7 Amazing Facts About the Sedlec Ossuary

Decorations in the Sedlec Ossuary, a small chapel beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints in Sedlec, a suburb of Kutna Hora in the Czech Republic
Decorations in the Sedlec Ossuary, a small chapel beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints in Sedlec, a suburb of Kutna Hora in the Czech Republic
MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images

About an hour's drive east of Prague, the Czech Republic's Sedlec Ossuary—known as Kostnice Sedlec in Czech, and nicknamed the Bone Church—has become a macabre pilgrimage site for roughly 400,000 tourists a year. The centuries-old Roman Catholic chapel boasts a series of stunning decorations, all made from skeletons. Read on for seven facts about the past, present, and future of this remarkable (and remarkably dark) attraction.

1. The Sedlec Ossuary is home to the remains of more than 40,000 people.

The Bone Church started out as part of a Cistercian monastery founded in 1142 [PDF]. According to legend, around 1278, a local abbot made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, after which he brought back a handful of soil from Golgotha—the site of Jesus's crucifixion. Upon his return, the abbot scattered the soil over the monastery's cemetery as an act of consecration. Soon enough, Sedlec's cemetery became a highly desirable place to be buried, and the Black Death epidemics of the 14th century only added to the number of burials. The Hussite Wars (1419-1434) added another approximately 10,000 bodies. Before long, the cemetery groaned under the weight of all its occupants, and an ossuary—a receptacle for bones—was constructed to hold the "excess" bodies in the basement of the cemetery chapel. The decorations in the Bone Church were constructed from these extra bones, primarily in the 19th century.

2. According to legend, a half-blind monk first arranged the bones at the Sedlec Ossuary into pyramids.

If you visit the underground chapel today, you'll notice pyramids of bones in each corner. Now there are four, but once there were six—all allegedly arranged by a half-blind monk in the early 16th century. Supposedly, once he had finished arranging the skulls, femurs, etc. to his liking, he regained his sight.

3. The Sedlec Ossuary is home to a chandelier made with (almost) every bone in the human body.

A Baroque period bone chandelier in the Sedlec Ossuary
A Baroque period bone chandelier in the Sedlec Ossuary
MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images

Perhaps the most famous feature of the Bone Church is the 8-foot chandelier said to contain almost every bone a human being can grow. The chandelier is the work of František Rint, a Czech woodcarver hired around 1870 by the Schwarzenbergs, a powerful noble family that had purchased the property in the late 1700s. Rint—who may have trained in Italy and been inspired by the skeletal decorations in some crypts there—disinfected the bones and bleached them with chlorinated lime to give them a uniform appearance. Macabre as it may seem, the chandelier is not intended as a ghoulish decoration: It's a memento mori, a reminder of death, intended to encourage believers to consider their earthly fate and relationship with God.

4. The Sedlec Ossuary is also home to a family crest made out of bones.

Visitors look at the coat of arms of the Schwarzenberg noble family at the Sedlec Ossuary chapel
Visitors look at the coat of arms of the Schwarzenberg noble family at the Sedlec Ossuary chapel
MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images

The Schwarzenbergs weren't above a little family pride. Rint also fashioned a Schwarzenberg coat of arms out of bones, which is fastened to the railing over one of the pyramids. The bottom right features a raven plucking the eye out of the head of a Turk (all constructed from bones, of course). According to author Paul Koudounaris's book Empire of Death, this feature commemorates the victory of Adolf Schwarzenberg over Ottoman forces in 1598.

5. The Sedlec Ossuary's chapel includes the artist's signature—in bone.

Rint's signature written in bone at the Sedlec Ossuary
Rint's signature at the Sedlec Ossuary
Wilson44691, Wikimedia // Public Domain

There's no doubt about who created most of the chapel's morbid decorations—which also include oversized monstrances, chalices, sunbursts, and garlands—because Rint signed his handiwork. If you visit the ossuary, you can see the signature (made from hand and arm bones) near a staircase down from the main level.

6. The Bone Church has starred in its own short film.

In 1970, the centenary of Rint's undertakings, the Czech surrealist filmmaker Jan Svankmajer came out with Kostnice (The Ossuary), a 10-minute, black-and-white short film celebrating the site. The original narration, which included explanations from a tour guide, was deemed unacceptable by Communist authorities (all the death and decay reportedly seemed a little too subversive). Instead, the audio track was replaced with piano music and the recitation of the poem "To Paint the Portrait of a Bird" by Jacques Prevert.

7. The Sedlec Ossuary is under renovation.

Over the years, the dampness of the underground site—not to mention the stampede of visitors—has taken its toll. The Sedlec Ossuary has been under renovation since 2014, and the entire church is in the process of being strengthened and restored. The famed bone chandelier was dismantled, cleaned, and put back together in 2016. As of February 2019, volunteers were at work dismantling and cleaning the pyramids of bones.

