The Kutna Hora day was one of the days I’d looked forward to most on the pre-planned agenda. Kutna Hora is a small town about an hour outside of Prague. It’s famed for its World Heritage sites including the renowned Sedlec Ossuary, more commonly known as the Bone Church. It’s one of the more macabre sites and one that is familiar to anyone who follows any sort of travel site online. It’s consistently on the list of places you must visit.
Helena, our tour guide, and our hired van met us at our hotel in the morning for the short drive out of Prague and through the farmland surrounding the Czech Republic’s capital. Kutna Hora was once a major center of wealth and power in the Bohemia region tanks to its rich silver mines. The mining wealth allowed Kutna Hora to compete with Prague in power and prestige and making it a “Royal City.” However, two centuries of war and plague in the 15th and 16th centuries reduced the city’s wealth and influence until it was quite impoverished. Eventually the silver mines, those that weren’t destroyed during the wars, played out and were shut down putting the nail in the coffin of the city’s place as major center of power. Today, the downtown of Kutna Hora is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Bone Chapel is a highly popular site and requires a ticket, purchased at the door, to get in. In essence, it’s a cemetery chapel. At one point, the abbot in charge of the cemetery had traveled to the Holy Land and brought back earth that was sprinkled over the cemetery. This made the cemetery a very popular place to be buried. That’s one of the reasons they had an over abundance of skeletons. That, coupled with the turbulent centuries of war and plague (14th-16th), led to an over population of corpses. As old corpses were pulled out of the ground so fresh corpses could be interred, they had to do something with the bones. To deal with this, the monks began stacking the bones in huge piles.
It wasn’t until the 19th Century that the Schwabenberg family, the current aristocratic family that possessed the lands around Kutna Hora, employed a carpenter to deal with the bones. The results were simultaneously dark and beautiful. He turned the piles of bones into various works of art including the massive chandelier and the Schwabenberg coat of arms are two of the most common pictures representing the Bone Chapel on the internet. Unfortunately, the chandelier had been taken down for cleaning and restoration when we were there. Helena complained that they should have done it during the winter months when the tourist trade is light but instead waited until the beginning of tourist season to take it down. I agreed. It seemed like a poor choice on timing.
Next, we headed over to St. Barbara’s Church. St. Barbara was the patron saint of miners. It’s a large church built in the Gothic style. It was started in 1388, but wasn’t fully completed until 1905. From a distance, its most famous feature is its 3 spire roof. On the inside, it features a mix of styles due to the long constructing period and the many influences of the builders. The biggest difference inside is the Baroque influence of the Jesuits, although much of the original Gothic stylings can still be seen. There are a lot of wonderful works of art including statues, wood work, frescoes, and the customary stained glass windows.
Kutna Hora is an excellent day trip if you’re staying in the Prague region. The rich history of this mining town has created a lot of interesting buildings and statue lined streets in a very small area. Having a tour guide was an invaluable tool to understanding the fascinating history of this small town that once played an outsized role in Bohemian politics. While visiting and seeing these sites is wonderful, the added context makes them more than just abstract pieces of art and architecture; it makes them real and connects you to the people who created and lived them.