I awoke early for the 6:02 a.m. regional train out of Prague to the Czech countryside town of Kutna Hora. I was on my way to see a place that had been on my ‘to-do’ list for a long time. Sedlec Ossuary; the infamous church decorated with human bones. The journey took one hour and shrouded in fog, although I did see out the window my first wild deer standing in ploughed fields.
To the Ossuary, Kutna Hora train station is an easy twenty minute walk following tourist signs and children on their way to school. Sedlec is an outer suburb of this former silver mining boom town.
I arrived early and filled in time breakfasting on something that looked like a sausage roll from a small supermarket around the corner from the Ossuary. The only other shops around were closed souvenirs vendors.
At the Ossuary, a German film-crew was setting up their cameras outside the entrance. I walked around the surrounding graveyard, noticing a lot of fresh flowers left by early morning locals who had been coming and going quickly.
A 13th Century Abbot brought soil back from Golgotha and sprinkled it over the Ossuary graveyard, spurring a belief that if one was buried here, their body decomposed to dust in three days.
In the 1500’s, bodies had been dug up due to over-crowding. It is said that a bored, half-blind monk decided to do something constructive with the stacked bones of 40,000 people around the Ossuary and used them for interior design.
The Schwarzenburg family bought the Ossuary in the 1700s and commissioned a woodcarver to redecorate some more. He added a coat-of-arms and a chandelier made from every bone in the human body.
After opening time at 9:00, I walked in and was immediately warned to “shhhh” by one of the film-crew. Gunther von Hagens, a recognisable and controversial face from German ghost-and-ghoul TV documentaries, was being filmed under the chandelier.
Creeping around inside, trying not to make echoing stepping sounds, the place seemed smaller than I thought it would be, but definitely big on bones and decoration. There were four large bells or pyramids stacked and surrounded by a protective ‘fence’. A glass cabinet displayed more unusual skulls, including one with a huge hole that had started to heal.
Hanging outside one of the bell pyramids was the Schwarzenburg coat-of-arms. A bird is depicted in the bottom-right panel pecking out an eye. Some of the designs have a touch of humour about them.
The chandelier was definitely impressive and worth seeing in real life, although Gunter hogged my photo frame as he perfected his spiel underneath. This place is a unique piece of alternative art.
I left Gunter and his team to it as I exited past the gift shop full of tacky skull trinkets.
I had a fifty minute wait for my train back to Prague. I waited on the empty station platform until Misha, a painter from Ukraine approached me asking if I had a cigarette. Our language limitations revealed that he was a painter and played racquetball. He insisted on shaking and kissing both my hands, pleased to meet someone from a place so far away that he couldn’t fathom where it was.
Then he groped my breast so I moved elsewhere on the platform and pondered how that would be a sexual assault in my country.