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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Kutna Hora and the Bone Church, I kid you not!

Prague's such a lovely city that we decided to only plan one trip out of town and that was to Kutna Hora, a town of 20,000 40 miles east of Prague, on top of what was once Europe’s largest silver mine. Much of Europe’s coinage was minted here but by 1700 the mining and minting petered out and the city went into decline. As Rick Steves says, Kutna Hora is a typical Czech town and about as close to quintessential Czech life as you can get. 

We had really come to see the eerie Bone Church in nearby Sedlec, certainly not everyone's cup of tea, I admit, but all part of our adventures this trip. Where else can you find a bone church, I figure in this world. I'm sure you're thinking "AND why would you want to?"  We took the 1 hour train ride from the huge and very confusing Prague train station (info about which platform we needed to get to was only available 15 minutes before the train left; thank goodness we didn’t have luggage to take as we’d never have made it) to Kutna Hora’s main station and then a local train to the Sedlec station.

The Cemetery Church of All Saints with the Ossuary aka the Bone Church: The little church looks normal on the outside but on the inside the bones of 40,000 people decorate the walls and ceilings. The 14th C. plagues and the religious Hussite wars of the Middle Ages provided all the raw material necessary for the creepily creative monks who made the designs. Those who first placed the bones 400 years ago wanted viewers to remember that the earthly church is a community of both the living and the dead, a countless multitude that will one day stand before God. Later bone-stackers were more interested in design than in theology as evidenced by the chandelier that includes every bone in the human body! Some of the bones were reputedly assembled into pyramids in 1511 by a half blind monk. Its unique decorative items include chalices, a cross and a coat of arms.

Outside on the sidewalk; no doubt as
to what's inside here!

As soon as you enter this is
what you see.

A chandelier made of every human bone;
 so glad THAT'S not above our heads as we eat!

Never seen a family coat of arms
 quite like this one.
We took the 1 hour train ride from the huge and very confusing Prague train station (info about which platform we needed to get to was only available 15 minutes before the train left; thank goodness we didn’t have luggage to take as we’d never have made it) to Kutna Hora’s main station and then a local train to the Sedlec station.

Sure wasn't hungry after seeing all those bones, so we then walked a mile or so into town to see more sights after quickly peeking into the Cathedral of Assumption of Our Lady, the 1st Cistercian monastery in Bohemia founded in1142, built between 1282 and 1320 and the oldest cathedral in Central Europe. Some photos below of street scenes as we walked to our next stop.
Church of St. James

An aside: After spending 2 plus weeks in Poland, we realize in hindsight how easy it is for tourists there to get around any Polish town as there are street signs on the buildings at every corner. We struggled in the Czech Republic as an awful lot of the streets have no signs at all. Steven and I generally find it really easy to get around in any city anywhere as long as we have a map with at least some streets listed AND there are street signs.

Jesuit College: On the way to St. Barbara’s Church, we walked past the lovely 3 story Baroque building built in 1667 which is now the 2nd largest gallery in the Czech Republic.

Our 1st sight of the Jesuit College on the hill
 on the right and St Barbara's on the left.
We climbed all the way up of course.

I'm sure you can imagine how spectacular it was
 walking up this long path, passing the Jesuit College
on one side and jaw dropping statues on the other,
on the way to St. Barbara's.

Finally, the top of the hill and the magnificent
former Jesuit College and now Modern Art Gallery.
St. Barbory or Barbara’s Cathedral: It was founded in 1388 by miners who dedicated it to their patron. Construction was interrupted several times and the monumental cathedral was completed, after more than 500 years of building, in 1905. The dazzling interior celebrates the town’s sources of wealth with frescoes featuring mining and minting. 

The front of St. Barbara's!

and the rear.

The statue of the miner dates back to 1700. He is wearing a special costume. In his left hand, he's holding a lamp, while in his right hand, we could see a working tooll. He has a leather apron around his waist which he used for sliding down to the mine. Miners worked 6 days a week, 10-14 hours a day. At the beginning of the 16th C. mines in Kutna Hora were as deep as 500 m which was a world record at the time.
The Mintners' Chapel.

The confessional.

The detail on the base of each
 triangle was carved differently.

Where the choir stood.
 Italian Court: The palace, located on the site where Czech currency was once made, became Europe’s most important mint and the main residence of Czech kings in the 1400’s.

Havlicek Square: The bronze statue in front of the Italian Court honors the founder of Czechoslovakia, T.M. Masark (1850-1937). On the wall to the left of the gate, there’s a small bronze tablet covered with barbed wire; it’s a small memorial to the victims of the communist misrule and torture.
We were surprised to learn that Vietnamese immigrants account for the 3rd largest minority in the Czech Republic after Poles and Slovaks. Many came here in the 1970’s as part of a communist solidarity program that sent Vietnamese workers to the Czech textile factories.

There weren’t many trains going back to Prague so we needed to keep a strict eye on time. We had to take the local train from Kutna Hora’s 3rd station, the town station, to Kutna Hora hvalni nadrazi, the main station, for the trip back to Prague. Getting that connection was a bit hairy as we only had 3 minutes to make it to the Prague train; a little tighter than we’d have liked! Oh well, we did label this trip an adventure, right!