Kostnitsa in Sedlec – a church of 40,000 human bones
Kostnitsa in the Czech Republic is one of those sights that evoke 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?
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.
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 all 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.
The history of Kostnice 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 built, which was closed for 350 years after the death of the saint.
The attitude of the people to the deceased changed somewhat over time – the bodies began to be burnt, so the chapel 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.
Architecture and interior
From the outside, Kostnica in Kutna Hora looks like one of the many churches in Bohemia – an austere 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!
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.
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.
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.
|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.
When deciding to visit the Kostnica in Sedlec, listen to the advice of tourists who have been there.
- If you show the cashier a student ticket, you can get a good discount.
- 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.
- 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.
- Photos inside should be taken without flash.
- It is better to visit Kostnice in Kutna Hora with a guide or audio-guide. If not, you can get acquainted with the history of the place on the Internet.
- If you buy a combined ticket, you can visit not only the ossuary itself, but also the neighboring cathedrals of St. Barbara and the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. By the way, it is worth stopping at other places of interest on the way to Kutna Hora. This way you will not only save on sightseeing, but also justify the time spent on the road. St. Barbara’s Church
- Small children, pregnant women and especially impressionable people should better abstain from visiting this temple.
- When going to the ossuary in Sedlec, take some change with you. Tourists believe that a 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 only memories will remain of the Cemetery Church of All Saints.
Video about the trip to Kostnica.
Author: Olga Sheiko
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Kostnica in Kutna Hora
March-October: Mon-Sat 9:00-17:00. November-February: wt-hs 10:00-16:00. The only weekend of the year – December 24.
Kostnice (Kostnice v Sedlci) is a church and ossuary in the Czech Republic, in the suburbs of Prague, Kutna Hora (Sedlec). This place is known for its unusual design – the walls and ceilings of the underground chapel are decorated with unusual figures and ornaments made of real human bones. In total, 50-60 thousand skeletons are used in the interior.
It is impossible to meet anyone indifferent to this chapel. Someone considers the composition in the basement of the Sedlec church blasphemous. Someone with all desire cannot stay long in this peculiar room. But there are those who are convinced that such use of human bones is a true monument to immortality, a “second life” of the perishable human body.
Panorama inside Kostnica in Sedlec – Google Maps
History of Kostnice in Czech Republic
The first question is: how did it happen? How skulls appeared on coats of arms and on chandeliers? The answer to this question lies in the century-old history of these places and a series of fateful events of different scales.
The underground chapel of All Saints in Kutna Hora dates back to the 13th century on the initiative of the Cistercian Abbey in Sedlec. A cemetery was founded there, which for some time was no different from the usual burial grounds.
In 1278 King Ottokar II of Bohemia sent one of the abbots to Israel and he returned with a small quantity of earth from Golgotha. It was scattered over the cemetery, making it the most sought-after not only by Catholics in Bohemia, but also by believers throughout Central Europe.
In the middle of the 13th century, Europe was struck by an epidemic of plague, which took thousands of lives. This rapidly increased the number of burials at the chapel. Further, wars broke out and the number of deaths was frightening. By 1400, there were more than 40,000 burials in the cemetery sprinkled with Holy Ground. The dead were beginning to crowd out the living.
It was decided to make a two-tiered religious structure instead of an underground chapel: a Gothic cathedral with an underground tomb was built in the cemetery – it was decided to store bones from old graves in it.
In the early 16th century, a visually impaired monk of the same Cistercian order watched over the tomb and sorted the bones according to species. The result of his work he arranged in six even pyramids.
At the end of XVIII century, Emperor Joseph II ordered to abolish the monastery. The historic site, which was already about 500 years old at the time, was acquired by the famous family of princes and counts of Schwarzenberg.
A pile of bones in the basement did not bother the family, but they still wanted to put them in order. To this end, they hired a master carver, František Rint, who specialized in woodcarving in 1870. Rint gave free rein to his bold creative impulse and created an exhibition of human bones. His family helped him in his work: his wife and two children.
The media in the 20th century have done their work, and today Kostnica and the Cathedral in Sedlec are among the most popular tourist attractions in Europe. About half a million visitors a year pass through it.
Features of architecture and interior
The Sedlec Cathedral itself is a mixture of architectural solutions: originally executed in a strict Gothic style, it was reconstructed and embellished in the early 18th century in the Baroque style.
But let’s stop at the basement vault, designed by František Rint. At the entrance you are greeted by pillars made of skulls and two crossed tibia bones, bone sculptures resembling huge cups, and a decorative Catholic cross made of the same material. Inside, huge piles of bones arranged in the shape of bells are placed in the four corners.
Of particular interest is the huge bone candelabrum hanging from the ceiling. It contains at least 1 specimen of every element of the human skeleton. The base for the candles consists of hip bones. Among other things, the candelabra contains small figures of angels made of more familiar applied material.
An altar is placed at the far wall. On the way to the altar are four decorative altar carriers, they are decorated with the now familiar ornament: crossed bones and skulls. There you can see another non-boned figure, a crucified Christ. Opposite are candles, to which a lot of coins are thrown – some are left by those who believe in the omen: whoever throws a coin to the Kostnica altar is sure to find a treasure.
The entire ceiling is hung with garlands of skulls; part of the ceiling decorations are made of tibia bones. On one of the walls is the name of the author of the idea and the year of its implementation – 1870.
Next to it is a huge bone family coat of arms of the Schwarzenbergs, which gave the artist a great deal of variety. It is divided into several parts of varying levels of artistic complexity, but Rint managed to recreate each of them accurately.
Opening hours and ticket prices
Opening hours vary depending on the season:
- March-October: Mon-Fri 09:00-17:00;
- November-February: Tue-Fri 10:00-16:00;
- the only weekend of the year – December 24.
As for ticket prices – there are 3 programs, a preferential system and discounts for groups. The preferential group includes children, students, people with disabilities and retirees.
Entrance price to the crypt and passage through the Sedlecký Cathedral:
- individually: adults 160 CZK (570 rub); privileged: 50-120 CZK (180-430 rub);
Program “TOP 3”, including entrance to the crypt, passage through Sedlecký Cathedral and St. Barbara’s Cathedral (Chrám sv. Barbory), does not reduce prices for groups, but is offered at a discounted price:
- adults: 300 crowns (1,070 rubles);
- students and seniors: 230 CZK (820 CZK)
- children: 95 CZK (340 rub).
There is also an opportunity to find yourself on a mystical night tour of the ossuary, which is conducted by candlelight. Details are on the official website of Sedlec.
How to get to the ossuary in Kutná Hora
Sedlec in Kutna Hora is a suburb of Prague. Kostnica can be a highlight of a day of your trip to the Czech capital.
If you got there by train, you can find a Tourist Bus at the station upon arrival and it will take you directly to the site. Or you can walk 15-20 minutes if you came to the central station.
Route to Kostnica from the railway station of Kutná Hora on foot – Google Maps
If you went by bus, you can take shuttle buses from the final bus stop to the place. It is important that Sedlec or Katedrála is in their route. If the route is not specialized, you have to walk about 15 minutes from the bus stop, too.
You can call a car, there are Yandex. Cab and Uber applications are available, and there is a Czech-language service “My Taxi”. If you have a possibility to travel by own or rented car, take freeway E67 from Prague, then turn to Kolín, then take road #38.