Czech Republic Day 12: Kutna Hora and the Sedlec Ossuary (Bone Church)


Herein you discover the reason I became obsessed with going to Czech Republic.

But first I had to leave Jicin. I hired a driver to drive me from Jicin to Kutna Hora because the train connections would have taken all day. The driver picked me up at the pension. He emerged from the car in a giant puff of cigarette smoke. It was impressive. That had to be at least a half a pack of cigarettes to create that much smoke. He was like some sort of nicotine fueled magician appearing in a puff of brimstone. Maybe he was but I wouldn't know. He wasn't the talkative type.

He drove me through many small towns and villages, past fields looked over by dramatic clouds, the sun glowing coldly through the heads of dead sunflowers and silvered fields of cut grain.


Central Bohemia

And then we were in Kutna Hora. He dropped me off at Hotel U Kata. And here we meet the executioner I mentioned in my last post. U Kata means executioner. Yes, I'd gone from Pension Hell to Hotel Executioner. I swear I didn't do this on purpose but it was perfect anyway. It's called Executioner because the hotel is located where the gate through which the Executioner was allowed into the the city used to stand. It has very nice rooms, although I immediately took out my left knee on the corner of the bed and thus spent my first five minutes there jumping around that very nice room like an idiot and cursing like a sailor.

Kutna Hora is a beautiful old town in central Bohemia, a little over an hour east of Prague. It was once one of Europe's most important cities. Celts, then Slavs, lived in this area but the town really got going with the creation of the first Cistercian monestary in Bohemia, Sedlec Monastery in 1142. But it would be silver mining that put Kutna Hora on the map, silver from a mountain that was part of the monastery property. Around 1300 a royal mint was established here. The town rivaled Prague economically, culturally, and politically from the 14th through the 16th centuries.





I ventured out, it being around 9:30 am or so, and took the train from Kutna Hora mesto (just down the street from the hotel) to Kutna Hora halavni nadrazi (the main train station). I was headed toward Sedlec, a town 2 miles northeast of Kutna Hora.  I was bound for the Sedlec Ossuary, the famous Bone Church. This is what brought me to Prague. About 9 years ago I saw a photo of it on the internet and knew I had to go there. Thus began an obsession with getting to the Czech Republic. I mean the need to go hear has consumed me for years!

It's about a 10 minute walk to the Ossuary from the train station, and you'd think, given that the ossuary was why I was here, not just in Kutna Hora but in the Czech Republic, that I'd make a beeline for it. And I did until I ended up in the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist. Why? Because it was there? I don't know, I just had to go in. It is a beautiful example of Gothic architecture (and of course there's baroque mixed in) and is unique because you can climb up under the roof and look at the vaulting from below.  The original Cistercian monastery located next to it is now a tobacco factory. I find that depressing.



Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist


Interior



Gothic ceiling with baroque painting.



The skulls of monks murdered during the Hussite Wars.



Amazing staircase.



Up in the attic looking down on top of one of the gothic vaults.



When the roof was reconstructed they used no metal nails.



The bones of St. Vincent. His head is made of wax. The bones are covered in gilt embroidery, red velvet, and pearls.

I then headed toward the Sedlec Ossuary, though I stopped off at one of the most unique public restrooms I've ever encountered. It had a convenience store in it. Seriously, you could buy cigarettes and a snack from the bathroom...


Formally known as the All Saints Church in the Sedlec Cemetary, here is the Ossuary, or Bone Church. They were in the process of ripping off the slate roof tiles.
 
Roof repairs.


Now it was time for the Sedlec Ossuary (Bone Church). It's a tiny little chapel sitting in the middle of a cemetery. As mentioned before, this first Cistercian monastery in Bohemia was founded here more than a hundred years before the discovery of the local silver deposits. With this discovery the monestary soon became the economic and cultural center of the area. The cemetery here dates back to the mid-13th century. Because the cemetery was sprinkled with dirt from the Holy Land people from all over, not just Bohemia, chose to be buried here because it was not your average hallowed ground. To add to these dignitaries, during the 1318 Great Plague over 30,000 people were buried here. The number increased in the 1400's during the Hussite Wars. The original cemetery chapel and ossuary had two floors, as it does now. Originally bones from abolished graves were piled around the chapel (upper floor) but later were removed to the lower area. In 1511, a partially blind monk piled the bones into pyramids. Further rearrangements happened in 1661, but the present form dates from 1784 when the Schwarzenberg family took over the monastery property. They hired wood carver Frantisek Rint, and two members of his family, to create the current design. Rint may have used the remains of nearly 40,000 people to decorate the chapel. This giant momento mori sits here to remind us of the limits of human existence but also to reinforce our respect for life.



Entrance way


The chapel



The chandelier. It allegedly uses every bone in the human body. I'm thinking the stapes didn't make it but I don't have proof.


Someone needs to dust the top of the skulls on the chandelier. Love the mandibles strung together as supports.



