Architecture made from human bone is found throughout the world—often, but not always, constructed by church authorities encouraging us to reflect on our mortal fate, and to behave accordingly. One of the most famous such sites is the Sedlec ossuary, about a half-hour outside Prague, which owes its fantastic bone creations to a handful of dirt.

While the specifics have been lost to time, legend has it that during the 13th century, a local abbot went to the Holy Land and brought back a palmful or two of soil from Golgotha, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion. The abbot deposited it in the cemetery of what’s now the Church of All Saints in Sedlec, quickly making the graveyard the most desirable spot to be buried for miles around. After a few terrible plague epidemics and the Hussite wars, the ground was practically overflowing with bodies, and the ossuary (a storehouse for bones) was constructed to hold some of the extra skeletons from the cemetery.

In the 15th century, a half-blind monk may have started arranging some of the ossuary's many bones into artistic assemblages (supposedly, he regained his sight in the process), but the real highlights of the place were created by a talented Czech carpenter named František Rint in the 1870s. Today, tourists love to gawk at the coat of arms created for a local noble family out of the bones, and the chandelier said to contain at least one of every bone in the human body.

As Dylan Thuras notes in the video for Atlas Obscura above, the ossuary is currently being repaired—a difficult task since no one’s really sure how the bone structures are being held together.

The video delves a little deeper into the history of the site, shows off some of its wonders, and at the end recommends some less-visited ossuaries—for those who like their vacation destinations both spooky and very obscure.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

Header image Pudelek via Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 4.0