Friday, April 20, 2012

Prague Spring Holiday - The Ossuary in Sedlec

One of the more unusual stops was at the small city Kutna Hora which I will get back too later.  Sedlec, a village on the outskirts of Kutna Hora was home to a Cistercian monastery from 1142.  Since it was located in the dead centre of town, a cemetery was established at the monastery in the ealy-mid 13th century.  In 1278, the King of Bohemia sent the Abbot to Jerusalem, from whence he returned with a jar of earth from the Grave of Christ which he scattered on the cemetery, thus making  it part of the Holy Land.

Make no bones about it, people from all over Europe were suddenly dying to be buried there.  The cemetery got a real boost in clientele in 1318 adding 30,000 bodies from an outbreak of plague.  Then the Catholic church threw a hussyfit over the deemed heretical teachings of Jan Hus and John Wycliffe which were quite popular and well accepted in Bohemia.  This set off the Hussite Wars, which not only added bodies to the graveyard but resulted in the burning down of the monastery.

So the All Saints Cemetery Chapel with two towers and two floors was constructed on the Monasterical grounds on top of the cemetery .  All the bones dug up from the construction of the Chapel and another church nearby were piled into the lower floor of the chapel which became known as the Ossuary of Sedlec, (Pile of Bones having already been spoken for).

Ossuary of Sedlec
In 1511 they hired a half-blind monk to stack the bones neatly into 6 pyramids, which were rearranged in 1661.  (You cannot make this stuff up). In the 18th century the Chapel and Ossuary underwent modifications and the entire Monasterial lot was purchased in 1784 by the Schwartzenburgs who also owned the Hluboka castle (see previous post).

They hired a wood carver to decorate the Ossuary.  The six pyramids of bones, estimated to represent some 40,000 persons, were disinfected and bleached, then bones from two pyramids were used to make the rather macabre decor in the pictures below.

The Chalice
Ceiling over chandelier
Family Crest of Schwartzenbergers

One of four remaining pyramids of bones

12 comments:

  1. Extremely interesting...thanks for the history and pics.
    the Ol'Buzzard

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  2. I find that just a tad bit morbid. Strange customs of the past they had.

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    1. Thanks, O'B.
      Demeur, it didn't seem morbid, just totally weird, like their should have been witches and demons and stuff. Straight out of Conan.

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  3. Amazing that they would get a family crest made from bones. I don't think the pile of bones that was here was quite so artistic.

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    1. I have seen pictures. They were neatly stacked, though, waiting for a railcar to load. They were ground for fertilizer.
      Loved that the guy asked to see the pile of bones.

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  4. A few years back we had some visitors at work from a US power company. One said he would like to see the pile of bones he heard about. I had to tell him "No that was cleaned up quite a while ago."

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  5. Wow. Definitely one of the cooler ossuaries I've seen photos from. Usually the bones are just stacked, no attempt to upcycle them into art, although sometimes they're sorted by type (i.e., all the skulls together, all the femurs in another pile, etc.).

    Demeur, ossuaries were supposed to be morbid. The bone display was meant to remind you of your own mortality and that it didn't matter who you had been in life, rich or poor, once you're dead everyone's the same in the eyes of God -- and everyone dies eventually.

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    1. Thanks, Nan. I really didn't know my ossuary from a hole in the ground until now. I knew what it was but not why it was. Much appreciated.

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  6. I've been reading about this place for years. Fascinated. In fact I'm about to write a novel and it's going to work its way in there, in a minor way. I wonder if I can get a tax-deductible trip out of it. For research.

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    1. All great authors try to see first hand the locations they write about as part of their research if they wish to be deemed credible. Why not you? I never thought about the tax deductible part but it does make sense. Historic novel; Gothic novel, mystery, drama or humour? All of the above.

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  7. That is straight-up HORRIFYING!!! I don't think I could handle going into that building. I'd be way too heeby-jeebied.

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