Just outside of the Czech Republic capital of Prague, in the nearby city of Kutna Hora, stands the Sedlec Ossuary. Also known as “The Bone Church,” it is one of the most unusual church buildings in the entire world. It doesn’t have the grand exterior of medieval arches or the stunning stained glass windows that many of the other renowned chapels and cathedrals of Europe boast. For the Sedlec Ossuary, it’s what on the inside that sets it apart—its insides are constructed from human bones.
The macabre history of the Bone Church began in 1278 when the King of Bohemia sent the abbot of Kutna Hora to Jerusalem. The abbot returned with a jar of soil from Golgotha, the hill upon which Jesus was crucified, which he spread upon the ground of the graveyard of his small chapel. The “Holy Soil,” in the eyes of many, transformed the grounds into a holy place. Soon, thousands of Czechs asked to buried there, and the cemetery had to be expanded.
Before too long, the cemetery reached capacity. There were so many people buried on the grounds that 14th century accounts describe bones poking through the ground due to its oversaturation. So, in the late 15th century, the authorities at Kutna Hora decided to build a small, medieval-style chapel—the Sedlec Chapel. The basement of the chapel was to be used as an Ossuary or a place to store bones. A group of monks took up the task to dig up many of the crowded residents of the cemetery and stack their bones in the Ossuary.
In the mid-19th century, the abbot of the Sedlec Ossuary desired to do something with the numerous piles of stacked bones in order to expand the chapel. In 1870, he hired a local wood-cutter named Frantisek Rint to undertake maybe the most gruesome interior decorating job of all time—placing the bones in order. Rint approached the job with enthusiasm. The final result was impressively shocking.
Rint constructed all tables, chairs, and decorative wall adornments from the 40,000 skeletons. The chandelier, Rint’s most stunning creation, was created from and contains all 206 bones of the human body. It still hangs from the center of the chapel. Today, the Bone Church is one of the most visited attractions of the Czech Republic with over 200,000 visitors each year.
In 2012, while on a brief visit to Prague, I learned of the Bone Church and decided to make the brief trip to Kutna Hora. As soon as my train arrived at Kutna Hora, I immediately found my way to the Ossuary. I descended down the steps into the basement and found myself in the middle of a real-life horror movie. Hundreds of skulls glared at me from the entire room. The human bones arranged into entranceways, doors, and furniture created one of the most amazing sights I had ever seen. I walked around the Ossuary in dumbstruck amazement. As I exited the Ossuary, the signature of Rint, composed out of human finger bones upon the wall, thanked me for my visit. Still reeling from what I had just seen, I reboarded the train and made my way back to Prague.