The Church of 40,000 Skulls – Sedlec

Kutná Hora is located approximately 80 kilometres east of Prague. A quiet town today, it was once the second most important city in the Kingdom of Bohemia, after Prague.

The origins of Kutná Hora can be traced back to a group of Cistercian Monks who founded a monastery here in the suburb of Sedlec in 1142. Kutna Hora would soon become one of the richest towns in all of Europe with the discovery of silver in the Osel Mine.  According to legend, in the 13th Century, Anthony a monk from the Sedlec monastery found three silver rods arranged in a trident, after which a silver mine was developed on the property of the monastery. The Cistercian monastery gained extraordinary profits as the silver ore was dug out from under it’s lands. Indeed the Osel Mine would become the largest silver mine in the world. Adjacent to the monastery, a cemetery was established.

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During the Hussite wars of the fifteenth century, some two thousand Hussites killed by the crusaders of Pope Martin V were thrown down the mine shafts, their bodies left to rot. In 1546, the mine was completely flooded and in time with the thirty year war, plagues and other disasters the mine never fully recovered. In the fire of 1770, the town of Kutna Hora was devastated by a fire and the detailed plans of the location of the tunnels and the shafts were lost. Today nobody knows the location of the vast tunnel network dug out entirely by hand over a period of five hundred years which once descended almost six hundred metres into the depths of the earth.

The once wealthy Cistercian monastery attached behind the Cathedral of Assumption of Our Lady and Saint John the Baptist (shown below) is today the home of a tobacco company.

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Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, all that remains is the cemetery – the Bone Church of Sedlec.

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Around 1278. Henry the Abbot of the Cistercian Monastery of Sedlec visited Golgotha, the site where Jesus was crucified and bought back with him a small amount of earth which was sprinkled over the cemetery. This made the cemetery a very sought after burial ground throughout Central Europe.  Around the year 1400, a Gothic church was built in the centre of this cemetery. During the plagues in the 14th Century, it is estimated that more than 30,000 dead were buried here. In the spring of 1421, the Hussite troops captured Sedlec and more than 10,000 dead were buried here. Around the end of the 15th Century, the area of the cemetery was reduced and the bones and skeletons from the abolished graves was moved into the Ossuary.

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According to legend, in the 15th Century, a half blind monk arranged the skulls and bones into pyramids and on completion he got his sight back.

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The Sedlec Monastery was abolished in 1783 by Joseph II. The property of the Abbey was purchased by the Schwarzenberg family. In 1870, Frantisek Rink, a woodcarver was employed to put the bones in some order. Rink made chandeliers and even arranged the bones in Coat of Arms of the Schwarzenberg family.

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The Codex Gigas or Devil’s Bible was pawned to the Cistercians of Sedlec from sometime after 1224 to around 1295, and most probably housed either at the Sedlec monastery or in this Cemetery Church.

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In Search of ‘The Devil’s Prayer’

In 2014 and 2015, I visited Sedlec whilst conducting research for my book, The Devil’s Prayer.

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The Sedlec Ossuary, the adjacent Cathedral  of the Assumption of Our Lady and Saint John the Baptist, the gothic Church or St Barbara and the Osel mine all feature as locations in this book. The Devil’s Prayer is available on Amazon, ibooks, Google Play and Kobo.

 

Travel Tips

Kutná Hora is accessible by train from Prague and then there is a further taxi ride from the station to the Bone Chapel.  There is much to see other than just the Bone Chapel, but that’s a story for another day.

Due to time constraints, I chose to hire a car for the day to take me from Prague to Kutna Hora. I used Mike’s Chauffeur Service of Prague. http://mike-chauffeur.cz and would recommend it to anyone. It allowed me to get to the Sedlec Ossuary, the neighbouring monastery, St Barbara Church and do the Osel Mine tour all in one day.

I have been to Prague a few times and stayed at the Alchymist Grand, the Imperial Art Deco, the Mamaison Riverside Suites and the Iron Gate Suites. All these were five star hotels. The Iron Gate was the cheapest and perhaps the best value for money with the Alchymist Grand being the most over the top and impressive.

 

 

 

 

 

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