I have seen plenty of photos of the various Ossuaries around the world, but never thought I would ever visit one as they are not common tourist destinations and they are not seen very often in the UK (or around the world to be honest).

So, this was quite high up the list of ‘must see’ places as part of the week we spend in the Czech Republic and it was some distance away from our ‘base of operations’, however it was more than worth the drive as this place was fascinating.

My feelings on the place varied throughout my visit, initially my thoughts were ‘it’s not really an ideal resting place’ for all these thousands of people, this feeling grew ever stronger as more and more people arrived who if I am honest just seemed to be there for a selfie taking experience and did not seem to bother that much about what this place was, or the fact the ‘artwork’ was made up of the final remains of thousands of people.

I also felt guilty, as I was also one of these people who was here taking photos, but hopefully I managed to be a bit more respectful as my thought throughout the visit were of what this place really was – a building made up of people’s remains. 

 

History

The Sedlec Ossuary is a small Roman Catholic chapel, located beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints in Sedlec, a suburb of Kutná Hora in the Czech Republic. It is one of twelve World Heritage Sites in the Czech Republic. The ossuary is estimated to contain the skeletons of between 40,000 and 70,000 people, whose bones have, in many cases, been artistically arranged to form decorations and furnishings for the chapel.

In 1278, Henry, the abbot of the Cistercian monastery in Sedlec, was sent to the Holy Land by King Otakar II of Bohemia. He returned with him a small amount of earth he had removed from Golgotha and sprinkled it over the abbey cemetery. The word of this pious act soon spread and the cemetery in Sedlec became a desirable burial site throughout Central Europe.

In the mid 14th century, during the Black Death, and after the Hussite Wars in the early 15th century, many thousands were buried in the abbey cemetery, so it had to be greatly enlarged.

Around 1400, a Gothic church was built in the center of the cemetery with a vaulted upper level and a lower chapel to be used as an ossuary for the mass graves unearthed during construction, or simply slated for demolition to make room for new burials.

After 1511, the task of exhuming skeletons and stacking their bones in the chapel was given to a half-blind monk of the order.

Between 1703 and 1710, a new entrance was constructed to support the front wall, which was leaning outward, and the upper chapel was rebuilt. This work, in the Czech Baroque style, was designed by Jan Santini Aichel.

In 1870, František Rint, a woodcarver, was employed by the Schwarzenberg family to put the bone heaps into order, yielding a macabre result.