Bones of the 40,000

Now I’ve seen quite a few strange things on my various travels but few compare with the ossuary at Sedlec. I saw a piece on the television years ago which featured it but had completely forgotten about it until we spotted the day tours brochure for, among other places, Kutna Hora.

Some old bones

Kutna Hora was made very wealthy on silver and, at one time was a mint, stamping all the coinage for Bohemia until 1547. They have a nice display of some very old coins in the room where some poor people had to stamp (by hand) 2,000 coins a day.

15th century silver coin

The building that houses the mint has gone through quite a few changes – most of it is the present town hall and quite a bit just a museum. The entire complex is called the Italian Court, named after the Italian chaps who were responsible for the minting reforms of King Wenceslas II.

And the Italian Court is in the city of Kutna Hora which we instantly fell in love with. It’s gorgeous. Wide footpaths, few cars, lovely buildings. And a population of only 22,000 people.

We had a wonderful day with a tour group of eight other people (four of them were Australians, two Americans and two Canadians) and a hilarious guide lady who used the word ‘incinerate’ rather than ‘cremate’ when discussing Czech funeral practices.

Mirinda chats with our wacky guide

A lot of her humour was completely unintentional and involved using the wrong words for things but she had me giggling all day.

When discussing the Czech wine industry, she told us that during the Communist rule, the Russians, in a bid to increase the agricultural output, told the Czechs to make wine. The Czechs laughed but the Russians insisted. The Czechs have a saying “If the Communists say throw a goat, you throw a goat”. So they made wine. And, strangely enough, it turned out brilliant.

However, the highlight of the day; dare I say, of the entire trip was the Ossuary at Sedlec. It was once a cemetery attached to a Cistercian Monastery. During various periods of history, quite a few people died in the area (30,000 from plague, a few more thousand as a result of the Hussite Wars) and the cemetery just kept growing (that seems a bit of a habit around these parts and is probably why they incinerate people now).

All of these bodies meant a lot bones and, in 1511, for reasons only known to himself, a half blind monk decided to pile them into pyramids. Then, in 1661, the ceiling of the chapel collapsed, forcing a slight redistribution of the bones.

What we saw today was a result of work carried out in the 18th century by Jan Santini Aichl. He made all manner of sculptures using the bones including his signature which also gave the date of the final piece.

Finally, in 1784, Josef II abolished the Sedlec Monastery and the whole place was purchased by the Schwarzenbergs from Orlik who gave it a thorough overhaul. Frantisek Rint created a few more pieces, including the coat of arms of the Schwarzenberg family.

The Schwarzenberg family crest

Meanwhile, back at Kutna Hora and, more specifically, the cathedral of St Barbara, we were treated to a feast of art nouveau “…stained glasses…” made by the same husband and wife couple who decorated the chapel at the Italian Court.

Art nouveau stained glass at St Barbara's

The chapel, by the way, was the private praying place of Wenceslas IV, who was really, really short. All the doors are made to his height with a crown on his head. This still means they are really, really short.

Beautiful paintings on the wall of the chapel

That’s all well and good but the highlight for Mirinda was dinner tonight. We were pretty sick of the lousy food we’ve been ingesting. It’s been a great disappointment for us. So, tonight, Mirinda swore we would dine well.

Looking in our handy and perfect little guide book that the car driver gave us last week, we decided to try La Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise which just happens to be close by the hotel.

Turning up without a reservation was clearly a risk but we were eventually offered what is called the chef’s table. This is two high stools up against the servery, with a clear view of the action in the kitchen. And what a fantastic experience it was.

Not only was the action fun to watch but the food (all 15 odd courses) was probably the best food I’ve ever tasted. Mirinda is pretty definite that it WAS the best food she’s ever had.

And rather than a bottle of wine for the whole meal, I had a small glass to complement each main course, chosen especially by the sommelier. He did a magnificent job. Seriously, this is what food is all about. Pure magic for the mouth.

The chefs hard at work

And having had only Czech wines with dinner, I can vouch for the goat throwing skills of the Czech wine makers.

This entry was posted in Gary's Posts, Prague 2011 and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Bones of the 40,000

  1. mum cook says:

    Don’t fancy a Family Crest made out of bones a bit creepy.
    Great photo of the chefs. It was a good way to end your holiday.
    love mum

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