Sedlec Ossuary

Catholics are weird. My family’s Catholic from way, way back. They all know it’s weird, but they stick with it because it’s a family/traditional thing. (My great-grandma had sixteen kids, if that tells you anything. No multiple births. That’s right, grimace in pain, ladies.) I mean, when you’re dealing with a 2,000 year old church that doesn’t like to contradict itself, even on stuff from centuries ago, you’re gonna get some strange shit in there.

You know, stuff like this.

But, as with any religious group, there are some people who take it to a whole new level of madness. For example, in the Czech Republic, about 45 miles east of Prague, there’s a nice little Baroque cathedral, the kind the Czech Republic is famous for, in a town called Sedlec. It’s called Hřbitovní kostel Všech Svatých,or Cemetery Church of All Saints. Once upon a time, this was a normal little church with a normal little cemetery, but, in the year 1278, an Abbot named Henry had to go and make things crazy.

On a visit to Jerusalem, Henry visited Golgotha (the hill where Jesus was crucified) and took a jar-full of soil back to Sedlec. He then spread the soil all through the cemetery. This simple act of piety led to a sensation. Soon, every sick guy in Eastern Europe wanted to be buried in the Sedlec Cemetery because, rumor had it, if you were buried at Sedlec, you got into heaven, no matter what.

There’s a movie plot in there somewhere, I just know it.

By 1318, just 40 years later, over 30,000 people were buried in Sedlec’s cemetery. Just like pants with too much ass in them, something had to give. What could the monks be expected to do with so many bodies? They were already burying them inches apart and had expanded the perimeter of the cemetery grounds to larger and larger spaces around the chapel. And then, like sprinkles on top of a big shit sundae, this little thing called the Black Death happened.

Is that Waldo in the lower right?

But that was more like a big backhoe full of shit over a shit sundae. The Black Death killed approximately 100 million people throughout Europe, nearly 25% of the entire continent. Suddenly, cartfuls of corpses were lined up at Sedlec. The monks knew they had to do something. Finally, one of them had a brilliant idea. They’d convert the basement level to an ossuary and store the bodies inside the building. They all agreed, probably because they were out of other options since the Vatican had advised them not to deny anyone who wished to be buried there. They dug up the graves immediately surrounding the chapel (those were the people who’d been buried the earliest) and used that land to expand the new chapel. Once that was done, they got a half-blind monk to cart the bodies of the dead inside. Since they were the longest-buried, they had all turned to nothing more than skeletons at that point, making them pretty easy to store.

“Put ‘em with the others.”

This seemed like a perfectly good solution. Every couple of years, they’d clean out another section of the cemetery and start burying new people there, giving everyone a chance to be buried on holy ground. Then they’d move on to the next oldest section, then the next, and so on. If that happened today, you better believe it’d be shit-storm city, but apparently everyone was okay with it, and it kept on going for 500 years. But in 1870, the then-current monks felt that the chapel had become a bit unseemly, and ordered a local woodcarver, František Rint, to spruce the place up a little. After his work was done, he’d organized all the bones into some nice… art? Yep, Rint had decided to use the bones to decorate the building itself. It looks exactly like you’d imagine a church decorated with bones would.

“Hey, hey, who won the skeleton beauty contest? NO BODY!”

Sure, it doesn’t look so bad. I mean, it’s a little grotesque, but hey…

“What’s a skeleton’s favorite instrument? A TROM-BONE!”

Wow, yeah, that’s totally a tunnel of bones. I guess there is some pretty crazy stuff in th…

“Yeah, that’s a ROTTEN one, but it really TICKLES MY FUNNY BONE! Eh? Eh?”
“…Do they all do this?”

Holy fucking horrifying. Is that a pyramid of dead fucks? Why yes, yes it is. Oh, and don’t miss the chandelier.

“Why couldn’t the skeleton cross the road? HE DIDN’T HAVE THE GUTS! …Hey, where are you going?”

It may look like something out of a nightmare contractor’s catalog, but it has at least one of every single bone in the human body. Rint even used bones to construct the coat-of-arms of the family who hired him.

“I guess our humor was too DRY! HAHAHAH!”
“Holy fuck Steve, shut up already.”

The monks apparently loved it, because the ossuary is still open today and has frequent tours. It’s been described as “the creepiest place on Earth” and has been used for location filming for such masterpieces as the Dungeons & Dragons movie. (Personally, I find the D&D movie more pants-shittingly disgusting, but whatever.) Make sure to check out the links under Sources, because just describing it and throwing a handful of pictures at you doesn’t do it justice. There are some really great photo galleries available. (Also, presumably, you don’t have to put up with skeleton puns.)

Wikipedia (Decorated with the bones of past admins)
Frisco’s Kutna Hora – The Sedlec Ossuary page
Environmental Graffiti

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