Regarded as part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site of Kutná Hora, the Sedlec Ossuary is a Roman Catholic Chapel housing the bones of 40,000 to 70,000 humans arranged throughout the ossuary in an artistic and aesthetic fashion. The ossuary lies below the Cemetery Church of All Saints in the Sedlec suburb of Kutná Hora in the Czech Republic. The history of the Sedlec Ossuary dates back to the 13th Century when Abbot Henry of the Sedlec Monastery visited the Grave of the Lord in Jerusalem and returned back with a handful of earth from the holy place and scattered it cross the soil of the Sedlec cemetery. Since then, the cemetery had become a popular place for burial. Many victims of the Black Death and those killed in the Hussite Wars were also buried at this site during the 14th and 15th Centuries.
Sedlec Ossuary is a major tourist attraction in the Czech Republic, receiving about 200,000 visitors each year. It is well known across the world for its bizarre bone decorations and is often noted as one of the most mystical places in the Czech Republic. For visiting the ossuary, tourists need to travel to Kutná Hora which is located about 70 kilometers from Prague, the capital city of the country. Besides the ossuary, visitors also tour other landmark tourist sites in Kutná Hora like the Cathedral of Our Lady and the St. Barbara’s Cathedral.
A number of unique features create eerie but spectacular sights in the Sedlec Ossuary. One of its most notable features is the enormous chandelier made up completely of bones from the human body, representing at least one copy of every human bone. There are also six enormous bell-shaped or pyramidal mounds of bones at the corners of the ossuary, two monstrances (vessels used in Roman Catholic for the convenient exhibition of some object of piety) made of bones on either side of the altar, the House of Schwarzenberg’s coat of arms, candle trees made of bones, and much more. There are also various other bone arrangements decorating the celling and walls of the ossuary.
Two important names are associated with the designing and construction of the Sedlec Ossuary. Jan Blažej Santini Aichel was the architect of the ossuary which was built using the Baroque Gothic style. František Rint was the man behind its bone designs, arrangements and objects. He was a famed local woodcarver who was hired by the Schwarzenberg noble family to make good use of the human skulls and bones at the ossuary. He and his team of workers went through painstaking processes of disinfecting, bleaching and arranging the thousands of bones into the shapes and forms that we see today. The majestic bone chandelier, the bone laden coat of arms, the monstrances and all other bone decorations of the ossuary were his brainchild. His signature style is thus completely unique and unparalleled.
Threats and Preservation
The Sedlec Ossuary being a marvel of human ingenuity and creation, needs to be preserved well for future generations to marvel at its eerie beauty and jaw-dropping bone architecture. Since bones can be preserved for millions of years, there is little threat to the structures of the ossuary from aging processes. It is important to regulate the tourist footfall in the ossuary and to ensure none of it structures are damaged by irresponsible tourists grasping at its delicately arranged bone structures. Since the ossuary is recognized internationally as a major tourist destination, generating significant tourism income for the country, its preservation is also of prime importance to the Czech Republic.