One of the original pyramids.



A closer look at how the pyramids are laid out.



















Yes, there are cute little angels on top of all the skulls.





 




 



 




Bone monstrance

 
 



Just above you, behind you, as you enter.



The coat of arms of the Schwarzenbergs.



The coat of arms of the Schwarzenbergs, detail. In 1598 Adolf of Schwarzenberg captured the Hungarian fortification of Raab (Gyor), reducing the threat from the Ottoman Empire to western Europe. He was awarded by Rudolph II the addition of a severed head of a Turk with a raven to his coat of arms.
  


 








Yes, the artist signed his work. In bone.



 




You might think it incredibly disturbing or creepy in the chapel. It's not. It's strangely peaceful. Now, the chapel above it. That disturbed me. It has some really strange modern design inside and I was instantly repelled by it. Go figure.

After that I jumped on a bus that took me back to Hotel U Kata. Then I wandered this remarkable town, which once held over 60,000 inhabitants during its heydey as a center of silver mining and royal mint. I wandered cobblestone streets and admired the amazing diversity of architectural styles.


Part of the original city walls



Rennaisance pillar doorway




Detail of building above.


Interesting facade.


Detail
 


Interesting door.

I ate pizza for lunch and then ended up inside the Church of St. James. The outside of this church is starkly gothic but inside it is a mixture of Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance styles. At this point I was getting really sick of baroque interiors. It's not my favorite. I had this happen to me in Spain many years ago. Here you'd walk into what had been a truly amazing and beautiful Moorish mosque and see its heart ripped out and instead find flying putti with fat naked bottoms stuck in the middle of all this amazing Moorish tile work. It broke my heart.

Church of St. James


I wandered east toward St. Barbara's Cathedral. I followed the way there along the old town walls and fortifications then people watched along the the Baroque Sculpture gallery and the old Jesuit College. And there stood the unique and amazing St. Barbara's Cathedral. St Barbara is the patron saint of miners. Construction began on the cathedral in 1388 and wasn't completed until 1905! Johann Parler, son of Peter Parler, aforementioned in my trips to St. Vitus Cathedral and the Old Town Tower in Prague, was probably the first architect. The original design called for a much larger church but as the prosperity of the town declined so too did the funds for the grand plans for this cathedral. It's strange, almost spaceship like shape, almost tent like roof, can be traced to back to this decline as the original plans for the church could not be completed.

I loved the interior of this church. It was wonderfully Gothic still.


St. Barbara's Cathedral



Gargoyle


Interior. Here you can see a miner in traditional medieval garb. They wore white robes. From 1700.


The wondrous ceiling of St. Barbara's



Behind the altar.

 
The very old frescoes adorning the walls in St. Basileus' Chapel, St. Dorethea's Chapel, and Jolly Person's Chapel.



Ceiling above the chapel's mentioned above.


The very old frescoes adorning the walls in St. Basileus' Chapel, St. Dorethea's Chapel, and Jolly Person's Chapel.


Votive scene featuring Michal Smíšek, a local noble.
 




 








Afterwards, just outside the church, by the vineyards terraced down the hill alongside it, they were selling glasses of Czech wine. I stood on the terrace above the vineyards starring into the valley below slowly sipping wine.



If you are that close to the grapes you have to drink the wine.


Former Jesuit College, far left, Baroque Sculpture Gallery, far left, St. James Church, center.


Then  I wandered some more. I found the stone fountain in Rejsek Square. This was sculpted in the late 1400's and was part of the municipal water supply. I was going to visit the Stone House, an example of a Gothic Stone house but couldn't understand the woman at the ticket office and she couldn't understand me. Then I made my way back toward St. Barbara's to take photos as the sun came out in the late afternoon. I had a great cup of tea made at Koffeilove, a tiny hole-in-the-wall coffee house and creperie. Then I took a tour of  the mining museum. I didn't go down into the mines. This is supposed to be spectacular. Instead I was entranced by the whole idea of minting coins and need to follow that line of inquiry. Someday I'll return to go into the mine. I wanted daylight this day.


The Gothic Well


Searching for sustenance.


The interesting and hard to navigate entry to Kofeinlove.


Interesting exterior


Stone house, late gothic Burgher's house.

As it got later I took the red and yellow paths that lead around St. Barbara's and down along the original town walls. Here I got to see a flock of long-tailed tits (really unfortunate name for a beautiful little bird) flitting along the trees and the vines on the walls. They are one of my favorite birds.



The plain gothic exterior of the Church of St. James.


Looking up to some of the original fortifications.



Passing through some of the original walls/fortifications.



Then it was back to the hotel, where in their faux medieval dinning room I enjoyed a giant plate of chicken stuffed with spinach while listening to Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. I was in heaven! 



The faux medieval dining room at Hotel U Kata.









Comments

  1. the cathedrals are stunning....but the bone church freaked me out.

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