The Kutná Hora Bone Church – also known as the Sedlec Ossuary – is one of the most remarkable churches in Europe. It contains the bones of tens of thousands of people from the Middle Ages, and what makes this Czech church stand out is how it is decorated.
An otherwise unknown Czech artist was tasked with decorating the Ossuary in the 1860s, and the results are astounding. Chains of skulls hang from the ceiling, candelabras are fashioned from craniums, and a huge chandelier of bones hangs from the centre of the chapel. It’s an extraordinary sight and experience, and one of the best places to visit in the Czech Republic.
We’ve written a series of articles on the UNESCO World Heritage town of Kutná Hora. This feature is focused solely on the Kutná Hora Bone Church, also widely known as the Sedlec Ossuary. We look at the history of the building and its decoration, why it was built, and all the practicalities you need to know – getting there, opening times, ticket sales and so on.
Kutna Hora Bone Church – An Introduction
The Kutná Hora bone chapel – most widely known as the Sedlec Ossuary – is located in the Roman Catholic parish of Sedlec, around 2 km north-east of the historic town centre of Kutná Hora
The church’s official title is the Cemetery Church of All Saints in Sedlec, and it was part of Sedlec Monastery
In the Middle Ages, the Cemetery at Sedlec was a popular final resting place, its reputation enhanced by the scattering of soil from the presumed location of Golgotha, where Jesus Christ was crucified in Jerusalem
Sedlec Cemetery was scaled down in the 15th century, so many thousands of bones were moved from graves to the Ossuary
Most of the bones were stacked in vast pyramids within the Church
The Sedlec bone church was later remodelled in the 18th and 19th century, and the most
decorative bone arrangements date from the latter period
Kutná Hora Bone Church History
The Sedlec Ossuary history goes back to the late 14th century. The Church of All Saints was part of Sedlec Monastery, the oldest Cistercian foundation in Bohemia, which was founded in 1142.
It was built in the Gothic style on two floors, with the Chapel at ground level and the Ossuary down a flight of stairs. The Kutná Hora bone church began to assume its present function when a significant part of the Sedlec Cemetery was cleared of old bones, some of whom would have been plague victims.
Some of the bones in the Kutná Hora bone chapel were used for decorative purposes by the 17th century, and when it, together with the nearby Sedlec Abbey Church, now a Cathedral, was restored in the 18th century, architect Jan Blažej Santini-Aichel added to this.
His signature was a combination of Gothic and new Baroque elements, as at his other most famous construction, the Pilgrimage Church of St John Nepomuk at Zelena Hora in Moravia. He put some new arrangements of bones into the Chapel and the added figures of trumpeting angels, cherubim and seraphim, all common Baroque decorations.
Sedlec Abbey was dissolved in 1783, and was acquired by the wealthy aristocratic Schwarzenberg family. Around 1867, they commissioned woodcarver František Rint to work on the Kutná Hora Bone Church, and he set about bleaching many bones for use in his creeations.
He was responsible for the most extravagant embellishments, piecing together the astonishing bone chandelier and the Schwarzenberg coat of arms a few metres away. Other than his work at the Kutná Hora bone church, nothing is known about him – even the date of his death – other than that he was from the town of Ceska Skalice, 90 km (56 miles) away near the border with Poland.
What You See In The Kutná Hora Bone Church
The entrance to the church is at ground level. It’s a light, airy space with a high ceiling, and the walls are decorated with familiar religious motifs, including the IHS symbol for Jesus, a crucifixion and what seems to be a giant chalice (the cup from which Communion wine is drunk) set into an alcove.
As you descend the stairs, you’ll see more bone decorations, including the artist František Rint’s signature in bone. This tells us virtually everything we know about him.
You then reach the Ossuary, the lower level of the building. Each corner of the Bone Chapel is filled with large pyramids of bones, stacked several centuries ago.
The eye is naturally drawn to the human bone chandelier and the chains of skulls emanating from the centre. Then, to the left, the coat of arms of the Schwarzenberg family is the other most striking work of art in the Kutná Hora Bone Church.
Why Build The Kutná Hora Bone Church?
Across Europe, ossuaries were built to accommodate bones from old cemeteries which were full, and which needed to make room for the more recently departed members of the population.
They also serve as a memento mori, a reminder of death, and the equality of all humans before God. Once it’s all over, everyone would ultimately be reduced to bones, just like the medieval souls whose bones now decorate the Sedlec Ossuary.
The inscription above the entrance to the Chapel of Bones, Evora in Portugal sums it up succinctly: “Our bones await your bones”.
Kutná Hora Bone Church Coat Of Arms
This is perhaps the most extraordinary bone sculpture within the Kutná Hora Bone Church. It’s to the left of the chandelier and high altar, on the north side of the church, hanging on a grille behind which a large pyramid of bones is stacked.
