Between our gigs in Bratislava and Prague, our bus driver agreed to stop at a famous attraction in the town of Sedlec, Czech Republic. The site was originally a very popular cemetery, its popularity due to the fact that Henry, the local abbot, sprinkled some dirt on the cemetery that he brought home with him from Golgotha. During the years of the Bubonic Plague, it became incredibly popular. Later when a church was built on the grounds, tens of thousands of skeletons had to be exhumed (some from mass graves) – the church was to function as an ossuary as well. Apparently, the job of stacking the bones was given to a monk (unreliably said to have bad eyesight) who approached the task with an intense artistic zeal.
He arranged some of the bones into immaculate piles, others into dramatic works of art. Some are simple, more modest pieces, like the multiple garlands made of humeri and skulls. Slightly more elaborate are the skull parfait decorations (pictured above) that line the main steps. Above and beyond that there are, in the main room, an intricate and imposing coat of arms (pun most definitely intended) and perhaps his most famous work, a chandelier that is said to have at least one of every bone in the human body. But it should be noted that the ossuary isn’t just the sum of these impressive constructions. There are bones everywhere, and none of them is simply placed or piled. Even the massive piles of bones that lurk in cages at the base of the main steps are painstakingly stacked into geometric, eye-pleasing mounds, much like expertly stacked wood piles.
As it turns out, it’s possible that the lasting impression was mutual. We were standing in front of the church reflecting and discussing, when the Google Earth car drove by. Maybe the street view of the Sedlec ossuary shows a few haggard musicians standing in front of it – I’m the one with the ochre shorts and messed up hair.