If you spend enough time talking to me, you will learn that I love cathedrals. Especially medieval cathedrals. I studied art history, but never really had a big interest in architecture. The architecture I saw in the U.S. just didn’t inspire me. Despite being an atheist my entire life, I ended up focusing on religious art. Specifically Buddhist, more specifically Tibetan Buddhist. So the nexus between religion and physical artistic expression had long been a key interest of mine. It really wasn’t a big jump for me to fall in love with religious architecture, but I didn’t realize this passion until going to Europe.
The first time I went to Europe changed my perspective on a lot of things. It planted a seed deep in my mind. So deep that five years later I moved here. During that trip was the first time I saw architecture older than my own country. It was the first time I saw religious architecture that brought me as close to a religious experience as an atheist could have. The immensity of a gothic nave, the complexity of the ribbing and columns, the beauty of the stained glass: I was in love.
Every city I visit, my #1 stop is the cathedral. So imagine my excitement of learning about Kutna Hora, Czech Republic with its nickname, ‘A Town of Two Cathedrals’! And as a spectacular bonus, Kutna Hora has an ossuary church, aka a bone church. The Sedlec Ossuary is world-famous. The two cathedrals are less famous but definitely, make Kutna Hora a worthwhile stop if you happen to be in Prague.
Kunta Hora is about an hour outside of Prague. It’s an easy day trip from the city. I came from Southern Moravia, a bit farther (about 3.5 hours by train). I traveled with a wonderful intern, who I was hosting for the week. She mentioned that she wanted to visit the bone church and it had been on my To-Do list since moving to the Czech Republic. So it was settled we would take the trip. It was a bitterly cold day and, of course, none of the churches were heated, but it was worth it. So, so worth it.
First, there is the famous Sedlec Ossuary. It’s a Roman Catholic chapel that is surrounded by a cemetery. It was the site of mass graves of victims from the Black Death outbreak and the Hussite Wars. During the construction of a new church, these mass graves were unearthed and then displayed in the chapel. It’s an eerie, yet peaceful, experience inside the ossuary. Bones are stacked in several areas, but most famous is the chandelier and coat of arms.
Near the ossuary, is the Church of the Assumption of Our Lady and Saint John the Baptist. The name is quite a mouthful, but being so close to the ossuary it’s an easy stop, and well worth your time. The cathedral is a mix of Gothic and Baroque styles. Originally built in the 12th century, it was later burned down during the Hussite wars. After sitting as a ruin for nearly two centuries, it was rebuilt in the Baroque period but still tried to recreate the Gothic style. The interior nave is highly detailed and almost looks like an Art Nouveau expression of Gothic vault ribbing. One thing that I thought was really exceptional was part of the self-guided tour, you could enter the attic space above the aisle and see the top-side of the brick vaulting from the reconstruction period. My inner architecture historian nerd thoroughly enjoyed this. Although, unfortunately, was much to dark for any worthwhile photography with my simple mobile phone camera.
Last, and my particular favorite, is the Cathedral of St. Barbara. This cathedral is near the historic city center of Kunta Hora. The ossuary and other cathedral aren’t actually in the city, but a nearby suburb. Getting to the city center was easy enough. We took the bus, but you can also take the train to the next stop down the line. We were actually in a bit of a rush to get to this last cathedral before the early closing hours during the winter off-season and man, oh man, was it worth it. It’s a Gothic dream, flying buttresses and all. It even has the original pointed spire roof over the nave. Sincerely, I had found my new favorite cathedral in Europe. The interior was renovated in the Baroque style, as is typical of most Czech cathedrals, the but the exterior definitely says Gothic. Even so, the interior was quite unique. The ceilings are painted between the stone ribbing, with several coats of arms painted in the nave.
After this third stop of the tour, we warmed up in a local pub, called Dačický beerhall. It’s tucked behind a bakery of the same name and can be easy to miss. It’s decorated in a Medieval knight’s hall style and serves a house-made brew. You can even order meat served straight off of a sword, but I settled for the roast turkey with plum jam filled croquettes and the dark beer.
Overall, Kutna Hora lived up to my expectations and more. Despite the long train from Zlin, and the bitterly cold weather, it’s been one of the best places I’ve seen in the Czech Republic yet. If you stop in Prague, definitely take a day to visit this little town with two cathedrals.
Until next time, cheers!