Human remains. Hundreds of years old. Decorating a church.
It doesn’t seem quite right does it? A place of worship and religion, packed full with remains of the deceased. It seems slightly ironic in fact. To me, ‘the bone church’ sounds more like the title of a horror film than a religious building.
The Ossuary (Kostnice in Czech) is located about an hour outside of Prague in a traditional, dated and somewhat eerie feeing town named Kutna Hora. Surrounded by miles of picturesque rural Czech countryside, the town is small and secluded. Standing at the train station, with its old fashioned speaker system and signs makes it feel as if you have stepped back into World War Two.
The town itself couldn’t be more of a contrast to its nearby neighbor Prague. The sleepy streets and shops see barely any people and the pace of life is quiet, slow and peaceful. Most of the business the town sees comes from the handful of tourists that make the trip there from Prague to see the ‘bone church’.
Upon arrival at the church it seems nothing out of the ordinary. However, as soon as you enter the church you are greeted with something most unique and unusual: bones.
Bones, bones and more bones.
The church is relatively small in size and is filled with the remains of hundreds, if not thousands of human bodies. In each corner of the church there is a pile of skulls, more skulls than most people will ever see outside of a horror movie. The only time I had ever seen skulls like this was in the stupas in Cambodia.
The church is extensively decorated with bones, it’s as if it’s almost a morbid Christmas grotto; with chains of bones drooped across the walls like tinsel. The key feature is the impressive chandelier in the center of the church, creatively made with every bone in the human body. There are also various displays of bones including a display case showing bones wounded by medieval weapons and a coat of arms depicting a raven picking the eye from an invading soldier.
This church demonstrates a different time, a different era and a very different way of life. It demonstrates death, but also faith and belief.
My biggest question though was ‘why would somebody build such a place?’
Well, myth has it that one of the monks of the church went crazy and began to build things out of the many bones surrounding the church. When the time came to remove some of the graves that had been there for many, many years, the monk entrusted a group of partially blind monks to retrieve the bones and strategically place them around the church. Years later, in 1870 a woodcarver then completed the job by creating the decorations and sculptures.
The aim of the bone church is to create a reminder of the impermanence of human life and inescapable death.
As eerily unusual as it seems, it is a fantastic work of art, and I certainly have never seen another building like it. Definitely worth a visit at some point for any keen traveller!