Czech Out The Sedlec Ossuary

Czech Out The Sedlec Ossuary

If you think that by putting your empty milk containers into the bin with the yellow lid qualifies you as a champion of recycling, think again. That title goes to František Rint who saw a huge pile of unused bones (as opposed to used bones like the ones we need to grab onto a beer bottle) and did the best reduce, reuse, recycle job I’ve ever seen.

You may not have not heard of František before, so here’s some of his handiwork.

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It’s not quite John Singer Sargent, but it’s art none the less and its found in the Sedlec Ossuary (or the aptly named Church of Bones) in Kutná Hora, a sleepy little town that’s a 1 hour train ride out of Prague.

There is, of course, a story to this rather morbid display of ancestry. If you’re not familiar with what an ossuary is, it’s because you come from a country that has a lot of space. You may think that living in a studio flat where you can’t make any sudden movements without hearing glass smash doesn’t qualify you, but you’d be wrong.

An ossuary is an area used for the final resting place of human remains when burial space is scarce. I say human remains, but I mean the skeletal bits- I didn’t see any century-old livers floating around.

A scarcity of space is what happened to the Sedlec Cemetery, which became the fashionable place to be buried after some earth from the Holy Land was imported and scattered on the ground. It became so popular, that soon the cemetery was joined by a church, kind of like a patio extension in reverse.

The only issue was, that in order to build the church some bodies had to be exhumed to make way for the foundations.

This then posed the often pondered conundrum of what to do with all of these bones that you’ve just dug up?

Well for the next 359 years, not much was done with them; and you thought your local council took awhile to fix the potholes in your street.

František was finally employed in 1870 to “tidy things up”. A woodcarver by trade, he turned to what he knew best to put 40,000 skeletons to good use, and this was the result.

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skull2

These carcass-chandeliers are quite a unique find in the Czech Republic, and well worth the blast-to-the-communist-past train ride out of Prague. Trains aren’t regular, especially on a Sunday, where we had to wait a good three hours to get back to our hotel and a well-stocked bar. Still, we passed the time with a not so well stacked bar humming a little ditty:

the leg bone’s connected to the knee bone,
the knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone,
the thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone…

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