Sunday, 14 September 2008

Kutná Hora

Kutná Hora is an unremarkable little town. The architecture pales compared to the olde worlde charms of Prague's Old and New Towns, and the surrounding rural scenery's nothing special either. Probably the only reason you'd ever venture those eighty kilometres east of the Czech Republic's capital city would be to visit the ossuary (kostnice) in the little suburb of Sedlec.

On his return from the Holy Land in the thirteenth century, the local abbott brought with him some earth from Golgotha, the site of Jesus Christ's crucifixion, which he sprinkled in the monastery's cemetery. After this it was alleged that bodies interred here would decompose quickly, leaving only a bleached skeleton with no rotting flesh after only three days. Sedlec became the fashionable town for dead folks to be seen in.

In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the Black Death and Hussite Wars also increased the supply of bodies, and several excavations were made over time to exhume older remains and make room for the newly deceased. The piles of bones were beginning to mount.

In 1870, with the remains of an estimated 40,000 bodies on site, the local Schwarzenberg aristocratic family employed a woodcarver and carpenter by the name of František Rint to "tidy" them. The result was an interior makeover you're unlikely to see on HGTV. Using only skulls and bones he constructed huge bell-shaped mounds, over-sized chalices, a Schwarzenberg coat-of-arms measuring about ten feet across, and as a centrepiece, a massive chandelier with at least one of every bone in the human body. A more thorough history can be read at the official website.

I find most tourist spots a little predictable and tiresome. They're soul-less, over-commercialized, and lacking in any distinguishment. Not Sedlec. If I live to 120 I don't think I'll ever forget that little chapel and its beautiful, macabre decor.

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