While the renovation is ongoing, the site is generally open during repairs.

Eagle Creek's Durable Caldera Line of Suitcases Can Digitally Track Your Travels

Eagle Creek's Caldera line of bags comes in both black and green.
Eagle Creek's Caldera line of bags comes in both black and green.
Eagle Creek

I always have a little anxiety when I check a suitcase for a flight. What if it gets damaged, or worse—lost?

Eagle Creek is taking on both challenges with its new Caldera line of suitcases. Thanks to a polycarbonate back shell and a body made of recycled Cordura poly that is tear-, abrasion-, and water-resistant, the bags are lightweight but tough.

They’re also full of smart details: reflective, water-resistant zippers; a proprietary system that keeps the handle from being crushed; personalizable rubber side handles; side straps with aluminum hardware that can be tucked away; and a “coat keeper” that allows you to secure your coat to the top of the bag as you’re rolling through the airport.

The Eagle Creek Caldera Wheeled Duffel.
The Eagle Creek Caldera's "coat keeper" in action.
Eagle Creek

But the thing that really got me excited about the Caldera line is TripSync. Each bag in the Caldera line is equipped with an NFC chip that allows you to report your bag if it’s lost and tracks your trips for a cool digital reminder of where you've been.

Eagle Creek sent me the 100-liter wheeled duffel to test, and I brought it along with me on a trip to Israel. I wasn’t able to check out TripSync (which was still in beta at the time of my trip) but here’s how it works: First, if your phone requires it, download an app that will read the NFC chip. Then, hold your phone near the luggage tag, which will launch a video describing the features of your bag and how to care for it. (There’s also a handy diagram that will tell you which Eagle Creek packing cubes you need, and the way to orient them, to get the most space out of your bag.)

After the video, you’ll sign up for an account. Don’t forget to register your bag—it’s the only way you can report it as lost if it goes missing. You may also need to adjust your settings to allow TripSync to get your location so it can accurately track your travel.

Before you check your bag or hop on the plane, scan your bag and make sure you’re logged in, then click “start trip.” After that, you’ll need to scan your bag and click “add stop” or “end trip” to log your travels. (These steps are important—the bag isn’t actively being tracked by GPS, so trip length is based on the points you log and determined by “the most direct path between the points,” according to Eagle Creek’s website. “The total miles traveled between each point you create become your total miles traveled for that one trip.”)

If you need to report your bag lost, you do so by logging in and clicking the “report lost” button. When someone finds the bag, all they need to do is scan it with their phone to contact you; none of your information will be revealed. When your bag is back in your hands, you can mark it as found.

Eagle Creek Caldera luggage.
If your bag gets lost, whoever finds it just has to tap their smartphone on the ID tag and you'll be contacted.
Eagle Creek

Though I wasn’t able to try TripSync, I was still impressed by the physical features of the bag. The bag is durable as promised, and spacious—I had plenty of room for everything I wanted to bring, with space to spare for souvenirs. (The suitcase is also expandable via a zipper, but I didn’t have to use that feature this time.) Thanks to the sturdy handle and rugged wheels, the bag handled great both empty and when it was fully loaded, both on smooth streets and uneven terrain. And as a person who struggles with what to do with her coat when wheeling all of her luggage through the airport, I found the coat keeper to be especially helpful. I can’t wait to take the bag on another trip to try out TripSync for myself.

If you’re not in the market for a carry-on or checked suitcase, Eagle Creek also has a Caldera backpack as well as a convertible bag that can be both worn as a backpack and rolled like a traditional carry-on suitcase.

The bags come in black and green; they start at $279 for the backpack and go up to $569 for the four-wheeled 100L model. You can buy them on EagleCreek.com.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

10 Enchanting Places That Align with the Vernal Equinox

A shadowy serpent appears at Chichen Itza on the equinox.
A shadowy serpent appears at Chichen Itza on the equinox.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

On Thursday, March 19, the vernal equinox heralded the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Ancient civilizations built calendars and observatories to track the movements of the stars and mark this monumental time. Now, people still partake in a variety of traditions and rituals to honor the day when light and dark become equal. To take your celestial celebrations to the next level, here are 10 places that align with the spring equinox.

1. On the vernal equinox, a massive snake appears on the temple at Chichen Itza.

Legend says that on the spring and fall equinoxes, the Maya city of Chichen Itza receives an otherworldly visitor: Kukulcan, the feathered serpent deity. On these days, a shadowy snake slithers down the side of the god's namesake pyramid. As the temple darkens, a single strip of light stretches from the top of the northern staircase to the snake head resting at the bottom, creating the illusion of a wriggling reptile.

