Sunday, August 26, 2007

Today's Sermon on the Blog: The Church Of... Dem Bones

So, somebody woke up one day and said: "I think I'll build a church and decorate it with human bones" and had no idea how creepy that would seem many centuries later?

A chandelier made of every bone in the human body?

A skull and crossbones atop the officially sanctioned church?

It's a "normal" church?

Judge for yourself...

The Ossuary in Sedlec - Kutna Hora

Kutna Hora is a town in the Czech Republic about 70 km (44 miles) east of the capital Prague. The town flourished during the 1300s due to the immense silver findings in the vicinity. The town provided most of the silver for the coins circulating in Europe at the time. As the town grew new churches were built and old ones repaired and expanded. One of the most famous medieval cathedrals, the Church of Santa Barbara (Kostel sv. Barbora), was built at that time with money raised from the miners from the area in honour of their industry's patron saint and without involvment of any governmental funding.

Another less known church (but of major interest to us!) was sittuated in Sedlec - a kind of a suburb to Kutna Hora some 2 kilometres away from the Kutna Hora town centre itself and got heavily expanded with a new Chapel added to the old buildings.

The Sedlec Cistercians weren't just joining the Kutna Hora construction boom when they started expanding. They did it because of practical reasons. That chapel with its belonging graveyard had become a well-known and attractive place to get ones relatives buried in a long time ago. Why you may ask?..

The answer is to be found in the actions of a certain abbot Henry. In the year of thy lord 1278 the Cistercian abbot Henry embarked on a pilgrim voyage to the Holy Land (Palestine). This was more or less common practice for people of the church at the time. What he couldn't have imagined is the effect a little symbolic deed that he performed would have on the future of the little Sedlec church.

While in Palestine abbot Henry visited the Golgotha and from there he brought back to Sedlec a jar full of earth. He referred to this as 'Holy Soil'. When he got back he spread the earth over the Sedlec cemetery and thus the cemetery begun to be considered as a piece of sacred land. The burial ground rapidly became one of the most popular in central Europe and people from all over the country and Europe came to Sedlec to get buried when they felt the strength of life diminishing. Many brought their dead relatives or friends to be buried in the holy soil of the Sedlec cemetery believing that the holyness of the ground was a sure way to guarantee the buried a place in heaven. Many corpses and bones were accumulated this way and especially during the times of the plague (the black death) many who were about to die from the disease came themselves to be buried in Sedlec. By 1318 over 30 000 bodies were buried there and this gave rise to the creation of the ossuary.

The ossuary is located in the All Saints' Chapel built around 1400. The chapel is still surrounded by a functioning graveyard and if you take a careful look at the top of its towers you will see that that a "jolly roger", or a skull and crossbones, replace the usual Christian cross. The ossuary itself dates from 1511 when a half-blind monk
was given the task to gather the bones from the abolished graves and putting them in the crypt to make place for new "customers". The task may seem somewhat macabre and unenviable but it served a practical purpose. Anyhow - now the material was in store and waiting for an idea and someone to realize that idea.

A more questionable task than the one of the half-blind monk was the one of the local woodcarver who as late as 1870 was hired to decorate the inside of the Chapel with the human material (an approximate of 40 000 sets of human bones) at his disposal. The name of the artist was Frantisek Rindt and the employer was the Duke (Prince?) of Shwartzenberg. The coats of arms of the family Shwartzenberg was one of the creations evolved from the artists mind. Another one is the chandelier which contains every human bone in the body, several times over, of course.

However questionable the Ossuary - it is real. The bones are real. The feeling of death is real. But also the feeling of peace. Most of the dead in the Ossuary died a "natural" i.e. non-violent death and the bones were removed from the ground to give more Christians the possibility to be buried on holy ground. I'd like to stress the fact that the church is not made of bones as so many seem to think! The interior is decorated with human bones but it's a "normal" church made of stone and bricks. I'd also like to point out that it's a normal Christian church with a Christ on the cross figure and all the rest. It's not some weird cult or Satanist church or anything like that.
Thus endeth today's sermon.

Go forth today, knowing that there are those who recycle and those who really recycle.

And ponder how such a church decorated with human bones has remained consecrated, revered, and untouched for so long.

Think about it before you dash off to Home Depot for redecorating ideas.

I mean it, damn it!

Best bar bet in the world: Delilah didn't do it.
Judges 16:19--


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