First of all, I do apologize for being so absent from the blog for so long. Things are really quite busy when you and your wife work full time, travel all weekend, and still have to do all the chores and things that everyone else has to. Not that I’m complaining, it’s just that I have hardly had to ask “where did the time go?” In any case, some time is now opening up, and concurrently with a hard drive recovery that brought back thousands upon thousands of pictures, I’m pretty much ready to start posting again.
So let’s start back in the Czech Republic, which is more than a year ago now, but which has been insufficiently covered. We’ll head back to Bohemia, to a picturesque mountainous region just east of Prague, where there sits a small town called Kutná Hora.
Kutná Hora has a long history, and the mountains have a history of silver mining that dates back more than 1000 years, meaning that the many kingdoms that have controlled Bohemia have considered it to be quite an important region. Kutná Hora itself may be most historically important for its royal mint, but it has also housed a royal residence at times. Wealth from silver mining and royal favor combined to make Kutná Hora a thriving and beautiful city. Now it is home to multiple UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and at such close proximity to Prague, easy to visit.
The city center itself is a UNESCO site, and is well worth a walk around. It includes a plague column, one of several examples of plague columns in the region, erected in thanksgiving for the end of one of the many plagues that swept Europe.
However, the top two things people visit for are the Sedlec Ossuary and the elegant, mixed Gothic and Baroque Church of St. Barbara.
The Sedlec Ossuary is definitely better known among tourists as the “Bone Church,” and so described it is exactly what you would think it is. A church next to a cemetery – a small chapel, really – the Sedlec Ossuary contains the bones of perhaps 50,000 people, arranged into architectural elements. It is at once whimsical, delicate, creative, and highly unsettling.
Researchers have gone through some of the bones laid to rest here, and separate displays show some of the more “interesting” finds, including skulls with particularly gory battle wounds from the middle ages.
It is not a big place, nor is it terribly easily accessible, but it is easy to see how the Bone Church is one of Czechia’s top tourist destinations. If you can exit the chapel unaffected, you’re a stronger person than I.
Also in Kutná Hora is the Church of St. Barbara, built between 1388 and – wait for it – 1905. Yes, you read that right. It took more than 500 years to build. The church’s first architect was reportedly Johann Parler, son of Peter Parler, who designed St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague. Suffice it to say Johann did not live to see his creation finished.
Given that the money set aside for the construction of St. Barbara depended on the warlike whims of medieval and renaissance warlords and self-styled emperors, we may be able to forgive a few hundred years’ delay. But St. Barbara’s development also depended on the profitability of Kutná Hora’s famous silver mines, which have declined over the years. I am willing to believe that this accounts for the balance. Still, half a millennium is a long time to wait for a church.
Unsurprisingly, St. Barbara is the patron saint of miners, and inside St. Barbara there are wall paintings depicting medieval minters pounding out coins by hand from the silver mined in the surrounding hills. One can also pay a separate fee to climb to the upper level, through which one can inspect the flying buttresses up close.