In our travels we’ve explored some of the stranger funerary customs. Mummies on display. Extravagant funerary art. Final resting places with ocean front property. But this one . . . this one takes the cake. Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic.
An ossuary differs from a regular cemetery on the basic principle that the human remains are not interred. The word ossuary means a place or receptacle for bones. When translated from Latin, it literally means “bone-arium” In the case of the Sedlec Ossuary the “receptacle” is an entire chapel beautifully decorated with the bones of the dead. Housed below the Roman Catholic Church of All Saints, the Sedlec Ossuary is home to the remains of somewhere between 40,000 to 70,000 humans. That’s a lot of people.
In the late 1200’s the abbot of the local monastery returned from the holy lady with sacred earth. He sprinkled this earth in the cemetery. As it became known that this cemetery was blessed with the earth of the Holy Land it became an extremely desirable burial spot. Following the Black Death of the mid 1300’s and the Hessian Wars of the 1400’s, this already popular cemetery needed to be enlarged to accommodate its growing population of dead people.
At this time the cemetery was just that. A cemetery for traditional burials. Around 1400 a Gothic style church was built in the center of the property. This church had a lower level chapel designed to be an ossuary for the graves displaced by the construction of the church and other graves that were being recycled for newer burials.
The chapel itself was rebuilt in the early 1700’s in the Czech Baroque style. The ossuary, as you see it today, wasn’t arranged until 1870 when a woodcarver by the name of Frantisek Rint was employed by the prominent Schwarzenberg family to put the bone heaps “in order.” The result was a beautiful, yet disturbing, chapel to the dead. There are four bell shaped mounds in each corner of the chapel as well as an enormous skeletal chandelier that includes every bone of the human body at least once. The design also includes the Schwarzenberg family coat of arms arranged in human remains. Rint signed his masterpiece in bones, naturally.
The Sedlec Ossuary has been a film location in the werewolf film Blood and Chocolate as well as that ill-fated Dungeons and Dragons film. The Sedlec Ossuary was also the inspiration for Dr. Satan’s lair in Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses.