Boning up on history in the Czech Republic
October 22, 2012
KUTNA HORA, Czech Republic -- Nestled in central Bohemia about an hour east of Prague, visitors to the Sedlec Ossuary are in for a simultaneously bewildering and disturbing attraction worthy of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.
While it's nothing spectacular from the outside, the interior of the "bone church," is far from an average medieval gothic church.
Head to toe, top to bottom, this church is harmoniously blanketed in the remains of more than 40,000 Bohemians. Chandeliers, wall hangings, pyramids, placed in the laps of angels and other Christian relics, around light fixtures and flanking the altar -- all bones.
Skulls, spines, sternums, sacrums. Everywhere.
This holy archive is enriched in artistic expression that began in 1278 when Henry, the abbot of the Cistercian monastery Sedlec, was sent on a mission to the Holy Land and brought back a handful of earth from Golgotha, the site of Jesus' crucifixion, which he sprinkled over the grounds of the monastery.
As the word of this pious act spread, so did the desire to be buried in this abbey cemetery. The plagues of the 14th century, along with the Hussite Wars of the 15th century enlarged the cemetery grounds.
The gothic church was built soon after to vault the mass graves and overpopulation of bones.
The task of unearthing and positioning the bones was first given to a half-blind monk, whose iconography was poised for nearly 300 years. The current design of regenerative remains dates back to 1870 and is the arrangement of a famously demonic Czech wood carver named Frantisek Rint. His name is displayed -- in bones, of course -- on a wall of the church.
Today, the ossuary, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is among the most visited tourist attractions within the Czech Republic, bewitching over 200,000 visitors annually.
Additionally, the site is a popular backdrop for the Hollywood hubbub, racking up numerous credits in movies including "Dungeons and Dragons" and "Blood and Chocolate," as well as being an inspiration for the plot in the novel "The Black Angel."
The church also made cameo appearances in documentaries including "Long Way Round" and "Adventures in Architecture" and its television debut on "Ripley's Believe it or Not."
The macabre result in this vexing architectural effort speaks for itself and there are no bones about it -- Kutna Hora is a must-see destination.