Visiting Sedlec Ossuary aka the Church of Bones in Kutná Hora
— 10 minute read
I've been wanting to visit Sedlec Ossuary for the longest time. So when I found myself in Prague, I immediately thought: why the heck not? Besides, I'm alone, so I don't need to convince anyone who's traveling with me to spare a day to visit a church adorned with human bones. Now is the time.
Initially, for some reason, I thought I needed to join a group tour from Prague to go there. Okay, I thought, personally I'm not a huge fan of group tours but I'm totally open to the idea if it does make logistics easier considering the limited time I have. But bummer - most tours started at 11 & my train from Vienna was arriving at the same time, so it seemed like Sedlec Ossuary is a no go. It turns out though that Sedlec Ossuary is just a short train ride away, & it's not at all complicated if you already know which train to take & where Sedlec Ossuary is.
Purchasing the train tickets
Because I didn't know whether my train would make it in time or not, I avoided arranging my trip to Kutná Hora until I really did arrive at Praha hl.n. My train, it turned out, would arrive a few minutes late, but when I checked out the schedule the next train to Kutná Hora is due to depart in half an hour. Great, seems like a good plan!
There were two options:
Purchase the train tickets with a ticket agent at the ticket counter
You can buy your tickets directly, but after some quick search it seems like some people have difficulties communicating with the ticket agent due to language barrier & they ended up purchasing the wrong tickets. By the wrong tickets, they were tickets for Kutná Hora with a transit at a nearby town Kolín. They missed the information that there would be a transit, so they didn't, & of course they ended up missing Kutná Hora. České dráhy's (main railway operator in Czechia) website is easy to navigate, so I chose option 2.
This is relatively straightforward, you can pay with card & you don't need to print out your tickets. Just have it in your phone (or even laptop!). Your tickets will have barcodes that will be checked & scanned. I kept my tickets in my phone and there was no problem at all.
Pro tip: Purchasing your tickets online in my opinion is more straightforward & less time-consuming. The website is easy to navigate, English is available, & you can also check your itinerary before you buy it so there's no way you'd purchase the wrong tickets. Also no need to print your tickets - just keep them in your phone & you're all set.
After purchasing my tickets, my next task would be to find a place where I can leave my luggage. In Praha hl.n. there are two ways to do this:
The left luggage is located near the train platforms right behind Brioche Dorée. A piece of bag or suitcase costs CZK 60/24 hours, & a suitcase larger than 1 m (largest side) or a bike costs CZK 100/24 hours.
The self-help lockers are on the other opposite end of the train station.
I went for the first option so I don't know much about the self-help lockers, but since it's quite far from the train platforms, if you have another train to catch right after you disembark from your train, time might be your biggest concern & you might as well just go with the left luggage.
The train ride itself takes around one hour one way. The train to Kutná Hora was quite empty—although I didn't reserve a seat (you get the option to reserve a seat if you pay more), I could sit at the first class carriage because it was that empty. Along the way, we would get to see the sceneries of Czechia's countryside as well as small towns outside of Prague.
The opposite happened when I returned from Kutná Hora. I didn't reserve a seat & out of my expectation, the train was super full! This makes sense though because the train from Kutná Hora to Prague actually departs from other cities far away from there, & has made a lot of stops along the way. Of course there would be a lot of people going to Prague. Seems like there were a lot of tourists who didn't reserve their seats too, so all of us were crammed into this one tiny hallway for two hours. I didn't even get my ticket checked because it was practically impossible to move around until we got to Prague.
Pro tip: if the train doesn't depart from the terminus, reserve your seat! You don't want to spend 2 hours standing from Kutná Hora to Prague, especially after all that walking in Kutná Hora...
Off to Sedlec Ossuary
I read that there is a bus that can take us from the train station to Sedlec Ossuary, but at that time I didn't see it. I didn't want to wait, so I chose to walk. It took me about 15-20 minutes, depending on the pace—my pace was quite slow because my feet were hurting after all the walking in Vienna the day before.
To get to Sedlec Ossuary, you can either follow the direction from Google Maps or just follow the signages. I didn't have Internet at the time so I had to rely on the signages. Don't try to find "Sedlec Ossuary" because you wouldn't find it—look for the signs saying "Kostnice" & follow the direction. Don't worry, there must be a few people heading for Sedlec Ossuary as well so if you're super terrible at directions (like me!), just follow the crowds. ;)
A few meters before the entrance to Sedlec Ossuary, there is a ticket counter where you can purchase your tickets. The places of interest in Kutná Hora are not just Sedlec Ossuary—there are a few cathedrals you can visit as well. If you're interested in visiting them, you can purchase a ticket that is valid for all of them. I only had time for Sedlec Ossuary, so I bought a ticket that is valid for Sedlec Ossuary only.
One important thing you might notice is that Sedlec Ossuary is surrounded by a cemetery, & it is still a functional one. I personally think there's no exception to this—you have to be very respectful because this is still a place that people go to to connect with their deceased loved ones.
Sedlec Ossuary looks pretty ordinary from the outside, but once you descend downstairs...
Now you might be wondering—how did this come about, exactly?
It all started when the King of Bohemia sent the abbot of the Sedlec Cistercian Monastery to Jerusalem, back in 1278. He returned with a jar of soil that he took from the Golgotha, which is where the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is said to have taken place. He spread it around the local cemetery, & everyone requested to be buried there in the "Holy Soil".
By the end of the day there were just too many people buried there, & at some point the bones that already resided there had to be exhumed to make room for new ones. In the 1870s a woodcarver named Frantisek Rint was then hired to organize them by the Schwarzenbergs, a noble family that purchased the property in the late 1700s. What you see in Sedlec Ossuary today is the result of Rint's, well, organization. He also took the extra length of disinfecting & bleaching the bones with chlorinated lime so that each bone would have a uniform appearance.
Before coming to Sedlec Ossuary, despite having wanted to visit it for a long time, I wasn't really aware of its background story. I initially thought the story was of something more sinister like mass murders. But nah. If you ask me what's the most surprising part about Sedlec Ossuary, for me it was not the macabre decorations, but rather the fact that this is all actually a matter of saving some space.
Sadly I didn't get to explore Kutná Hora due to time, so I went straight to Prague afterwards. One more reason to return to Czechia next time, I guess. :)
Pro tip: Note that Sedlec Ossuary is 2 km from the city center, which is where most of the other places of interest are.
Roundtrip train Prague - Kutná Hora - Prague (without seat reservation): CZK 215