Kostnitsa in Sedlec – a monument made of human bones in Bohemia

Kostnitsa in Czech Republic

The Kostnitsa in Sedlec is a Gothic church in the northeastern outskirts of the Czech town of Kutna Hora. The Catholic church is also called the Church of All Saints. Its underground chambers, or crypt, contain the largest ossuary in Bohemia, the place where skeletonized remains are kept. However, in the church in Sedlec, human bones are not just stored – they decorate the entire temple. Skulls and parts of skeletons are used for decorating walls, arches and ceiling vaults, Catholic crosses and chandeliers. It is believed that in the church used from 40 to 50 thousand bones. A visit to the Kostnica in Sedlec makes a strong impression, and excursions to this church are included in many tours of the Czech Republic.

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Video: Kostnitsa in the Czech Republic

Highlights

The tradition of keeping the bones of the dead existed and still exists in different nations. Jews, Roman Catholics and Orthodox have long used urns, crypts and separate buildings to store skeletonized remains. In many cultures, such customs symbolize a belief in life after death. Human skeletons make you feel that existence is fleeting and make you think about eternal life.

Not all tourists are ready to go inside the Kostnica in Sedlec. Some find it difficult to do so for religious reasons or out of simple human fear of death. For them, the very idea that the interior decoration of the temple is made of bones is horrifying. Others, on the contrary, find the interiors made of human bones and skulls amusing and have no negative feelings about visiting here.

Those who dare to look at the unusual Czech church can see many interesting things in it. For example, the candelabrum, which uses all the bones of the human skeleton, or lined with bones and skulls coat of arms of the former owners of these lands – the rich noblemen Schwarzenberg.

Interior of the Kostnica Chandelier of bones and skulls

History of the Kostnica in Bohemia

In the 13th century there was a monastery in Sedlec that belonged to the Cistercian order of white monks. One day the Czech King Přemysl Ottočar II sent the abbot of the monastery on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The abbot visited the holy Mount Golgotha and brought back some earth from there. When he returned home, he scattered it over the local cemetery.

After this, the cemetery ground came to be regarded as holy. Many noble families from Bohemia and other countries wanted to find a rest there. The territory of the cemetery expanded quickly.

In the 14th century, a terrible plague epidemic broke out in all of Europe, and people were dying of the disease in tens of thousands. In the next century, large numbers of residents died as a result of the Hussite wars. It soon turned out that there was nowhere else to bury the dead, as there were almost no more places suitable for burials.

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The number of human bones is horrifying! Schwarzenberg family coat of arms

It was then that Central Europe began to bury the dead a second time. Bones that had lain in the ground were dug out and placed in chapels, so-called “ossuaries,” and the graves that became vacant were used again for burials. Such a chapel in the central part of the Sedlec cemetery was built around the year 1400. It was built as a Gothic church with a special tomb – an ossuary for storing the skeletonized remains of the dead.

It is known that in the 16th century in Sedlec, skeletons were dug out by a half-blind monk, whose name has not survived in history. He bleached the bones and skulls extracted from the ground and placed them in pyramids. Much work was done, and from the human skeletons and individual bone fragments the monk put together six high pyramids. When the monk died, the members of the monastic community locked up the chapel, but the bone pyramids inside it were not touched.

At the beginning of the 18th century, the church was rebuilt. One of its walls began to lean outward, so a new entrance was added to the temple, which could strengthen the wall. In addition, the upper tier of the church was reconstructed in Baroque style under the trends of fashion.

In 1794, by imperial decree, the Cistercian monastery was closed, and the lands of the monastery and its ossuary belonged to the noble noble Schwarzenberg family. In 1870, the famous Czech carver František Rint commissioned him to decorate the ossuary in Sedlec with bones that had accumulated over the centuries. He whitened the skeleton parts with bleached lime and used them to create compositions and individual elements for the decoration of the interior of the Catholic Church. The results of his work have survived to this day.

Signature of the Master Pyramid of Bones

What you can see in the church

From the outside, the Kostnitsa in Bohemia is unremarkable. It is a Gothic, a little gloomy in appearance, dominated by simple forms and austere lines. It has arched windows and a few small towers.