2. A beam of light illuminates a petroglyph within Arizona’s Boulder House each vernal equinox.

The Boulder House in Scottsdale, Arizona, looks like a strange home wedged amid a jumble of rocks. But it’s actually a modern house built around a sacred Native American site. The Empie family, who bought the parcel of desert land in the 1980s, commissioned architect Charles Johnson to transform the cluster of 1.6-billion-year-old boulders into a functional house. Johnson crafted a unique structure, incorporating the rocks into the house’s foundation and preserving the prehistoric carvings. On the equinox, sunlight pierces between two boulders in the unusual abode, striking a spiral petroglyph on the wall to create a dazzling piece of home decor.

3. On the vernal equinox, a group of Moai on Easter Island stare directly at the sunset.

Seven Moai gaze face toward the horizon
On the equinox, these Moai stare directly at the setting sun.
abriendomundo/iStock via Getty Images

People aren’t the only ones who pause to watch the sun slip beneath the horizon on the first day of spring. On Easter Island, at a sacred site called Ahu Akivi, a line of seven Moai—the island’s giant, mysterious heads—gaze directly at the point at which the sun sets in the sky on the equinox.

4. Each vernal equinox, light drenches a petroglyph-filled cairn at Loughcrew.

The hills of Loughcrew, one of Ireland’s four main passage tomb sites, are crowned by 5000-year-old megalithic structures. At dawn on the equinox, sunlight fills Cairn T, a passage tomb carved with astoundingly well-preserved examples of Neolithic art. As the light dissolves the darkness, the cup marks that dimple its walls and the symbols adorning its back stones blaze into view. The illumination lasts for about 50 minutes, giving observers ample time to take turns squeezing into the cairn.

5. On the vernal equinox, light streams through one of the Mnajdra Prehistoric Temples.

The Mnajdra Prehistoric Temples on Malta’s southern coast are archaeological wonders. They were built between 3600 and 2500 BCE and are believed to be among the world’s oldest freestanding stone buildings. Not much is known about the people who created these megalithic masterpieces, though it’s clear they constructed one of the temples with an eye to the heavens. On the equinox, the sun streams through the South Temple’s main doorway, flooding the structure’s major axis with light.

6. On the vernal equinox, the sun sits directly atop the main temple at Angkor Wat.

Watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat would be a magical experience any day. Crowds hush as colorful hues paint the world’s largest religious structure with a gilded glow. Dawn at Angkor Wat is even more special on the equinoxes. Then, the sun rises behind the main temple before briefly seeming to balance on its tip like a fiery halo.

7. On the spring equinox, the sun rises through the entrance to Stonehenge Aotearoa.

Stonehenge has inspired replicas around the globe—including as far away as New Zealand. Stonehenge Aotearoa, which opened in 2005, was built by the Phoenix Astronomical Society. The structure is an astronomical tool for observing the local skies, and blends modern astronomy with ancient starlore. If you stand in the center of the circle on the Southern Hemisphere's vernal equinox, you can watch the sun rise directly through the Sun Gate, two carved pillars that flank the entrance to the henge.

8. The shadow of the intihuatana at Machu Picchu disappears at noon on the equinox.

A curious stone structure stands atop a temple at Machu Picchu. It’s one of the rare surviving intihuatanas that wasn’t demolished by the Spanish conquistadors. This “hitching post of the sun” is believed to have been an astronomical tool. At noon on the equinox, the granite pillar’s shadow briefly vanishes. Unfortunately, the invaluable object now looks a bit battered. In 2000, a crane toppled into the intihuatana during the filming of a beer commercial, smashing part of it.

9. At sunrise on the spring equinox, the sun bursts through the door of a temple at Dzibilchaltún.

Sunrise at Dzibilchaltún
Each equinox, the sun appears within the door of the Temple of the Seven Dolls.
renatamsousa/iStock via Getty Images

Though now reduced to a medley of ruins dotting the jungle, Dzibilchaltún was once the longest continually inhabited Maya administrative and ceremonial city. The star attraction here is the Temple of the Seven Dolls, a building named for the mysterious human-like figures discovered inside. At dawn on the equinox, the sun shines through the temple’s main door. It’s believed the sacred structure was aligned with the equinoxes to mark the beginning of the planting season and the end of the harvesting season.

10. The 'Woodhenge' at the Cahokia Mounds aligns with the sunrise on the equinox.

During the Mississippian cultural period, Cahokia's population exceeded that of London. In addition to giant pyramids, the North American city also featured circles of wooden posts, since dubbed “Woodhenge.” The wooden markers were likely used to track the sun’s movements. One of the posts aligns with the equinoxes, as well as with the front of Monks Mound. On sunrise on the equinox, it looks as though the sun is emerging from the enigmatic earthwork.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER