Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ossuary at Sedlec

About 45 miles east of Prague is the village of Sedlec, where there is located an amazing chapel decorated with human bones. According to the guide, the bones were exhumed from the surrounding cemetery.

Why, you ask? A Cistercian abbot from there had made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1278 and brought back a container of earth from Golgotha, which he sprinkled over the graveyard, which came to be regarded as sacred land. The desire to be buried there was widespread. By 1318, there had been more than 30,000 burials. The ossuary itself dates from 1511, when a half-blind monk was given the task of removing the bones from existing graves to make way for new burials. They were stacked in All Saints Chapel, built about 1400.

In about 1809, a local wood carver named Frantisek Rindt, an employee of the Duke of Schwartzenberg, was hired to use the then 40,000 sets of bones to create decorations for the chapel. As macbre as the idea may sound, the chapel is a place of peace, a place to reflect upon our limited lifespan on earth and contemplate what is to come.

Bones not used in decorative elements are piled neatly in a half dozen pyramids in the chapel.

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