But the interior decoration of the church is striking. In the corners of the building are piles of bones in the form of huge bells. The iconostasis, vaults and arches are lined with skeletonized human remains. Vases and ceiling decorations are made of them.

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In the nave of the church a large candelabrum is placed, which is decorated with garlands of skulls. From bones even fastenings of this chandelier to a ceiling are made. The chancel carriers in the altar and the Schwarzenberg family coat of arms, topped with a bone crown with a cross, are made of the same technique. Carver Rint even made his own signature on the wall, which can be seen to the right of the church entrance, from bone.

Visitors to the Kostnica in Sedlec have developed several customs. One of them is to leave coins near the skulls. Since tourists from all over the world come here, there are coins from various countries in the Czech church.

Useful information for tourists

The Kostnica in Sedlec can be visited any day of the week. It is open from morning to evening except Christmas. From November to February – from 9.00 to 16.00, from April to September – from 8.00 to 18.00, in March and October – from 9.00 to 17.00 and on Sundays – from 9.00 to 18.00.

Admission is charged: 90 CZK for adults, 60 CZK for children. There are discounts for families and group tickets.

Inside the temple it is forbidden to take pictures with a flash. If someone tries to break the rule, an audible alarm goes off.

Reconstruction of Kostnica in the Czech Republic

Since 2014, Kostnica has been undergoing renovation work that will last up to 10 years. Contrary to erroneous information circulating on the web, the entrance is open to visitors, and only the areas where renovations are currently underway are inaccessible.

How to get there

From Prague to Sedlec you can travel in different ways. From Prague’s Florenc bus station to Kutná Hora there are regular buses. From Kutná Hora you can easily get to Sedlec by shuttle buses or on foot.

There are trains from Prague’s Hlavní Nádraží Central Station to Kutná Hora every 2 hours. It takes about an hour to get to the main station in Kutná Hora (Kutná Hora hlavní nádraží). From there to Kostnica in Sedlec, there are 8-seater Tourist Bus services.

If you reach the church by car, from the Czech capital head eastwards and take road E67 for around 50 km, then turn south-east towards Kolín and after 30 km south-west towards Kutná Hora.

Kostnica in Sedlec – the church of 40 thousand human bones

Kostnica in Czech Republic is one of those attractions, which cause mixed and quite ambiguous feelings. On the one hand – admiration, genuine interest, a desire to take selfies against a pile of bones. On the other hand – unbelievable horror and awe. And what will you feel after getting acquainted with the crypt?

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The chandelier of bones in Kostnica

General information

Kostnica or the Cemetery Church of All Saints is a small medieval church located on the outskirts of Kutná Hora, 80 km from Prague. It used to be famous for its rich silver mines, but after their closure, the only tourist attraction of the city remains this church, created from 40,000 human bones.

Skulls at Kostnica

Of course, in the Middle Ages chapels in which the remains of the dead were kept were the most common, but we are sure that the Czech Kostnica would have resonated even with ancient people. And that is because in this temple the bones are not only preserved, but also act as the main elements of the interior. Because of this characteristic few people dare to visit the bone repository in Sedlec in the Czech Republic alone, and even in the dark time of the day. But during the day there are regularly organized guided tours.

Historical background

Kostnica inside

The history of Kostnica in Bohemia began in the 13th century, when one of the abbots scattered the ground brought from Golgotha over the cemetery of the Sedlec Monastery. After this event, the place came to be known as a holy place and it was considered an honour to be buried there. The fame of the monastery’s cemetery became so high-profile that the dead began to be brought there, not only from Bohemia, but also from neighboring countries.

When in 1318 an epidemic of plague hit a large part of Europe’s population, the monks decided to expand the monastery’s territory and liquidate almost all old graves. Since at that time they couldn’t recycle ashes properly, the excavated bones were simply thrown into the cellars of the monastery’s chapels.

The next cleaning of the cemetery in Sedlec began in 1511. At that time, an old and nearly blind monk was entrusted with the task of digging up the human remains. This time, however, the bones were not “buried” in the cellars: the monk bleached them with bleach, sorted them into six pyramids. This is how the Kostnice in Kutná Hora was born, which after the death of the monk was closed for a whole 350 years.

Interior of Kostnica

Over time, people’s attitudes toward the dead changed somewhat – the bodies began to be burned, so the chapels in Sedlec remained unclaimed for many years. The situation changed only in 1870, when the monastery was taken over by Prince Schwarzenberg. Being dissatisfied with what he saw, the new owner decided to redecorate everything. Frantisek Rint, a local woodcarver, was invited to reconstruct the chapel. He had his own take on the task, which was to turn the church into something Gothic, so instead of carved panels, pilasters and capitals, the church’s interior was decorated with remains found underground. It is in this form that the Kostnica church in Sedlec has been preserved to this day. Now it is one of the most popular tourist sites not only in the Czech Republic but also in Central Europe.

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Architecture and interior

From the outside, Kostnica in Kutna Hora looks like one of the many churches in the Czech Republic – a strict Gothic church with arched windows, several towers and the usual geometric shapes. But the interior of the church is really striking. But first things first!

The church at Kostnica

In addition to the huge bone bells on either side of the entrance to the crypt, there are also bone vaults, arches, decorations and vases. Other interior elements are also made of skeletonized human remains. Of these, particular attention should be paid to the church iconostasis, the monstrance and chalice at the main altar, and a huge candelabrum decorated with garlands of skulls. If you look closely, you can see that not only the chandelier itself is made of bones, but also the candle bases and the mounts that hold it in place.

Jesuit symbol

The coat of arms of the Schwarzenberg family, crowned with a crown of bones and a cross, is also made using the same technique. Not only that, the carver Rint even performed his own painting from the bones. It is easy to see the painting on the wall at the entrance to the temple.

No less worthy of attention is the basement vault, near the door of which are several bone elements – sculptures in the form of huge cups, a decorative cross and pillars made from skulls and two crossed bones.

Practical information

The ossuary is located at Zamecka 279, Kutna Hora 284 03, Czech Republic.

  • October – March: 9.00 – 17.00;
  • April – September and Sundays: 9.00-18.00.

The crypt is open every day except December 24.

Bone Vault
Adults Children, pensioners, disabled people
Individual admission fee 90 60
Parents with children

You can buy tickets at the ticket office next to the information center, located literally 200 m from the crypt (Zámecká Street 279). The ticket office is open until 15.00. Cash and bank cards are accepted.

Note! Check the official website of Kostnice – www.sedlec.info/en/ossuary/ for up to date prices and opening hours.

The prices and schedule on the page are for May 2019.

Useful tips

When deciding to visit the Kostnica in Sedlec, listen to the advice of tourists who have been there.

  1. Showing the cashier a student ID, you can get a good discount.
  2. The easiest way to get to Sedlec is by train, leaving from the main railway station in Prague and going to the station Kutna Hora. Then you can either walk or take a local bus.
  3. Keep in mind that the trip to the ossuary may take much longer than expected. “The culprit” is the trains, which in 90% of cases are 30-40 minutes late.
  4. Photos inside should be taken without flash.
  5. It is better to see Kostnice in Kutná Hora with a guide or audio-guide. At the very least, you can get acquainted with the history of the place on the Internet.
  6. If you buy a combined ticket, you can visit not only the ossuary itself, but also the neighboring St. Barbara’s and Ascension of the Virgin Mary Cathedrals. By the way, it is worth stopping at other places of interest in Kutna Hora on the way. So you will not only save on sightseeing, but also justify the time spent on the road. St. Barbara’s Church
  7. Small children, pregnant women, and especially impressionable people should better abstain from visiting this temple.
  8. Going to the ossuary in Sedlec, take some change with you. Tourists believe that the person who leaves it at the altar will soon become rich. Whether this belief has had any effect on the financial situation of the “parishioners” remains unknown. As for the temple itself, mountains of coins from various countries have piled up here.

As you can see, Kostnica in the Czech Republic – a unique place, causing a lot of controversy and leaving no one indifferent. If you decide to visit it, do it soon. The fact is that the church and the surrounding land have started to subside. This phenomenon has a logical explanation – under them, as well as under the majority of Kutná Hora and Sedlec, stretch kilometers of underground mines and tunnels, undermined by water. Who knows, perhaps in the near future the Cemetery Church of All Saints will be nothing but a memory.

Video about the trip to Kostnica.

Author: Olga Sheiko

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