Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic
In a sleepy suburb of Kutna Hora, Sedlec Ossuary is home to around 40, 000 skeletons. They’re not a memorial to a past massacre or genocide, but actually part of the spectacular, if rather macabre, interior design. From bone chandeliers, bone family crests, bone vases, bone… well, you get the idea. There are skulls, tibias and other body parts, many I don’t know the name of, adorning every available surface.
As the train rolled into Sedlec, after miles of snowy villages and industrial wastelands, we wondered if we had the right place. It seemed too still, too empty to house the fantastical church we’d read about. A delicately winding path lead us through a small cemetery of plush, but snow-sodden grass. Thick steps dipped down into the crypt where it was cold and colourless and lacking any of the expected musty smell, which was a bit of a relief considering the banging hangover we were both suffering from.
The skeletons have hung in these elaborate arrangements since 1870. In the 13th century the abbot scattered a handful of holy soil in the cemetery, he’d brought it back, supposedly, from the grave of Jesus in Jerusalem. The ossuary soon became the most popular place to be buried in all of Bohemia. It becoming so desired, in fact, that they ran out of space. The monks decided the best thing to do was dig up the old bones and chuck them in the crypt, making room for the freshly dead.
František Rintn, a local woodcarver, was given the task of finding something to do with them. He bleached the bones and made the bizarre chandelier, the Schwarzenberg coat of arms, which includes a human bone sculpture of a raven pecking at a Turks severed head (there’s a lot of that in the Czech Republic), and put his signature, in other people’s bones, on the wall. Why not?