Discover the Cathedral of St Barbara Kutná Hora, one of the great Gothic cathedrals in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in our guide here.
St Barbara Kutná Hora is one of the great churches in Europe, a Gothic masterpiece in the hilly countryside of east Bohemia. It was built thanks to the extraordinary wealth generated by the town’s silver mines, and is one of the most compelling places to visit in the Czech Republic.
This article on St Barbara’s Cathedral in Kutná Hora is one of a series of articles we’ve written on the town. We explain why you should visit St Barbara’s Church, tell you about its history and show you what to find there.
Many of you will most likely visit Kutná Hora on a day trip from Prague, and we explain how to get there from the Czech capital, both independently and on a tour from Prague.
Why Visit The Cathedral Of St Barbara Kutná Hora
St Barbara is one of the most beautiful Gothic churches in Europe – and one of the most impressive three or four churches in the Czech Republic.
It’s one of the main highlights of Kutná Hora, one of the best places to visit in the Czech Republic and most fascinating medieval towns in Europe.
The exterior is notable for its forest of flying buttresses and tent-like roof – it’s a spectacular sight from wherever you view it, but it’s especially beautiful from Barborska, a street leading to it lined on one side with Baroque statues.
Don’t miss the interior, with its magnificent late Gothic stone vaulting on a par with the great French Gothic cathedrals.
St Barbara Cathedral Kutná Hora History
Construction of St Barbara’s Cathedral began in the 14th century.
The town of Kutná Hora became very wealthy when a seam of silver was discovered beneath the town – and this is reflected in its numerous outstanding buildings from the 14th to 16th centuries.
St Barbara, an early Christian martyr, is the patron saint of various dangerous occupations, including mining and tunnelling, and she was venerated by the miners of Kutná Hora.
It is believed that Johann Parler the Younger led the building works for some years – he was the son of Peter Parler, architect of St Vitus Cathedral and the Charles Bridge in Prague.
Work on St Barbara Church Kutná Hora was delayed for around 60 years (1420 to 1481) by the Hussite Wars in Bohemia.
There were further delays when revenue from the silver mines dwindled, meaning there wasn’t enough money to complete the church.
Work resumed in the 19th century, with Josef Mocker, who restored many Czech castles, partly responsible for finishing St Barbara’s Cathedral.
This great Kutná Hora church was finally completed and consecrated in 1905.
Things To See In St Barbara Kutná Hora Cathedral
The west front of St Barbara Kutná Hora was the last part of the Cathedral to be completed, around the turn of the 20th century. Prior to this, a holding wall had been in place to keep the structure enclosed.
It blends in harmoniously with the earlier elements of the Gothic church, and for the best view, I suggest walking to the end of the gardens outside the Cathedral and climbing the stairs to see it in all its glory.
Exterior Buttresses and Pinnacles
The flying buttresses and pinnacles of St Barbara’s Church Kutná Hora are one of its most distinctive features.
In the absence of a tower or steeple, they add to the visual drama of the church’s exterior, and together with the triple tented-style roof added by Benedikt Ried, it’s one of the most remarkable famous buildings in the Czech Republic.
Interior Gothic Vaulting
The exterior of Saint Barbara Church Kutná Hora is awe-inspiring, but I’d go so far as to say that the interior is even better.
The Gothic arches and ceiling vaults are particularly impressive. As you look up to the vaults, you can see differences between sections, suggesting they were completed in different phases of construction.
The vaults are decorated with many coats of arms, and are between 24 metres (79 feet) and 29 metres (95 feet) in height.
Frescoes in Apse Chapels
Most of the late medieval (primarily 15th century) frescoes can be found in the southern apsidal chapels of St Barbara’s Church.
Some of them depict familiar Christian scenes, including the flagellation and crucifixion of Christ. Others show miners and people minting coins at the nearby Italian Court – a rare survival indeed.
