Walking among the dead at Sedlec Ossuary, Bohemia’s morbidly fascinating “Bone Church”

I’ll admit that when I’m not traveling, the closest I get to going to church is accidentally stumbling across a rerun of 7th Heaven. Yet when I’m on the road, there’s nothing more relaxing than hopping into a church for a brief respite or to check out some of the local art and architecture.

But while it’s definitely worth a visit, it’s also hard to relax at the creepy Sedlec Ossuary, known to most travelers as the “Bone Church,” located in the Czech Republic about sixty miles east of Prague.

Containing the skeletons of approximately 50,000 people, many of whom were victims of the Black Death during the late Middle Ages, this Roman Catholic chapel is as haunting as it is beautiful. According to one legend, in the early 1500s a half-blind monk began digging up the bones of the recently departed and stacking them inside the ossuary in Sedlec, a suburb of the picturesque town of Kutna Hora in southern Bohemia.

It wasn’t until the 1870s that a woodcarver named František Rint had the bright, if rather morbid, idea to meticulously arrange the bones into decorations like chalices, vases, and even a chandelier made out of every bone in the human body. Rint also used the bones to construct a coat of arms for his employer’s family, the Schwarzenbergs (see below). Pay special attention to (and try to avoid nightmares as a result of) the bottom right of the shield, in which a long-beaked bird pecks away at a skull.

One of the other highlights of the “Bone Church” is the Sedlec Chandelier below, reportedly made out of every bone in the human body:

Kutna Hora, the typical idyllic Czech town, is about an hour by train from Prague. Head to the metro stop Hlavní Nádraží (the train station) in Prague and buy a train ticket for Kutna Hora. Once you arrive, it’s a short walk to the church itself– look for signs for the ossuary. Entrance is cheap, around two or three US dollars.

For more great photos of the church’s interior, go here.