KUTNA HORA AND THE CHAPEL OF BONES
JOHN M. EDWARDS
John M. Edwards middlenamed his daughter after his favourite
travel writer, Bruce Chatwin. His work has appeared in Amazon.com,
CNN Traveller, Missouri Review, Salon.com, Grand Tour, Michigan
Quarterly Review, Escape, Global Travel Review, Condé
Nast Traveler, International Living, Emerging Markets
and Entertainment Weekly. He helped write “Plush”
(the opening chords), voted The Best Song of the 20th Century
by Rolling Stone Magazine.
Hlavni Nadrazi, Prague’s main train station, the large
ugly lady in Aeroflot chic flinched when I ordered a roundtrip
to the naughty-sounding “Kutna Hora,” mispronouncing
my destination on purpose. She blinked rapidly like the flipping
of a train schedule board, acting as if I had just called her
at last getting it, the female factotum handed me my ticket
as if it were toilet tissue, which you still have to pay for
in WCs in the Czech Republic, a holdover from Communist times.
wanted to go to a small picaresque village in order to get some.
Not prostitution, mind you, but a chance encounter with a Eurotrash
model with high Slavic cheekbones, where an American backpacker
might still be a novelty, away from overcrowded Prague and its
subversive Stag and Hen parties.
are a lot of things in life that make no sense, such as mambypamby
daytrips -- why not stay overnight? The less time we spend in
a place the more likely we are in giving an unfair decree of
a Holy Roman Emperor’s thumb’s down and disparaging
I wanted to see what many people consider to be the most picturesque
small village in the Czech Republic, although in its heyday
this devilish demesne was so rich that they had their own mint.
more, one of Europe’s most gruesome sites lies nearby:
the Sedlec Ossuary (Bone Chapel). Pictures I had seen of it
were reminiscent of medieval wood cuts of The Grim Reaper or
skeletal Tarot Cards or Grateful Dead stickers: all skulls and
crossbones. Although a grim reminder that none of us have all
that long in the world, this Christian chapel of bones was not
used for satanic rights but instead their opposite.
the geographic region actually called ‘Bohemia’
on a map, Kutna Hora is filled with real Bohemians, where the
now near-universal term for vagabond came into its own as an
all-purpose moniker for artists, intellectuals, musicians, flaneurs,
as well as dirtbag backpackers.
Hora was a silver mining town in medieval times, with, I must
reiterate, its own mint, and today the historical town center
is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Cathedral of St. Barbara,
begun by Peter Parler in 1380, and The Cathedral of Our Lady
at Sedlec, built I dunno when, are the two standout churches.
Throughout the city, though, are restored medieval, Gothic,
Renaissance, and Baroque facades often disguising urban decay
sights include all the silver mines, many tours of which begin
at Hradek, the Czech museum of silver, and the Royal Mint and
former Royal Residence on the so-called Italian Courtyard. Also,
don’t forget to visit the Alchemy Museum in the Sankturin
House and The Torture Museum. Especially, if you are a fan of
Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth’s shocker Hostel, which
even though it is supposedly set in Slovakia was filmed instead
here in the Czech Republic.
hotel U Hrncire (by the jug maker’s) I stuck with traditional
Czech dishes like proletariat pork and peas, washed down with
Staropramen ‘pivo’ (Pilsener), rather than the well-known
exports of Pilsener Urquell and the original Budvar (now called
‘Czechvar’ to avoid confusion with the American
Budweiser). Grub was so cheap out here that I ordered also a
Czech-style goulash with dour doughy dumplings.
on to the real reason I had come here: to contemplate death,
for only forty Czech korunas (crowns).
every day except for Christmas, the Sedlec Ossuary (Kostnice)
dates back to 1278 when Jindrich, the abbot of Sedlec, was sent
to the Holy Land and returned with soil from Golgotha and sprinkled
it on the land. In 1511 a chapel was constructed containing
the bones from abolished graves, over 40,000 of them, many of
them victims of the Thirty Years War in the 17th Century. The
artist Frantisek Rint in 1870 rearranged the bones in an artistic
manner, including an enormous chandelier with every bone of
the body and a crucifix-style configuration near the main altar.
to legend, partially blind mad monks started arranging the bones
into geometric shapes. However, the decorations and sculptures
were created by the aforementioned master wood-cutter and architect
Frantisek Rint who began his skullduggery literally in 1870
to drive home the impermanence of life and the inevitability
of death. Rint’s specialty was skull candelabra, but his
patrons, the wealthy Schwarzenberg family, also requested a
royal coat of arms with a raven pecking out the eyes of a woebegone
also by John M. Edwards:
Art of Sol Bolaños