Oscillating on a rickety train to visit the Sedlec Ossuary outside Prague

On the train going from Prague to Kutná Hora, I can't help but notice its violent, vibrating,  hectic energy. 

The cars on this route all seem decades old, born in the forge of the mid-Cold War era. They're the mechanical equivalent of a Gen Xer, shaking and rattling as we roll our way toward the tiny town housing a morbid curiosity.
The centerpiece of the Sedlec Ossuary is the chandelier made of tailbones
adorned with its boney garlands. Pudelek (Marcin Szala)/CC BY-SA 4.0

These are not the shiny new toy trains that speed through Germany, nearly silent and gliding through the countryside, but given today's destination, this vehicle seems rather appropriate. 

Each car is lined with a row of 6-seat, closed compartments on the starboard side, each of them either full or occupied by people selfishly splayed across multiple seats. Our group of four somehow claims a compartment of our own, asking the few people who try joining us if they have a mask. None of them do, and no one attempts to sit next to us.

Meanwhile, the rush of people who stormed up the steps from the platform in Prague squeeze into the narrow hallway, grabbing onto the railing to abstain from being catapulted forward as the train picks up speed. 

It's evident far too many tickets were sold for today's trip. 

Despite the dangerous way it leans back and forth as we round corners into dark tunnels, a loud couple yelling in Czech outside our compartment's door and the fumes wafting in through the train's open windows, I can't help but be excited for the adventure we've embarked on.

Today's trip was many years in the making, one my husband and I have dreamed of both separately and together for a long time. 

Three years ago, we came very close to making it to Kutná Hora during a winter break vacation in Central Europe betwixt the final semesters of my college career. 

Back then, we went to four cities in four different countries over the course of seven nights, staying in each for only a night or two. The first two nights were spent in Budapest, horribly jetlagged; we breezed through Bratislava in one evening; and I caught a cold our second day in Vienna. 

By the time we reached our one full day in Prague, we were too tired — and too hungover from our first night of barhopping between speakeasies — to handle a train trip outside the city.

In skipping out on our plans to visit Kutná Hora in 2019, we had missed our chance to see the Sedlec Ossuary, a more than 600-year-old Roman Catholic chapel decorated with the skeletal remains of at least 40,000 bodies.

A skull and crossbones mosaic in the cobblestone sidewalk outside
the Sedlec Ossuary. Lauren J. Mapp

Also known as the "Church of All Saints with a Bone," the history of the Sedlec Ossuary begins in the year 1278, when a Sedlec Cistercian Monastery abbot was sent to Jerusalem by the King of Bohemia. 

He is said to have returned with "Holy soil," which he sprinkled upon the monastery's cemetery to create Europe's oldest Holy Field. 

As the plague swept through Bohemia in the 14th century, at least 30,000 people were buried in the cemetery, and another 10,000 were bodies were added in the 15th century during the Hussite Wars. A church was later constructed on the grounds, and exhumed bones from the cemetery were built into pyramids inside the underground chapel by a semi-blind abbot. 

The following centuries brought rounds of renovations to the chapel, and the construction of decorations made from the ossuary's bones, including a chandelier, garlands and a crest. 

Today, the town centre of Kutná Hora — along with its Church of St. Barbara, the Cathedral of Our Lady at Sedlec and the Sedlec Ossuary — is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and a monument worth visiting. 

While photos are not allowed inside the chapel, I did manage to sneak a quick shot from upstairs.
Lauren J. Mapp

So did we plan our entire trip to Europe in April and our schedule of cities we visited solely around seeing the ossuary? Why yes, yes we did, and if you're looking to leave Prague for a day trip, you should, too. 

The train to get to Kutná Hora takes about an hour and a half each way, and it's another 20 minutes to walk to the Ossuary. It's very small and only takes half an hour or so to fully to explore once inside. 

The train tickets round-trip are ~$10 USD, and a ticket is $7 for entry to the Ossuary and Cathedral of Our Lady at Sedlec, or $12 to visit both sites and the Church of St. Barbara. The tickets for both the train and the monuments can be purchased ahead of time online, just make sure to validate your ticket in the train station before heading toward your platform. 

Be aware that photos are not allowed inside the chapel, and there are several cameras throughout that a front desk receptionist monitors.

Nearby there are gift shops and a Lego Museum with a cool skeleton sitting at a booth in the cafe, which you can enter even without going to the museum. We didn't find a restaurant close by that we wanted to eat lunch at, and didn't want to walk further away from the train station into town, so we headed back to Prague for lunner after walking around the chapel. 

It may be a strange and unusual monument to have taken such a prominent spot on my bucket list for so many years, but in the words of "Beetlejuice" character Lydia Deetz, "I myself am strange and unusual," so I'm happy to have finally made it to Kutná Hora. 

Posing with my buddy, Mr. Skeleton, at the Lego Museum cafe near the
Sedlec Ossuary in Kutná Hora. Peter Hefti


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