(Creepiest) Church on Sunday: Ossuary Sedlec, Prague
After no more than three recommendations by people who (correctly) think I like to see weird churches, we finally had a chance to visit the Ossuary Sedlec in Prague. Sedlec is in the town of Kunta Hora, a one-hour train ride from Prague. Why would I spend hours of my precious two days in Prague going to this Church? Because the interior is decorated with human bones. Really.
The exterior of the 15th Century gothic church looks normal. Well, there IS a skull-and-crossbones paved into the sidewalk, but even that can’t prepare visitors for what lies in store. Upon entering, a visitor is confronted with the thought of death and the sight of thousands of artfully arranged skeletons.
The bones were arranged by a woodcarver named František Rint, who spelled out his name on one wall of the church. Oddly, this was the only display of bones I found to be a little tacky.
Rint gets most of the credit for Sedlec’s unique appearance, but he wasn’t the first person to decorate the space this way. The pyramids were supposedly built by a half-blind monk in 1511. Jan Blazej Santini, a Czech architect who rebuilt the chapel, incorporated the bone pyramids in the chapel entrance. After all, something had to be done with the overabundance of bones buried in the cemetery.
The cemetery had been been in use since the 1278, when an abbot sprinkled holy soil on the site. As news of this act spread, wealthy people sought to be buried there. After losses from plague in the 14th Century and the Hussite wars in the early 15th Century, the bodies piled up. To quote Muz’s worst joke ever, the Sedlec cemetery was so popular, people were dying to get in there.
The Schwarzenberg family (local aristocrats) were disturbed by the piles of people and hired Rint to do something about it. His solution was as macabre as it is beautiful. Over 40,000 bodies were used to decorate the church. The rest of the bones were reburied. The cemetery is now a neat and carefully attended plot of land surrounding the church.
Some might think that the decoration does a disservice to the people who died; others might believe that the decor is sacreligious. The church carefully notes that the bones are meant to represent man’s equality. To paraphrase the church leaflet, it’s believed that all who were buried here will be resurrected in whole, and that they represent the multitudes before God. Still, this Housewife couldn’t help but note the elaborate crypt for 15 wealthy citizens. No one messed with their skeletons.
Still, Sedlec Ossuary, aka “Bone Church” is eerily beautiful in a unique way. It was a strange reminder of our own mortality, the beauty in strange things, and man’s odd response to seeing lots of skeletons: we decided to get back to Prague and put a little meat on our own bones with a Magnum McFlurry.