A blog raveled in randomness
May 9 2013
I went to Kutná Hora as a day trip from Prague by train, and for about an hour, the train windows were playing through similar pictures of green and yellow fields with glimpses of houses and storage rooms. My brother slept through the whole ride with his earphones on. I liked listening to the train moving along the rails and seeing the building-less view. It was a perfect atmosphere for me to read a book for an hour. There are several tickets you can buy (and cheaper if you are full-time student so make sure you bring your student ID) when you arrive at the first site of Kutná Hora. I bought the orange ticket that includes entry only to Chrám Nanebevzetí Pany Marie (Cathedral of Assumption of Virgin Mary), Chrám svaté Barbory (St. Barbara’s Church) and Kostnice v Sedlci (Sedlec Ossuary).
1. Kostnice v Sedlci (Sedlec Ossuary)
The small Roman Catholic Church, located under the All Saints Cemetery Church, is decorated with bones from about 40,000 people. An abbot of the Sedlec monastery scattered a handful of soil from the Grave of the Lord Jerusalem over the cemetery of this church, so many people around Europe came for their burials during the Black Death. So this cemetery rapidly expanded in the fourteenth century. Later in 18th century, J. Santini purchased the property and woodcarver Frantisek Rint added the coat of arms, chandelier and his signature on the wall made entirely out of human bones. Now, this is one of the most visited places in Europe.
The church was smaller than I expected, but the number of bones the place held exceeded my expectations. Other than the skulls hanging from the ceiling, there are four pyramids of human bones at each corner (they were stacked by half-blind monks in 1511), and a wooden crown hangs above each pyramid. The placement of the crown and the pyramid signifies that God is the greatest and is above mankind. The chandelier is also made entirely of human bones, and the coat of arms is intricately designed that sometimes I forgot that they were human bones put together. It was amazing as well as disturbing–it was a new shade of experience for me when I walked into this ossuary. The church showed how people can be creative with given objects, and the utilised materials exert an uncanny ambience of awe and disturbance.
The meaning behind the human bone decoration is noteworthy. The use of human bones was to remind us that we are equal after death–we are equal when judged by God. It also reminds us that death in inevitable. The message of death is beautifully yet disturbingly portrayed through designs of human bones–yup, definitely a unique experience for me.
2. Chrám Nanebevzetí Pany Marie (Cathedral of Assumption of Virgin Mary)
This cathedral was first built in the thirteenth century with the structure of a gothic architecture. The monastery Sedlec flourished as it gained great profit from silver mining at Kutná Hora. However the sucess of the monastery was shorten as it fell into debt and the monastery was mostly destroyed by the Hussites during war. Thus the monastery had to be re-built and reconstructed by architect J. Santini Aichi. However the monastery was abolished in 1784 due to the reforms of Josef II, so one of the two remainging buildings of the monastery is Cathedral of Assumption of Our Lady.
I always loved churches or cathedrals in Europe because the temperature is cool inside, and the place is always calm and quiet as if time had stopped away from reality. The fancy organ is floating in the air, the ceiling is way above our heads and the long windows bring in heaps of sunlight to brighten the massive hallowed building. It was a different world from outside, which was very hot, and the history the cathedral breathed out timeless atmosphere for us visitors to slowly stroll along the old paintings and frescos on walls and ceiling. It was a meditative space for me, and I loved this quiet environment–reminded me of my bookstore hunts in London.
3. Chrám svaté Barbory (St. Barbara’s Church)
St. Barbora was a patron saint of miners, and the cathedral was intended to be built equal to the St. Vitus Cathedral at the Prague Castle. Thus the process of building this grand cathedral was heavily depndent on the prosperity of local mines. However the progress was constantly interrupted over more than seventy years due to the Hussite wars, and prior to the wars, there we financial difficulties to even commence with the original plan. The work of building this canthedral recommenced after 1482 and with the changes of Prague architects, there were substantial changes over the structure of the building. However over time, financial gain from silver mining decreased and the resources to continue the building dried up, which led to more than 300 year hiatus. It was finally completed in 1905 with the instigation of a local archelological society, Vocel, in 1884. This cathedral had went through highs and lows like a human beings. I think that is why this sturst cathedral seems very mystic and grand as if it is the wise omnipotent being of the city.
Kutná Hora was an interesting place, different from Prague. The ossuary containing human bones was definitely the highlight for me just because I have never heard or seen this type of catehdral before in my life. I never thought that the cliched message of inevitable death can be manifested in such substantial way. As I said before, it was a new shade of emotion for me with a mixture of awe and disturbance. The other two cathedrals I visited were beautiful , but I think nothing can beat the beauty of St. Vitus Cathedral at the Prague Castle. Because the image of that cathedral was still fresh in my mind, I could not help myself but to compare the ones at Kutná Hora with my favourite St. Vitus Cathedral. Day trips like these near Prague was a great idea, and I think my mother and brother enjoyed as much as I did!