Faith & Footprints

By Kelly Wise Valdes

The Sedlec Ossuary, also known as the Church of Bones, is considered one of the most unusual churches in the world. This small chapel is located in Sedlec, Czech Republic and appears outwardly as an average medieval Gothic church.

However, upon entering the Sedlec Ossuary, it is immediately apparent what makes this sanctuary so unique. The Sedlec Ossuary is artistically decorated with more than 40,000 human skeletons, which is why it is also known as the Church of Bones.

One of the most fascinating artistic works inside the Sedlec Ossuary is the big chandelier of bones in the center of the church. The enormous chandelier contains at least one of every human bone. Another impressive artwork is a coat of arms of the Schwarzenberg family that is also made entirely of human bones.

The history of the unusual church is as fascinating as the church itself. In 1278, the King of Bohemia sent a monk from the Sedlec Cistercian Monastery to Jerusalem. The monk returned with a jar of soil from the hill where Jesus was crucified. The dirt became known as the “Holy Soil” and soon people from everywhere wanted to be buried in Sedlec, and the cemetery eventually had to be expanded. Many people would bring their dead relatives to be buried in the Holy Soil of Sedlec. Soon after, a plague caused the death of many people across Europe, causing the sick to pilgrimage to Sedlec before their death.

In the 15th century, a Gothic church was built near the cemetery and its basement was used as a temporary place to house the deceased. The bones stayed there for centuries until 1870 when a woodcarver named Frantisek Rint was appointed to place the bones in order. Now, the church is adorned with more than 40,000 human bones arranged artistically.

In 1970, 100 years after Rindt’s craftsmanship, a Czech filmmaker, Jan Svankmayer filmed a 10-minute documentary about the church. Unfortunately, there is no English version, only Czech.

The church is open for tours to the public year-round. For more information about Sedlec Ossuary, visit www. Sedlecossuary.com.