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Sedlec Ossuary: The House of 70,000 Skeletons

By Chris Capps    2/10/12

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There are few places on Earth quite as terrifying as the Ossuary at Sedlec upon first glance.  Without knowing anything else about it, simply looking in on the place it becomes immediately apparent that something strange is going on.  Then upon closer inspection you can clearly see amid the oddly shaped interior structures a chilling motif.  Everything is made of human bones.  As you look closer you can see that the skulls are not merely carvings or statues of bones and skulls, but rather the real thing.  The Ossuary at Sedlec has bones from an estimated 70,000 skeletons inside it.

The skeletons, which were gathered over several years are all part of the masterfully crafted display that can be described only with one word - macabre.  It seems the very definition of macabre is held in place by plaster and masonry, using the hands of expert artisans to hold it together in a display somewhere between reality and the otherworldly dreamscapes of a maddened artist.  But what lies behind the history of this old ossuary?  Why were so many bones used in this way in its construction?

It all started in a time long ago in 1278 when the black death was rampaging through the European countryside.  An abbot by the name of Henry was sent on a pilgrimage to Palestine by then king Otakar the second of Bohemia.  The pilgrimage was long, and the journey lasted several years.  While Henry saw many sights in Palestine, what he returned with would reach the ears of many throughout the countryside far and wide.  When Henry returned to the site of what would eventually become the Ossuary, he sprinkled a thin layer of dust he had gathered from the holy land on the ground, a token of his dedication to the tradition and the church.

By the time the black death claimed lives by the thousands, the cemetery was a place in high demand and so the modest chapel built there became an ossuary.  Skeletons were in no short supply, and the number of people taken to the ossuary by the thousands meant space was at a premium.  Rather than simply letting the bones pile up, the monks there began crafting careful and ornate decorations made from the bones of the cemeteries tenants.  Everything was used.  In the end, the chapel was a testament to the incredible toll the disease had taken on the countryside.  Despite the bones all over the walls and ceilings, those who saw the place felt it was a place of reverence and respect for the dead.

Those visiting the ossuary today often report seeing strange things as they pass through the walls among the 70,000 who the black death had claimed.  Not surprisingly orbs often make appearances on film, but also other things - sometimes far more defined apparitions that look like they may belong to those who once walked the grounds.  To suggest the Sedlec Ossuary is haunted is almost an afterthought to visitors and those aware of its origins.  It is one of those places that looks haunting all on its own - the sort of place you would hardly be surprised to see a ghost.

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