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Skull and Bones and Ossuaries: The Sedlec Ossuary

Some believe that the secret symbol of the skull and bones, and more specifically, its association with death, is based on the inclusion of this symbol in ossuaries. The specific ossuary on which this theory is based is the Sedlec Ossuary, the Christian chapel located in the historic town of Kutná Hora, located in the central region of Bohemia in the Czech Republic.

Found beneath the cemetery of the Church of All Saints, the ossuary, known as Kostnice Sedlec in Czech, houses approximately 40,000 human skeletons that have been arranged in an artistic manner in order too create decorations and furnishings for the ossuary. The chapel contains the bones of some 50,000 to 70,000 individuals who have been buried there since the Middle Ages.

The Founding of the Sedlec Ossuary

An abbot of the Cistercian monastery, a Roman Catholic order of enclosed monk, founded the ossuary in 1142. One of these abbots, named Henry, visited the Holy Land in 1278 upon the orders of King Otakan II of Bohemia. Upon his return from the Holy Land, Henry brought with him a small sample of soil from the area, which he sprinkled over the abbey cemetery. When news of this event spread, Sedlec became one of the most popular burial sites in central Europe. In fact, thousands of people were buried at the Sedlec Ossuary during the mid-fourteenth century Black Plague and after the Hussite Wars – a series of religious, social and national conflicts that occurred during the early fifteenth century in the Czech Republic.

The History of the Sedlec Ossuary’s Unique Design

After the year 1400, one of the abbots ordered the construction of the Gothic-style Church of All Saints. The church was constructed in the middle of the cemetery. Beneath the Church of All Saints, a chapel was built in order to house the bones from the graves that had been destroyed during the establishment of the church.

Between the years 1703 and 1710, the charnel house (vault or edifice in which bones and corpses are stored) was remodeled according to the Czech Baroque style, which was characterized by dynamic and dramatic materials and designs, by famous Czech architect Jan Blažej Santini-Aichl.

The present style of the Sedlec Ossuary was established in 1870. František Rint, a Czechoslovakian wood carver and carpenter, used the bones found in the Sedlec Ossuary to create stunning designs in order to engineer the ossuary unique décor, which highlight the skull and bones symbol. Some of the most notable of Rink’s decorations include a chandelier that was created using various bones of the human body, as well as the two monstrances found beside the main altar. Rink also fashioned skull pyramids and crosses using the bones in the chapel. Rink also created a striking arrangement of bones in the shape of a bell, which decorate the four corners of the chapel. These objects were placed inside the crypt of the chapel and served as memento mori, objects, and in particular, a skull, that served as a reminder of humans’ mortality.


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