Many people think of churches as a place of sanctuary and solemnity with beautiful stained glass mosaics of religious icons and biblical figures presented in an awe inspiring setting that calms and relaxes your spirit. These have always been very curious places for me so this will definitely not be the last church I discuss. Not only do you feel at ease, but you also feel a little anxious. Churches have always been a place of rest and peace for the dead and yet sometimes they can get a little overcrowded. Sometimes the amount of dead outweigh the amount of space needed to properly put them at rest. You have probably heard about the catacombs of Paris (this will be a focus of a completely different post indeed) and I have shown you a few curious Tibetan traditions for dealing with the dead, but you have never seen anything like this!
Tucked away in the Czech Republic, in a small town of Sedlec, lies a very average looking 13th century chapel. On the outside there is nothing extraordinary about it, but as you go inside you realize that you will never go into any place quite as curious or as unusual. This particular chapel is known as an ossuary and is decorated with over 40,000 different human skeletons! This is the reason why the Sedlec ossuary has been dubbed the Church of Bones.
Why so many bones? Such a curious question that has a curious answer.
In the 13th century an abbot from the chapel was sent to Jerusalem and upon his return he brought back a sack of soil from Golgotha, a very “holy soil”. Soon the rumor of the abbot’s holy soil spread around and the cemetery in Sedlec became a very desirable burial site. With the outbreak of the black plague in the 14th century the cemetery had to be greatly enlarged. During the 15th century, a large Gothic church was built close to the cemetery. What to do with all the bones? Well that is where the chapel came into play.
At first the bones were just stacked in the chapel. It wasn’t until the 1870’s that a half blind woodcarver was given the task of exhuming the bones and his curious choice of displaying the remains turned out to be impressively shocking.
There are many curious pieces of artwork on display and all of them are made entirely of bone. One of the first things you see is the enormous chandelier which lies in the very center of the church. The chandelier is composed of at least one of every single bone found in the human body. Another is the coat of arms of Schwarzenberg also made entirely of human bone (which includes a bird made of human bones pecking at the eye socket of a skull!) There are bone heaps, bone piles, bones connected to the walls, bones in the shapes of vases. The signature of the woodcarver, Master Rint, is also made of bone and can be found at the entrance. If I had made something that curiously spectacular I would like people to know it was me as well!
This chapel is open to the public so if your curiosity ever leads you to the Czech Republic did not be afraid of the remains of the dead for I doubt they will be afraid of you. They’ve been put on display for you to see. Curiously, they want to be seen!