The coat of arms is that of the Schwarzenberg family, one of the most prominent European noble families of the last 500 years and more. Their holdings in Bohemia include Český Krumlov and Hluboká Castles, as well as many smaller manor houses and residences.
For context, it’s worth seeing the original Schwarzenberg coat of arms and how it has been reproduced. The most remarkable part is the lower right part, in which a raven pecks out the eye of a human being. A raven is fashioned out of various bones, imitating the original with its sharp beak gouging the eye socket of a skull. Like much of the rest of the church, it’s an astonishing sight.
Kutná Hora Bone Church Opening Times
The Ossuary is open between 9 am and 6 pm daily from March to October.
Between November and February it is open Tuesday to Sunday 10 am to 4 pm. It is also closed on December 24th.
Kutná Hora Bone Church Tickets
Tickets can be bought from the information centre at Zámecká 279, between the Cathedral and Sedlec Ossuary church, or online. They cannot be bought at the Ossuary.
An adult ticket to the Sedlec Ossuary and Sedlec Cathedral costs 160 CZK ($7), Seniors and students pay 120 CZK, and children over the age of 6 pay 50 CZK.
One of the best things to do in Kutná Hora is to visit St Barbara’s Cathedral, and this is included with the Sedlec Ossuary and Cathedral on the 3TOP ticket. This is a better option – St Barbara’s is one of the great Gothic cathedral of Europe.
This combined ticket costs 300 CZK ($13), while students and seniors pay 230 CZK and children 95 CZK.
Photography At The Kutná Hora Bone Church
Photography is not permitted at the Sedlec Ossuary, and this has been the case for the last two years or so.
I’m normally an advocate of people being able to photograph church and historic building interiors, but in this instance the ban was a necessity.
Some visitors had made wholly inappropriate photographs in the church, including crass selfies with skulls, and the only way to deal with this sort of abuse is to put restrictions in place.
It is still possible to photograph the interior of the Kutná Hora Bone Church, as I did, and to do so you need to obtain permission from the Parish of Sedlec three days in advance.
Getting To The Kutná Hora Bone Church
The Sedlec Ossuary chapel is easy to reach by public transport. Many tend to visit the Kutná Hora Sedlec Ossuary and Sedlec Cathedral first before moving onto Kutná Hora town centre.
If you travel to Kutná Hora from Prague by train, you can walk directly from the main station (Kutná Hora hlavní nádraží, or Kutná Hora hl n on timetables). Turn right out of the station, and follow the road around until you join the main road. Continue until you reach Sedlec Cathedral, then cross the road and turn right onto Zámecká. The information centre, from which you purchase your ticket, is on the left-hand side of the street. The Kutná Hora Bone Church is 150 metres further along the street.
You can also reach the Kutná Hora Bone Church by bus from Kutná Hora main station. Bus 802 departs from the front of the station every 30 minutes, and you need to alight at the second stop, Kutná Hora Kostnice. This stop is across the road from Sedlec Cathedral, so you need to walk 50 metres, turn right onto Zámecká, then follow the directions in the paragraph above.
Alternatively, you can catch a local branch line train to Kutná Hora Sedlec station, which also continues to Kutná Hora town station. This train always leaves from platform 1, and its final destination is Zruc nad Sazavou. As you alight at Kutná Hora Sedlec, you’ll see the vast (yet graceful) bulk of Sedlec Cathedral 200 metres away. Walk towards it, and across the junction to Zámecká, following the directions above.
Many visitors then return to Kutná Hora Sedlec station for the two-minute ride to Kutná Hora town station, and walk up the hill to the town centre from there.
Alternatively, you could catch the 802 (check idos.cz for bus times) from the Kostnice bus stop – it’s a 10-minute run from there to Palackého náměstí, which is very close to the other main things to see in Kutná Hora.
Our article on getting from Prague to Kutná Hora goes into more detail about getting to and around the town, including information on the Prague Kutná Hora train, the Prague Kutná Hora bus and driving to Kutná Hora from Prague.
Want to explore further? Take a look at our Czech Republic Travel Guide
Also discover more places to visit near Prague:
Karlštejn Castle – magnificent Castle built to house the Bohemian Crown Jewels
Mělník – Beautiful Wine Town An Hour North Of Prague
Křivoklát Castle – awesome royal castle in picturesque forest country near Prague
Konopiště Castle – medieval castle-turned-palace, the favoured residence of Archduke Franz Ferdinand
Also check out some of these Czech Republic town guides:
Telč Czech Republic – A Gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage Town
Mikulov – A Beautiful Moravian Wine Town Near The Austrian Border
Things To Do In Mariánské Lázně – A Splendid Bohemian Spa Town
Best Things To Do In Český Krumlov – Possibly The Most Beautiful Town In The Czech Republic
České Budějovice – South Bohemia’s Underrated Capital
Holašovice – The Unique Folk Baroque UNESCO World Heritage Village
Slavonice – Border Town With Incredible Renaissance Sgraffito Townhouses