A very creepy day trip from Prague to the famous bone church in Kutna Hora, the Czech Republic.
Extended Euro-trips often feel like cathedral-fests; skipping from one church to another, the same, stained-glass windows, ornate paintings and eery coolness.
There’s a part of me that knows I don’t have to visit every cathedral in every major European city, but there’s also another part of me that’s seriously infected by FOMO (fear of missing out, that is).
Maybe this one will be different to the last? Maybe it’ll be unique? Usually, it’s not.
I was beginning to think I’d seen it all when it came to European churches… that was, until, I visited the bone church in Kutna Hora, the Czech Republic.
I can safely say that the Czech bone church is unlike any other. Anywhere.
The Sedlec Ossuary, as it’s officially known, is a partially underground chapel decorated by the bones of between 40 and 70 thousand people. Most of them were victims of the Black Death in the mid-14th century, exhumed as the surrounding graveyard outgrew itself and stored within the church. Legend has it a half-blind monk was given the task of geometrically stacking each and every bone.
Getting off the train from Prague at the suburb of Sedlec, just outside of Kutna Hora, is like going back in time to a 1980s Soviet. The boxy, Russian made cars zip down muddy roads, past impossibly ordinary, grey, communist-style apartment blocks. It’s July, but the townspeople trudge along as if endlessly bogged down by snow. It feels wrong that I’m here in summer.
I round the graveyard in search of the entrance to the unassuming looking chapel. If it weren’t for what was inside, this’d be any other forgotten chapel, crumbling in some no-name town. But the Czech bone church thrives – receiving up to 200,000 visitors per year.
Luckily, I’m here on a quiet day. I down the stairs to find I’m one of only three people inside.
Instantly, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I’m not sure if the cause of the sudden cool is the subterranean earth – or the thousands of hollow eyes staring at me. The first thing I notice is the huge, pyramid-shaped pile of skulls, stacked up behind a tourist-proof cage. There’s one in every corner of the room, so that no matter where you go they’re always watching.
By far the most strikingly creepy feature of the church is it’s centrepiece – a giant, symmetrical chandelier, made from at least one of every bone in the human body. I try to think back to high school biology. That’s a rib, I think. A pelvis. A clavicle. A jawbone?
It’s some how suspended in the air, a collection of bodies big and small, rattling occasionally as heavy trucks pass by outside. The walls of the bone church are decorated by a variety of bone-formed chalices and a bone family crest, complete with bone raven pecking out a skull’s empty eye.
I spend an hour in the chapel, although small, taking in the intricate details and inescapable feeling of dread.
From the bone church it’s a flat, two kilometre walk into the main part of town. The ugly apartment blocks (some even painted pink and green, in a half-hearted attempt to liven them up) eventually give way to quainter, narrower cobblestone lanes.
It’s good to get out of tourist-filled Prague and get a sense of how the Czech people live, here in the centre of Bohemia. I stop in a small bakery and point to a trdelnik, a hollow tube of pastry cooked on a steel rod, covered in sugar and cinnamon.
Further into town, I come across the main, Gothic style cathedral. I don’t bother entering – I’ve already seen it all.
How to get to the Czech Bone Church, in Kutna Hora
The train from Prague’s main Hlavní Nádraží train station to Kutna Hora leaves about every two hours, and the trip is an hour in total. While the town’s main railway station is just a five minute walk from the bone church, it’s two kilometres from there into town.
There’s a small, local diesel train, which connects the main station to one closer to the centre, but (if you can) it’s best to walk. The local train schedule isn’t entirely clear, and by walking you get a better sense for how the Czech locals live outside of the major cities.
The train from Prague to Kutna Hora costs CZK 100 each way, which is equivalent to about $4.
Where to stay in Kutna Hora
If you want to stay in town for the night, there are a number of hotels both near the centre and bone church.
Hotel U Růže sits right next to the bone church, with some rooms overlooking the graveyard. Nearest to the centre of town, there’s also:
Would you ever visit the Czech bone church? Or is it way too creepy for you? I want to hear from you in the comments, or on social media: