Kutna Hora & The Bone Chapel

Kutna Hora & The Bone Chapel

Kutna Hora is a village about a 45 minute train ride east of Prague. Listed as a UNESCO-World Heritage Site, this village may seem small but packs an immense amount of important history.

The Tour Package

In late September, we went on a tour with Discover Prague Tours, which took 5 hours start to finish and cost us a total of $62 USD (or 1400 CZK) for both of us. This price included all transportation and admissions into:

  • The Sedlec Ossuary (Bone Chapel)
  • Saint Barbara’s Church
  • Hrádek
  • The Hussite Wars
  • Sankturin House
  • The Plague Column
  • Bohemia’s oldest Cistercian Monastery
  • St. James’ Church
  • The Italian Court
  • Royal Mint
  • Ruthardska Street
  • The Jesuit College
  • Stone House

Needless to say, we definitely get our money’s worth!

The Ride Out

The tour starts with a short, scenic walk through Prague to the train station, where we hopped on a train out to Kutna Hora. Our tour guide, Colorado Dave, warned us that the Nazi banners that we would be passing were not part of the normal city decor, but instead a movie set for Jesse Eisenberg's new movie, Resistance. Unfortunately for Jesse, we didn’t see him as we walked by.

Coming from the U.S. with a horrible passenger train system, we were probably a little too excited about the train ride out. The station was buzzing and beautiful. We arrived with just enough time to either grab a bite to eat at one of the fast food options or peruse the station’s grocery store. Choosing the latter, we stuffed our bag with a few pastries for the ride and snacks for the day. 

The train and platforms had an air of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts Express, but as we walked by a statue of Sir Nicholas Winton we were reminded of the real history that took place through this very station.

During the months leading up to WWII, this Englishman saved 669 children from the war by taking a few at time out of Prague, through this railway into England and arranging their foster families. Sir Winton's story is incredibly admirable. You can find a short YouTube video here

Nick, Sir Nicholas & our friend Richard from Britain 

The train ride was a nice time to take in the countryside while getting to know some of the other people on our tour. We had a fairly large group - about two dozen of us in total.

In the Czech Republic, you have the option to include a seat assignment when you purchase your train ticket. We didn’t have to worry about anything, since Discover Prague Tours purchases seats and handles the ticketing for the tour. More on that later…

Kutna Hora's History

Our tour began with a very educational overview of the town’s historical importance, followed by a walk around town with Dave explaining points of interest and architecture, keeping us all enthralled. The major fact that stood out to us is what gave the town it’s namesake.

Kutna Hora translates to Silver Mountains, after the immense amount of silver found in the area. The mining and minting operation grew Kutna Hora into the second largest town in Bohemia and the country’s financial center. It was here that the first recorded occurrence of government (King Wenceslaus II of Bohemia) using “mineral rights” as a means of exploiting the land.

For our history buffs, there is MUCH more to read here. But for most, the main draw to visit Kutna Hora is to check out the Bone Chapel. 

Some Bone Chapel History

In the 13th century, the abbot from the Sedlec Monastery in Kutna Hora went on a pilgrimage to Palestine. He brought back with him a jar of soil from the Holy Land and sprinkled it around the grounds of the chapel. Already in the midst of the silver mining rush, the word spread throughout Europe’s religious and elites. This created an immense surge of corpses being sent to the cemetery.

Soon enough there wasn’t space for everyone, so they began to exhume the previously buried and place their bones in the ossuary. Despite the continuous efforts of the Sedlec monks, the number of bodies to be buried were piling up. People were bringing their beloved to be laid to rest in a holy place, but there were no permanent graves available.

We were told the Chapel spread word (even to this day) that a corpse brought to their chapel will decompose completely within three days. Bogus claims aside, this went on for about 300 years! Through the years, one of the Sedlec monks would always be assigned to stack bones in the ossuary basement.

In 1870, the Schwarzenberg family purchased the bone chapel and hired a local woodcarver by the name of Frantisek Rint to create something beautiful out of the unusual problem they found themselves with. What he came up with is what we now see today. It is currently estimated that the bones from 60,000 people reside in the the Ossuary of the Bone Chapel.

The Bone Chapel Tour

The entrance led us directly into the basement of the chapel. Once inside, we were immediately greeted with bones decorating the candelabras, artistic crosses and garlands along the walls. The entrance alone left quite a first impression!

The basement is large and open with a massive centerpiece. Walking space is outlined like a cross providing a path to guide us around the room. In each of the four corners stand giant pyramids of bones neatly stacked behind protective windows.

The northwest corner displays the Schwarzenberg family crest.

An impressive chandelier hangs as the room’s centerpiece. It contains at least one of every single type of bone in the human body. (For our anatomical friends, even the stapes!)

It may look a bit morbid, and we get it. But honestly, this was one of the most interesting ways we’ve ever seen death celebrated. Thousands of people donated their remains to be a part of something holy. Their remains were then re-envisioned to create something beautiful out of death. It really became clear to us that anything can be made into art, even bones!

Continuing Through Kutna Hora

The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering around the rest of the tour sights. We heard about the effects of the 15th century Hussite Wars. Dave taught us the term defenestration is the act of throwing someone out of a window. This word carries a lot of weight with the Czechs since it is known to have sparked both the Hussite and Thirty Years wars.

We toured the Church of Saint John the Baptist and Saint Barbara’s Cathedral. Both are iconic examples of the region’s Baroque-Gothic architecture. Saint Barbara, patron saint of miners, is appropriate for this silver mining town.

Saint Barbara's Cathedral

Church of the Assumption of Our Lady and Saint John the Baptist

Crests of the families who contributed to the building of the Church of St. John the Baptist

We ate delicious local cuisine at the famously authentic Restaurace Dacicky. Over lunch, we're informed that dark beers were typical for women to drink. Although dark beers look heavier, in the Czech Republic they are historically brewed lighter in alcohol content and in taste. Lighter colored beers on the other hand are heavier in alcohol and in flavor.

Colorado Dave told us an old wives tale in Czech and in Germany that women would tell their daughters. It states the more beer you drink, the larger your boobs will grow. The lesser known part of that wive’s tale is that the rest of you will also get much larger. We thought it was funny that Nick had been ordering dark beer, and Tessa ordered light all week.

View overlooking Kutna Hora from the church grounds

Returning to Prague

The most adventurous part of our tour surprisingly came at the end, when we tried to get back to Prague. As mentioned before, in Czech you will only definitely have a seat if you pay for a seat assignment when purchasing the ticket. This means you can still get on the train, but if you’re sitting in someone’s seat they can kick you out.

Before arriving back at the train station, Dave gave us a heads up that because it was Sunday afternoon, all the university students and residents of Prague who go home for the weekend will be packed on the city bound train. His advice? Follow his lead and push your way through relentlessly.

We had seats reserved and as our fearless leader, Dave was ready to kick everyone out of the way to let us sit down. But then the train arrived.

There were so many people we were barely even able to board! Students were hanging out the windows. Dave attempted to lead the charge while the rest of us laughed as we ran back and forth between the doors of our car trying to find a way on.

After some pushing and squeezing, we were all aboard. Although we had seat assignments, there were quite a few of us who weren’t even able board the correct car. Even so, the group was in good spirits, joking and laughing about the situation rather than complaining. It made the whole sardine-packed train ride back an adventure.

Dave on the other hand had a bit of a hard go of it. As a paid guide, he’s responsible for 20+ people not only getting back, but getting back as comfortably as possible. Unfortunately, one Frenchman seemed to have the sole goal in life to make everyone around him as uncomfortable as possible. Dave’s mild altercation resulted in a tidbit of information we thought was pretty interesting.

Under Czech law, you can only be charged with assault if the person you harmed has to go to the hospital. Otherwise, punching someone is fair game. We’re wondering if that law has anything to do with the bar brawls that must occur, given the fact that Czech consumes the most beer per capita and per person in the world (about 143.3 liters/capita).

We made it back to Prague in one piece, grateful that everyone was getting off at the stop as well so we didn’t have to push back through. We ended our tour by grabbing a few beers with Colorado Dave and learning more about his experiences around Prague and other parts of the world.

Tour Guide, Colorado Dave

We should mention that we called him Colorado Dave because he grew up in Colorado. But he's been around the world with the U.S. Navy, has spent time living in Spain and currently resides in Prague.

He recently started a tour company of his own - Bohemian Wander Tours. If you’re looking to take any tours of Prague, Kutna Hora or the nearby gorgeous Bohemian Switzerland (a must if you love the outdoors!), you can find him through his website or on Facebook.

Kutna Hora was an amazing excursion we recommend to everyone! It was the perfect opportunity to see more of the countryside, escape the tourists in Prague, and to learn about the history that makes Czechs who they are today.

Have you been to Kutna Hora? Tell us about your experience below!

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