably be offered an extra ticket which allows you to take photos inside. BUY IT. It's only 30Kc (again in 2007), and you'll seriously regret it if you don't.
A very popular tourist site and somewhat more unusual one, is the Sedlec Ossuary located in a suburb of Kutna Hora. The Chapel is located beneath All Saints Church. In the 13th century, the Abbot of the monastery in Sedlec was sent by the Czech king on a mission to Jerusalem, and he returned with a handful of earth from Golgotha, which he sprinkled on his monastery's graveyard. This made the cemetery a popular burial site for nobility all over Central Europe. As a result, a huge number of bones accumulated, and in 1870 a woodcarver named Frantisek Rint was commissioned to do something with them. The most notable are the bells in each corner and the chandelier that includes every bone in the human body. The artist also signed his name in bones along the right wall at the bottom of the steps. The ossuary contains the bones of about 40,000 people. Some of the features include Four large bell-shaped mounds occupy the corners of the chapel. An enormous chandelier of bones, which contains at least one of every bone in the human body, hangs from the center of the nave with garlands of skulls draping the vaults.
Every single detail inside the church is made of bones. Check this picture...
In spite of it being really weird and of a doubtful taste, the artist Frantisek Rint did an amazing job here!!! Congratulations!!!
The Schwarzenberg Family is one of the oldest noble families in Bohemia. Everywhere you go, you hear something about them. Frantisek Rint, the artist of Sedlec´s Kostnice, probably reproduced their Coat of Arms to please them or did it at their own request or something like that...
Note the raven picking the eye of a turk. This is the real Schwarzenberg Coat of Arms and it is a symbol of the expelling of the turks from the region.
The Bone Church is more a chapel than a church as it is rather small. You can perfectly visit it in 15 minutes.
As you enter the church, you´ll be given a free brochure that quickly explains what you will see and the history of the place. This brochure must be returned as you leave the church.
This place is great a real treat for the tourist amongst us.. The ghoulish display of bones are the work of a woodcarver called Frank Rint who began this macabre display of art in 1870. The cover charge plus the extra photo charge come to 150 Crowns..
Sadly the Church of Assumption of Our Lady was closed when I visited, but this seems to be a common thing that churches are closed unless a mass or service is taking place due to vandals and thieves sadly to say. From the outside this is an awesome church with fine gothic features...
Frantisek Rint´s creativity should definitely be rewarded!!!
How do you decorate anything with skulls???
The answer should probably be: You don´t!!!
Well, HE DID!!! And that´s f*** bizarre!!!
On each of the 4 corners of the church there are huge bone bells where most of the bones are stored. The Schwarzenberg Coat of Arms is in front of one of these bells.