From the pavement outside, it looks like an ordinary rural church; slightly dilapidated, uninspiring and gothic. Only the almost comical inset skull and crossbones in the cobbles gives a clue to the morbid content that Sedlec Ossuary, the aptly named ‘church of bones’, holds.
The holy site was established in 1142, with the current church dating back to the late 14th century. During the black plague, the cemetery was overwhelmed by some 30,000 bodies which were piled into temporary mass graves. Later in the 14th century, during the Hussite wars, a further 10,000 victims were added to this body count.
At the end of the 15th Century, it was decided that as many of the 40,000 deceased would be moved into the Ossuary as could. Legend has it that a blind monk took to rearranging the bones into decorative patterns, upon completion of his works, his sight returned.
Many of the deaths here were caused in battles with invading Hussite forces; as such, it is common to see the injuries that caused many brutal deaths, from arrow holes to axe and sword blows.
It is eerily beautiful, 40,000 bodies, to make macabre art. In its intended Christian sense it is a celebration of the soul’s ascent to salvation. In reality, or at least to myself, it serves as a grim reminder of how lucky we are to live in an age of medical science and the absence of invading barbarian hordes.