Kutna Hora & Sedlec Ossuary

St. Barbara’s Cathedral and Jesuit College in Kutná Hora

An hour’s train ride from Prague is the town of Kutná Hora. We knew about it because of the bone chapel in the Sedlec Ossuary, but were happy to see we could spend a full day there. Our train car on the way there was nearly empty; we passed through other cozy-looking towns before coming to Kutná Hora’s station. Hopping on a second, two-car train that shuttles visitors between the station outside of town, the Chapel, and the town itself, added just another couple minutes to the journey.

Interior of the Church of St. James and St. Barbara’s

After a while wandering the old town, we ended up at the Church of St. James. Often overlooked, it is next to a viewpoint that overlooks the imposing former Jesuit College and the Cathedral of St. Barbara. Inside, St. James is quiet and houses an impressive altarpiece.

A ten minutes walk past the Jesuit College (now an art gallery) is the Cathedral. Constructed with money from the city’s silver mines, it is a towering Gothic structure bedecked with gargoyles. Altars built by mine owners (and miners hoping for saints’ protection while underground) dwarf visitors.

Sedlec Ossuary Chapel; bones unearthed during restoration work

After a meal overlooking St. Barbara’s vineyard (which only produces mediocre wine), we walked three kilometers through the old town to the Sedlec Ossuary. The Ossuary is just a small part of a former Cistercian Abbey. The massive Church of the Assumption also survives, though we decided not to pay the entrance fee for another church.

The Ossuary is a small chapel in the center of a small cemetery. From the outside it didn’t look like much, despite the shiny skulls topping the spires. Once we got to the door, however, we discovered otherwise. Since we arrived mid-afternoon we avoided tour groups and were able to walk right in.

Bone chandelier

Bone art is visible from the ticket booth, which is tucked into a corner at the top of stairs leading down into the crypt. The four corners of the underground chamber are walled off and each houses large pyramids made of bones – the resting spot of tens of thousands. Above, garlands of human skills and arm bones decorate the arches. A coat of arms created with tiny bones represents the powerful House of Schwarzenberg. In the center is the famous chandelier made from every bone in the human body. Some skulls show marks from the 15th century Hussite wars – sword cuts and arrow holes.

Ossuary decor

Sedlec Ossuary was eerie, but not disturbing or claustrophobic in the same way Paris’s Catacombs were. It takes only a few minutes to see in its entirety. Since the Chapel was undergoing preservation work, we circled it. In a trench behind the building was an archaeological dig… they had run into more bones. That shouldn’t be a surprise in a cemetery, but that skeleton was more unnerving in its completeness than the random piles inside.

We had a couple of beers at a bar down the street while waiting for our return train. Another few minutes walking got us to the station to meet the evening train back to Prague.