In the Prague Suburbs, A Bona Fide Work of Art

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Maybe it’s just me, but a Saturday afternoon just isn’t complete without 60,000 skeletons.  We decided to pay a visit to the Sedlec Ossuary to remedy the situation. But first, we had to find the damn place.

It’s Not the Destination, but the Journey.

The day started so well…

We heard plenty about this chapel, so we were excited to make the short ride to the ‘burbs.  Prague is great, but a chandelier of skulls?  Sign me up!  We grabbed our umbrella and hopped on the next train to Kutna Hora.  We soon realized we failed to look up the address.  Where exactly is said ossuary?  We didn’t know, but there would be a sign or something.  Also, what time was the train back to Prague?  We didn’t know, but there would be a schedule posted or something.

There was no sign.  There was no schedule.  However, there was a tour group, which trumps both in my book.  The group had a dozen or so members—matching T-shirts and all.  Their guide was reciting the story of the Ossuary and reminded them the train to Prague was at 5:00 pm.  Now we knew how to find the chapel and how to get back!  This must have been our lucky day.  I wanted to follow them, but Kim wasn’t convinced.

“This will be nothing like that train ride in Vienna, I promised her. “It’s foolproof.” We followed them on the bus, paid our 30 Koruna, and off we went.  The rain was coming down harder now, so I was very pleased there was a bus involved.  We’d be bonin’ it up in no time.

We seemed to be riding for a while.

How far away is this place?  We must have stopped a dozen times.  Behind us, two British med students discussed how this week’s House was exactly like Renal Pathology 405, so we definitely didn’t miss the stop.  Finally, the tour leader announced that they had arrived, and we gladly followed the mob off the bus.

We were in the middle of nowhere. During the “discussion” that ensued, we lost the group.

We took a moment to assess the situation.  No group.  No map.  No chapel.  No damn umbrella.  Apparently, in our excitement, we left it on the bus.  We had no choice but to start walking.

We seemed to be walking for a while.

We finally saw a church in the distance.  We made it!  We merrily skipped to the entrance with our 60 Koruna and student IDs ready. “This is Sedlec Ossuary, right? The bone chapel?”

Wrong.  We weren’t even close.  The bone chapel was six kilometers away, and the ticket woman was obviously annoyed that we were asking her for directions to a different church.  Luckily, she sketched us a map on a Kleenex anyway, and we followed it faithfully.  After only two hours of wandering in the rain, we finally found the elusive Sedlec Ossuary.  We were literally soaked to the bones, but we made it.

The Destination

The chapel was built around 1400, and the surrounding cemetery dates from the 9th century.  What’s the deal with the bones?  In 1278, the local abbot traveled to Jerusalem and returned with a handful of soil to sprinkle on the cemetery grounds.  Soon enough, half of Europe was vying for a plot in Kutna Hora.  That was well and good…until the bubonic plague popped up.  Then they were dying to get in.

The abbot soon found himself up to his eyeballs in corpses.  He probably should have left that soil on Golgotha hill, in retrospect.  With no graves available, he had a great idea: dig an ossuary!  They exhumed the oldest graves, dumped the bones in the cellar, and plopped the quickly ripening bodies in the emptied graves.  Problem solved.

Dogs are strictly prohibited at the Sedlec Ossuary.

The bones remained in storage until 1870 when the chapel was purchased by the Schwarzenberg family.  The Schwarzenberg’s figured these corpses were a gold mine, so they hired a local woodcarver, Frantisek Rint, to spruce up the place.  Why pay for overpriced sconces at Crate and Barrel when you’ve got thousands of perfectly good bones?  Rint constructed four giant bells in each of the chapel’s corners, the Schwarzenberg coat of arms, and a chandelier comprised of at least one of every bone in the body.  He even made his signature with bones at the entrance.

It’s not exactly an upbeat destination, but it was interesting.  Our moods quickly soured again when we returned to the rain and glanced at a map outside.  The train station was only 700 meters away!  We rode that bus for 20 minutes, walked more than 3 1/2 miles in the rain, and lost our umbrella en route when the church was practically next door to the station.

I almost forgot.  We got to the station at 5:10 pm, so we missed the train to boot.  Kim spent the next two hours reading her Sookie Stackhouse book, and I played Angry Birds while trying to sound like Bill Compton.  “I do declare.  This level is very difficult, Sookie.”

Overall, it was a good day, and it will make the list of Kim’s Tips for Prague.  Check out all the photos from the day on Flickr.

Posted from: Berlin, Germany

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