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Wednesday, 01 November 2017

Exploring the Area around Prague

Written by Eric D. Goodman
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Part Two of The Bearable Lightness of Being in Czech Republic

 

There is so much to see in Prague. But there’s a lot to see just a short train ride from Prague as well. We set our scopes on three places in particular.

Kutna Hora

Nataliya, Brian and I take a train about 45 miles east of Prague for an excursion to Kutna Hora. This was once the second most important town in Bohemia, due mostly to the enormous amount of silver here. In the second half of the 13th century, rich deposits of silver were found, making the king the richest ruler in central Europe. The silver mined from Kutna Hora and minted into coins (the Prague Groschen) circulated across Europe. This, the largest silver mine in Europe, made Bohemia the richest area of the world in that time. One man could, with hammer and fire, pound out as many as two thousand coins a day.

The mines were stripped in the 1700s, and the town became a little village once again. They may not be producing silver any more, but they make a mint due to people like ourselves, who pay to explore he silver mines.

Dressed in white coats with flashlight-crowned hard hats, we descend into the dark and narrow mines with a group of about ten. In some passages, we can barely squeeze through the narrow passages. In others, we have to crawl or climb. I feel like a Indiana Jones exploring these dark caves, damp and cold despite the warmth of the summer air outside. Not for the claustrophobic.

Conditions are far greater now than they were back when these mines were in use. Many people died down here. They’d been buried beneath the ground most of their working lives; now their bones are buried in the ground nearby.

That’s the other thing Kutna Hora is known for: bones. But first, a walk through town to St. Barbara.

 

St. Barbara

We’re in the middle of Bohemia, not California, but the tree-covered mountains and valleys are every bit as beautiful. From a distance, it is a sight to see, this enormous church standing right over a cliff at the edge of a mountain, three giant tent-like spires reaching for the sky, buttresses along the back and smaller spires all along the sides.

Standing next to the church, along the edge of the mountain, we are at the high peak of Kutna Hora. We look down. In the distance we see a procession of white-robed figures.

Look,” Nataliya points.

I wonder if those are monks on a pilgrimage, or something. Maybe to St. Barbara.”

Or Sedlec,” Brian suggests. “The ossuary.”

Nataliya, who spotted first, is also the first to catch a reflection of the sun off a flashlight hardhat. “They’re on the same pilgrimage we were on an hour ago,” she says. “Into the silver mine.”

We turn and refocus on the church, our reason for being up on this peak. We walk around the church until we reach the front. A crowd of people are here in suits and dresses, and we see a bride and groom exit the church to cheers. We are unable to enter the church and see the marvel from the inside because a wedding is going on. But we stay and watch the wedding for a few moments before heading down, down, down.

 

Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Church Bones

The most unusual sight we find in Kutna Hora—and perhaps Czech Republic—is the Sedlec Ossuary, or “bone church.” It’s not a suggested stop for people who are uncomfortable around the dead. This is no ordinary church, nor is it an ordinary graveyard. The dead are the decor.

Surrounding the simple-looking church is a crowded graveyard. But inside is where most of the remains are. It was unreal, like a vision from a horror movie, the view of the church once we’d entered. Human bones covered the walls and ceilings; everything was made of bone. A large coat of arms, all human bone, featured a raven pecking at the eye of a skull. A grand chandelier hung from the high ceiling, all constructed of bone. In fact, although it took more than one person to make that chandelier, it features at least one of every bone in the human body. Skulls and leg bones and arm bones and entire skeletons hang from walls and rest on pedestals, makeup the decorations and even the furniture in this Roman Catholic church.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 01 November 2017

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