Day 51 (3.5.17): 40,000 Skulls

(It’s day 61 right now, and I’m still struggling to catchup on what’s been happening.  I’ve been dying to write this one for a while.)

We got up on Sunday morning, packed, ate breakfast at a nearby restaurant, and said goodbye to Prague.  We headed further east to Sedlec, which is on the outskirts of a small town called Kutná Hora.


We made this trip with one goal in mind:  visiting the Sedlec Ossuary.  Apparently, in the late 1200s, someone went to Israel, got a handful of dirt, and then spread it around a small cemetery in Sedlec.  This made the cemetery the “it” place to be buried in central Europe.  Throw in the Black Plague and a few wars, and you get some serious overcrowding problems.  Old remains were dug up to make room for new remains, and so on.  Eventually, somebody realized that an ossuary was the only solution.  It’s like high density housing for the dead.

When we got to Kutná Hora, we drove around in circles for a while failing to find the ossuary.  The problem was that all of the signs were in Czech (gasp!).  It turns out that “ossuary” in Czech is “Kostnice.”  Who knew?!

We soon forgot about those hiccups as we approached the ossuary.  Around the chapel, the ground was excavated (for reasons unknown).


This was just a taste of what we were about to see .  We started by walking down some stairs to reach a large chamber underneath the chapel.  Here’s what we saw above us:


Underneath, there was a huge chandelier made from — guess what?– bones!


It was as macabre as I’ve ever seen.  The story was that the bones were first arranged by a blind monk, who upon completing the arrangement regained his sight.  You either had to laugh about the arrangements a little bit or take it very seriously.  We chose the former, of course.  #bonehat


We talked about how weird it was that looking at bones is creepy.  I mean, each of us has a skull in our heads, right?  Anyway, in the corners of the chamber, there were huge decorative mounds of … bones!

I’m not sure why some skulls got positions of importance.


The bones were arranged at the behest of a local noble family, so they got to have their family crest made into bones.


It was really impressive how different types of bones were used for artistic effect.  A bird!  Made of bones!  Pecking out the eye from a skull!  Yeesh.


A case displayed some skulls from people killed or wounded in battles in the 1500s.  This skull had been hacked with a sword or axe.


There was also a large vase made from — you’ll never guess it — bones!


Cassie clearly wasn’t bothered by the bones.


Our tickets to the ossuary also allowed us to get into the local cathedral.  We figured we would check it out since we were there.  First, we had to find our way there.  Julie was driving while I gave her directions.  I *might* have sent her down a road that was very small.  There *might* even have been a sign that said that the road was for pedestrians only.


It turns out, Kutna Hora was one of the coolest town we’d never heard of.  The town used to be a big deal.  The local mountains have rich silver deposits, and from about 1200 to 1500, Kutna Hora was second only to Prague in terms of economic and political might.  Then there were a series of battles and fires, and by the end the silver mines were intentionally flooded with water, which apparently is still there.  The city fell into ruin, so that today it’s a small, sleepy town with a medieval center.  After a little hunting, we found a place to get pizza for lunch.  At least it didn’t have any bones!


The town felt different from any other small medieval town that I’ve visited.  It was distinctly Eastern European.  After lunch, we walked to the cathedral.  Along the way, we found a modern art museum with a cool installation outside.


They girls had fun playing with it, but it sounded horrible.

As we started getting closer to the cathedral we started seeing more signs of the former glory of the Kutna Hora.  At this point, we didn’t know that Kutna Hora used to be such a big deal.


We were stunned to have found such an amazing cathedral in this nearly unheard-of town.  It turns out that it was designed by the son of the guy who designed the cathedral in Prague.  Construction on the cathedral began in 1388.


The cathedral certainly had a “fallen from grace” feel to it.  The flying buttresses and the space inside were amazing, but many of the stained glass windows were gone, replaced simply with clear glass.


Still, the medieval frescos inside were phenomenal.  They showed how people worked in a medieval mining town.  Look at the pointy shoes!


From the cathedral we went back to the car, and drove home to Munich, with the kids quickly falling asleep.  We had stayed in Kutna Hora a lot longer than we had planned, but it was certainly worth it.







5 thoughts on “Day 51 (3.5.17): 40,000 Skulls

  1. Fascinating – thanks for including all of the history too. Very interesting! My compliments to the photographer(s) too – it’s so cool to have the visuals of what you guys are seeing. Love all of the amazing adventures you are having!


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