Kutna Hora: Bones and Churches
January 1, 1970
by Elisabeth Florence
When you hear about the Czech Republic, the first thing that comes to mind is typically Prague. A beautiful city that is breathing history from Gothic to Communist. But I am not here to talk about the vast beauties of Prague. No, no. Not today! I am here to talk to you about a whole different breed of a city in the Czech Republic. Another city brimming in history…and even some mystery. I am here to talk to you about beautiful cathedrals, communism, and bones! I am here to talk to you about Kutna Hora.
Kutna Hora, a city that is a mere hour south of Prague, is a city that cannot be missed.
Before my trip to Kutna Hora, I only knew two words that described the town: Bone Church, and this intrigued me…so I planned my trip!
(VERY) Basics of the Czech Language
Let me forward this by saying Czech is an incredibly difficult language. The Czechs do not expect you to learn or be fluent in Czech, but they do and will expect you to try to say basic phrases and words out of politeness. I mean, c’mon, most people in Prague have to adapt to the English language on a daily basis, so if you are taking a trip to the Czech Republic, the least you can do is learn a few words.
The first word I learned was “pivo.” Take a guess. What does pivo mean? I’ll give you a hint: this is essential to Czech culture. It may even be the cornerstone of it’s existence! (i’m slightly exaggerating)
- Dám si pivo= I’ll have beer
- Dám si pivo prosim= I’ll have beer please
So now we have the number one basic down. Great job! Now let’s move on to the other necessary words.
- Dobrý den= Hello (polite, used regularly with strangers)
- Ahoj= Hello (informal, with friends)
- No= Yes (informal)
- Na shledanou=Goodbye
Anyway, you should just get a Czech Phrase handbook. The main point is, be polite! Learn a few words! It’s fun and the Czechs will appreciate it! Ok, so they may not show their appreciation because Czech people tend to be a bit reserved, but deep down they will appreciate it. Maybe you will even get a little smile out of someone! It happens!
Transportation to Kutna Hora from Prague
Now that we have a few basic words, let’s get this trip going. Getting to Kutna Hora from Prague is incredibly easy. Simply go to Hlavni Nadrazi, “main station,” to buy your ticket. You can access Hlavni Nadrazi on the Red Line of the metro. When you arrive at the station, walk to the very back of the ground floor level and you will see the ticket counter. There you can ask for a ticket to Kutna Hora město “Kutna Hora town,” or Kutna Hora hl.n “Kutna Hora main station” for about 200 CZK round trip. The train to Kutná Hora město will bring you closer to the center of the town, and Kutna Hora hl.n will bring you about 4km away from the center. The whole train ride is about one hour. But be aware of your ticket timetable, because there is a possibility you will have to make a transfer on your way there and/or on your way back. I’ve had to do both. Good times! On my trip, I went to Kutna Hora hl.n, and so I had to walk into the main station at Kutna Hora to buy a ticket for the local train, which was about 30 czk. The trip on the local train took about 7 minutes to get to the center (Kutná Hora město). It was an exhilarating experience taking the local train and working my way to the main part of the town. One of my favourite things about travelling is getting in unexpected situations, and then working your way out of them. I hope, despite this information, you do the same. Get lost! Find something new! Make it a story you can tell!
Just a word of precaution about Czech trains: My trip was in the summer, and this past summer the weather got up to 40 degrees celsius, and the trains in the Czech Republic didn’t have air conditioning. So, if you are travelling in the summer…be prepared!
Things to Do and See in Kutna Hora
The place that Kutna Hora is most well known for it the Sedlec Ossuary, also known as the Bone Church. This is a Roman Catholic church that, on the outside, seems less than impressive. But as you walk into the building and learn more about the dark, yet beautiful history that belongs to the Sedlec Ossuary, you cannot help but feel a sense of awe, and quite honestly, a sense of our true mortality. Historically, the cemetery around the church was incredibly famous because a monk once sprinkled some dirt he got from the area in Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. Because of this, everyone wanted to be buried there. It was basically the cool kids cemetary. Then, because of the plague in the 14th century, this cemetery began to fill way too quickly. And then came the Hussite War in the 15th century, and this cemetery began to fill way way too quickly. Eventually, years later, a church was built over the cemetery to help dispose of the bones. And in this process, the bones of about 40,000 people were transformed and given new life by providing a unique beauty to the decoration inside the church. The thought of a church decorated with human bones may feel a bit macabre, but seeing the bone chandeliers, stacks and stacks of skulls, and other fascinating bone designs, I felt alive. I felt a sense of wonder at the history of each of our individual lives, and how even after death, we can create such beauty. But that was just my takeaway. You really need to see it for yourself!
Sedlec Ossuary to St. Barbara’s Church
The next sight to see is the walk from the Bone Church to St. Barbara’s Church. You can get a map at the main station or at the Bone Church. The walk is necessary because the contrast between the incredibly deep beauty of the Bone Church, and the small communist style homes is alarming. You can get a deep sense of the impact communism had on smaller towns simply by looking at the architecture. Blocks after blocks of dreary square buildings guide your path to the city centre. After a few kilometers, you will reach the city centre. This is also in large contrast to the square blocks of the communist styled homes. The centre is quaint, beautiful, and romantic. There are narrow, winding cobblestone roads, and small homes and buildings with red roofs.
St. Barbara’s Church
Eventually you will reach your next destination which is St. Barbara’s Church. This, in contrast to the Bone Church, is outstandingly impressive from the outside. It is a Gothic styled church built in the 14th century. The architecture of the building stands radiantly and gorgeously. Whilst walking in the church I discovered that it is, in many senses, a homage to the patron saint of miners. There were many statues and paintings representing images of miners and the working class society. I adored the connection with the majestic beauty of the church and the idolic representation of the working class.
In regards of things to “do” in Kutna Hora, i’ll be honest….there isn’t much. (Why did I even call this section “Things to Do and See”? Anyway, i’m not going to change it. I like it just the way it is!)
Why Go to Kutna Hora
As a whole, the exploration of Kutna Hora can feel extremely disconnected because of the all the disparity that exists in the architecture and the history. You see death turned into beauty, you see the influence of the communist era and the gothic era, you see the majesty of the working class, and the simplicity and quaintness of a traditional Czech town. But this is only the surface level of Kutna Hora. You will just have to start planning your trip. I mean, how can you resist? Remember, two words: Bone Church!