When I first started thinking about accompanying Laura on this trip, I was amazed by how many friends of mine have been to Prague! I quickly found at least 10 people who I know fairly well who have visited the Czech Republic in the past few years. Who knew it was such a popular destination?! So naturally, you ask for everyone's ideas on what you should see and do, and what not to miss. It seems most had the same suggestions for day trips- Český Krumlov and Kutná Hora were the two places that kept popping up in conversation. Both were highly recommended in my guidebook as well so they quickly went on my
|Cemetery Church of All Saints, atop the Ossuary|
We travelled east by train, about an hour, first to Sedlec (Sed-lets) (a "suburb" of KH) and then on to Kutná Hora. This area was once very wealthy because it sits on what was Europe's largest silver mine. In its heyday, much of Europe's coinage was minted here, and Kutná Hora was Bohemia's second most important city, after Prague. In the 14th century, five to six tonnes of pure silver were extracted here each year, making the king the richest ruler in Central Europe. The mining and minting petered out in the 1600's, but the area is popular once again, thanks to tourism.
The "main attraction" in Sedlec is the Ossuary which is a small Roman Catholic chapel beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints. An ossuary is a building or site which serves as a final resting place of human skeletal remains. They are used when burial space is limited. A body is first buried in a temporary grave, then after some time, the skeletal remains are removed and placed in an ossuary. The greatly reduced space taken up by an ossuary means it's possible to store the remains of many more people in a single tomb, than if they were left buried individually in the ground.
One of the most visited attractions in the Czech Republic, the Sedlec Ossuary contains the bones of more than 40,000 people. Here's the story of how it came about: In 1142, a Cistercian Monastery was founded in Sedlec. In 1278 the abbot of this Cistercian monastery was sent on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land by the King.
When he returned, he brought with him a small amount
of earth from Golgotha, and sprinkled this holy soil over the abbey's cemetery. Word of this act spread, along with the belief that bodies would decompose in three days because they were buried in holy ground. This legend promised avoidance of the lengthy process of gradual decomposition, thereby causing even higher interest in burial there.
Before long, people from all over Europe wanted to be buried in this very holy place. The demand for burial space grew and the cemetery needed to expand.
Then the plague and Hussite wars added many more bodies and in a relatively short amount of time, thousands of bodies were buried at Sedlec. Thus came the idea of creating an ossuary. The task was given to a half-blind monk to gather the bones from the excavated ground when the Gothic church was built near the cemetery, and an ossuary was created in its basement. This solved the "space" issue, creating more room for the newly dead.
The bones remained piled in the ossuary for several hundred years, before a woodcarver by the name of František Rint was employed in 1870 to artistically arrange the thousands of bones. He created a chandelier made from at least one of every bone in the human body, the Coat of Arms of the aristocratic Schwarzenberg family, and other wall and ceiling decorations. Rint's "signature" remains on one of the walls - in bone, of course...
So, what do you think? Would you be a little "creeped out"?
We were... "just a little".....
This Ossuary has been the inspiration for more than a few movies, and has also been a "location" on The Amazing Race...
|Laura and Nina in front of St. Barbara's Church|
After leaving Sedlec, we made our way to the nearby town of Kutná Hora. Silver mining is in the past here now and tobacco is king - the town is now the Philip Morris
headquarters for Central Europe. (You could smell tobacco as you walked down the street.) After the "Bone Church", the huge Church of St. Barbara was an amazing sight! Our guide told us the original plan was for it to be twice as long!
Its three massive tent-like spires soar above the many flying buttresses, a wonderful example of Bohemian Gothic. This cathedral was founded by miners - St. Barbara is their patron saint.
The interior celebrates the town's source of wealth (silver), and frescoes portray scenes of mining and minting of coins. Even the stunning Renaissance vault is decorated with miners' coats of arms. Photos just cannot do these massive churches justice...
Our last stop was the Italian Court on the site where Czech currency was once made. It was Europe's most important Mint and the main residence of Czech kings in the 1400's. Today it is a museum on minting and local history.
Despite the extreme heat, we enjoyed our visit to this area. I think we might have seen a few more sights had it not been so hot, but we had to hurry to catch the last train back to Prague. We were "done in" at this point. A cool hotel room sounded real good.... So we said goodbye to Kutná Hora and Sedlec....
"Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey." ~ Pat Conroy