There are several references to miners in the decoration of the church, and the most obvious of these is the statue of the silver miner in the nave.
The statue is on the south side of the nave, and the miner is dressed in a traditional white hooded gown (which visitors to the Silver Mine tour also wear).
The figure is holding a pick and a lamp, and from one angle appears to be kneeling – a necessity in the cramped underground tunnels.
A staircase in the north-west corner of the nave leads to the triforium gallery, and some incredible views of St Barbara’s Cathedral.
The triforium is an area between the arches and clerestory windows, around half the height of the nave of the church. The gallery extends either side of the nave, and hosts an exhibition on the conservation of the Cathedral.
From the gallery, you get to appreciate how the cathedral is flooded with natural light, and you also get some privileged close-up views of the statues and stone vaulting.
You can also follow the narrow passageway behind the great organ and below the west window, which links the two sides of the gallery. You can also step outside onto a balcony on the west front for even more views of the Cathedral.
Confession booths are a common feature in Roman Catholic churches in Europe. The black booths in St Barbara’s Church Kutná Hora are very striking Baroque examples, and would have been added, along with other furnishings in the church, in the late 17th or 18th centuries.
Also take a look at the impressive series of Baroque altarpieces in the apse chapels behind the choir and high altar.
Corpus Christi Chapel
The undercroft of Corpus Christi Chapel is just a few metres from the east end of St Barbara Kutná Hora. Like the Sedlec Ossuary, it was intended to be a charnel house, with the bones stored downstairs and a chapel above ground.
The chapel was probably never finished, and the vaulted undercroft eventually acted as storage space for a local flourmaker and a workshop for organ repairs. It was eventually restored in the late 1990s. Entry is free.
Other Things To Do In Kutná Hora
The historic centre of the town is also part of the Kutná Hora World Heritage Site. Try to take a walk around the centre for an hour or so, and don’t miss Barborska, a stunning street lined with Baroque statues on one side and the former Jesuit College, now an excellent arts centre and gallery, GASK.
While in the town centre area, also look out for the Kutná Hora Silver Museum. One of the two tours takes you underground to one of the silver mines that made Kutná Hora wealthy in the Middle Ages. The Silver Museum also run an exhibition in the Stone House (Kamenny dum), the finest medieval townhouse in Kutná Hora.
The most popular of Kutná Hora attractions can be found in the suburb of Sedlec, 2 km north-east of the town centre.
The Kutná Hora Bone Church – also known as the Sedlec Ossuary – is an extraordinary sight, a cemetery chapel housing the skulls and bones of tens and thousands of souls. What’s unique about it – and what draws so many visitors – is the extraordinary use of skulls and bones as decoration. Some of them are used to make a macabre candelabra, and others a noble family’s coat of arms.
Around 200 metres away, the Sedlec Cathedral of Our Lady and St John the Baptist is the final part of the Kutná Hora World Heritage Site.
Our Kutná Hora things to do article shows all of these Kutná Hora attractions and more.
Where is Kutná Hora
Kutná Hora is 84km (52 miles) east of Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. It is in the easternmost part of the Central Bohemia region.
Getting To Kutná Hora From Prague
There are four ways of travelling to Kutná Hora from Prague – train, bus, car or tour.
We have travelled to Kutná Hora by train from Prague each time we have visited, and if you’re doing a day trip from Prague independently, we suggest this is the best way to go. The train from Prague main train station to Kutná Hora main station takes around an hour, and the town station (change required) is two stops down a local branch line.
There isn’t much point in getting the Prague Kutná Hora bus, as you have to travel to Haje, the last stop on Metro line C, before embarking on a not terribly compelling 1 hour 40-minute crawl through eastern Bohemia. It’s cheap, but if you do this both ways, you’ll spend over three hours longer travelling than if you went by train.
You can also drive to Kutná Hora from Prague, but it’s far better for the environment if you take the train.
Our article on getting from Prague to Kutná Hora goes into all of these options in more detail.