The Ossuary at Sedlec

At the weekend my old friend Barry was in Prague. He wanted to see the Ossuary at Sedlec so we headed out there on what was the hottest September day I can remember. It’s been a long time since I visited the Bone Church, maybe 15 years, and I had forgotten quite how strange a place it is.

King Ottokar of Bohemia sent Henry, the Abbot of the Cistercian monastery in Sedlec to the Holy Land in 1278. The holy man returned with what was believed to be earth from Golgotha and  sprinkled it over the abbey cemetery. This made the graveyard a very fashionable place to be buried indeed. During the Black Death in the mid 14th century and the Hussite Wars in the early 15th century, thousands of people were laid to rest there. Around 1400 the Gothic Church of All Saints was built in the center of the cemetery. The lower chapel became an ossuary to hold the bones exhumed from the graveyard during it’s construction. In 1870, the Schwarzenberg family hired  František Rint to organise the bones of the 40000 people in there. Rint was a man of considerable talent and rather odd humour as you can tell from what he did.  He turned all those bones into some rather remarkable and strange works of art; chandeliers, coats of arms and altars.

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The crypt is pretty large and, as you would expect, full of skulls and bones and the things Rint made. It’s hard to describe the effect this has. At first, it all feels like a stage-set, one of those things that you see in horror movies or Indiana Jones. Slowly though as you wander around it sinks in; these are really human bones. These were once real people just like you. Then it becomes a bit disturbing. The skulls and bones seem smaller than you would expect. I’m not sure whether that’s because people were smaller back then or just because skulls really are smaller than you would think. Anyway, it’s an interesting place. I would like to thank my wife Radka for letting me use her pictures here.

 

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Comments

  1. Any notion of how many individuals went to make it all up? Must be tens of thousands…

  2. I’ve handled some modern human skulls and they were about as big as you’d expect from touching your own head, so I think it’s that people were smaller back then. Especially when you consider helmets from the period.

    On the other hand, a human brain is quite a bit smaller than you’d imagine, because the skull is reasonably thick and then there are the membranes and fluid insulating it.

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