Thursday, January 29, 2009

Beer and Bones in a Church

If you have gone to as many European cities as I have, then at some point, you get tired of visiting Churches. I remember the first European Church I visited – Notre Dame in Paris. I was stunned by the art, the architecture, the stain glass windows, the gargoyles and just about everything. My appreciation for Churches grew multifold when I went to Italy. St.Peters Cathedral and the Sienna Duomo were magnificent. The Mesquita in Spain blew me away, but the interest started fading somewhere between the Gothic church of Barcelona and the St. Nicholas church in Prague.

Vam: I hate to admit it, but I am bored of visiting churches.

Saru: Thank God!! I have been bored for years now, but you keep dragging me there.

Vam: Years? You never liked St. Peters Cathedral or Notre Dame?

Saru: Notre Dame? Where is that? When did we go there?

Vam: Arggh. For our honeymoon!!

Saru: Oh! Notre Dame!! How do you expect me to understand your fake french accent. Anyway,this is why you should write travelogues, so I can remember names. What is the plan for tomorrow?

Vam: We are going to Kutna Hora, a small mining town an hour away from Prague. The big attraction there is this church…..

Saru: WHAT? Pinch me..... I think I am imagining conversations!

Vam: No, no, this is not a traditional Church.

Saru: Oh! Come ON!!

We took a train to Kutna Hora the next morning. It was a pleasant ride through beautiful mustard fields. We became friends with a Czech couple, George and Vlatica and exchanged stories about lives in our countries. They helped us take a local train to the town center. We had a leisurely lunch at Restaurant Donna which served authentic Czech seafood and then went to the biggest attraction of the town – St Barbara’s Cathedral (sigh!). My plan was to spend 10 minutes in this and then move on to the other attraction that inspired the title of this post. But sometimes you find a hidden gem when you least expect it! The exterior of the cathedral was stunning. It looked like a fairytale castle from outside. Kutna Hora was a rich silver mining town in it’s hey days and the merchants showed off the wealth by constructing this Cathedral. Interiors were quite blah just like the zillion churches we saw….nice frescoes, oil paintings, stain glass windows and a nice pipe organ.

We then walked around the town a little bit and took a bus to Sedlec to visit the Bone Church. When I say bones, I don’t mean bones like they were digging and suddenly found human bones in the area. You see, European Churches double up as burial grounds of popular saints, artists and even some rich merchants. Early Christians believed that burial could only take place on sacred ground. Saint Peter is believed to be buried under St.Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, Michelangelo in the Santa Croce Church in Florence and Sir Isaac Newton in the Westminster Abbey in London. I remember the last from the “Da Vinci Code” movie! Most of these Churches had crypts where these influential people were buried.

Interestingly enough Hindus think the exact opposite. Vastu Shastra dictates that a temple can be built in any piece of land except where bones are found. My soil mechanics professor, a very handsome (sigh!) man once told a story where Hindus were fighting for a piece of land to build a temple in the Charminar area in Hyderabad, but gave up when the soil analysis showed bones.

The Church/Ossuary looked very normal from outside. We paid the entrance fee of 5E and entered into the church and were immediately treated to the spookiest of views ever to be seen in a church. The doorway was adorned with a garland of bones and a skull as a center piece!

While normal churches are decorated with frescoes and paintings and mosaics, this one was decorated with bones and 40,000 of them!! Monks in the fourteenth century built this church to impress upon the fact that the church was an abode for the living and dead. Later on, bone stackers elevated it to an art form. It is said that a monk went to Jerusalem and brought back holy earth and sprinkled it at the site of the church. Word spread and this site became a popular one for burials. During the Black Death (black plague) and famine and wars thousands were buried in the neighborhood. Later on, a chapel was build and some monks were commissioned to arrange the bones. These monks took their work very seriously and the result was this:

This chandelier is supposed to contain every bone from the human body!! Yikes!! The monk clearly knew human anatomy. Nobody was in a religious mood in this church, we even saw a guy with a beer bottle!

We met a guy Chang, from Hong Kong on the way to the train station. He was on an 82 day trip in Europe. I love it how serious travelers count every single day of their trip. He didn’t round it down to 80 or up to 90, it was eighty two days. Our 13 day trip paled in comparison. We met Chang again in Cesky Krumlov, a small town in Southern Bohemia in a couple of days.

Coming Next: Cesky Krumlov – Most romantic town in Eastern Europe.

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  1. loved the conversation...its similar to the ones sharath and I have all the time :)

  2. That was fascinating! I'd never heard of this church before, so it was very interesting to see the pictures - you're right, something like this doesn't come to mind when I think European Church. Really cool pictures.

  3. The first church picture wa soo pictureque, postcard and then my jaw dropped when I saw the bones church.....still stunned ....never even heard of such a place leave alone church.....Fascinating & Beautiful in its own weird way :-)

  4. Lakshmi,
    Thanks. Saru is more of a 'nature' person and I love history, so we try to balance out our trips.

    This is more of a tourist attraction than a church now. This is a good day trip from Prague if you get bored with the traditional attractions.

    St.Barbara's cathedral does have a breathtaking facade. Sedlec was, as you said fascinating and beautiful in its own way.

  5. Too bad that you got tired of Churches - I love them. But thats probably because I haven't seen too many of them. Loved the 4th picture the most. And oh yes, I've linked to your blog in my latest post.

  6. Kalyan,
    You are right, I saw too many and had an overload, but the phase will pass and I will long to visit Europe again.
    Thanks for linking my blog in your post.

  7. Yikes! I had read about this ''çhurch'' on ghumakkar too. Certainly not my cup of tea!

  8. Celine,
    I felt the same when I read about it, but after some time, you want to travel to unusual places that stand out from others.

  9. Vamsee - you've been tagged. Hope you will play along!

  10. I've read about this church too... macabre to say the least but Prague otherwise is such an enchanting place specially for its architecture.. It's on my must visit list in a couple of years...

    nice photographs

  11. Bindu,
    My first tag!! Yay! I am excited, but I think I am going to cheat. More on that later.

    Wandering hermit,
    Yes, go to Prague before it becomes expensive like the other European countries. Check out my other posts on Prague.

  12. Amazing looks so lovely....

  13. I love churches too...Notre Dame in Paris holds special memories for me. But this church is just plain weird. Bones in a church?! spooky, alright.

  14. bah...its better to see it in pics. would never dare to go see it in real. i wonder what wud b the nazara in the night. bones emit light because of potassium. btw, the designs are really creative. who wud have thought this can be done with bones

  15. WOW...Stunning images and a awesome post. It was like being there with you Vamsee.

    PS : You should consider posting larger sized images. I clicked on your images and saw the larger view, its absolutely mind blowing stuff...Thomas

  16. Mridula, Deepak

    Notre Dame is quite stunning. This one was plain spooky!

    It was not bad at all to see it in person. That's an interesting tidbit about bones I didn't know.

    Thanks. I couldn't get a blog template that uses the entire space like what you have. I will send you an e-mail and get more information.

  17. Wow...this church is stunning! Real spooky

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  19. I understand you, I went to Europe on my last vacation time, and I visited many many churches and they are all beautiful, I enjoyed visiting them and learning a little of history about the cities where the churches were, but I wanted to see something else

  20. Beautiful church. Looks kind of haunted. Fascinating!!
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