“The ability of bones to make present that which is absent increases the efficacy of bones to be symbols.”
—Cara Krmpotich,The Substance of Bones
“Whatever their lives, there is now only one story they share. Together they wait.”
—Denise Inge, A Tour of Bones
Around 70 kilometres from Prague sits Kutna Hora. From the 13th to 16th centuries this meeting point was an energetic city that profited from the local silver mining trade and its position in Central Bohemia. Today, the 20,000 permanent residents of Kutna Hora are outnumbered by the 200,000 tourists who arrive yearly to the suburbs of this Gothic city in order to visit the Sedlec Ossuary.
Sedlec Abbey became a desirable Catholic burial spot after a Cistercian abbot returned from a trip to Jerusalem in the late 13th century and lay soil from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Abbey’s cemetery. Following the oversubscription of its burial grounds, partly due to an increase in mortality rates thanks to the plague, the Sedlec Ossuary, a container for bones, was built in the 15th Century.
Four hundred years later, in 1870, a local woodcarver named Frantisek Rindt crafted a beautifully macabre interior design out of the over 40,000 bones stored there. Notable elements still hanging from the austere brickwork are a bone chandelier, reportedly featuring every bone in the human body, and a likeness of the Schwarzenberg House’s coat of arms formed of skulls, hip, and leg bones.
The Abbey is no longer a working monastery. Kutna Hora no longer vies with Prague as one of the Czech Republic’s cultural hotspots, and Bohemia is no longer a kingdom, but the bones of the Ossuary live on.
Text by Nicholas Burman.