Monday, March 26, 2007

Sedlec Ossuary

I remember as a teen looking through a
National Geographic and seeing a photo
of a place in Europe that was decorated
with the bones of thousands of people. I
remember thinking to myself, "Wow, I'd love
to visit that place someday." And then I
thought, "There's no way that place is going
to be wheelchair accessible." Discouraged
by the one paragraph in National Geographic
about the place, the lack of the internet
for quick and easy access to more information,
and the knowledge that places like that are
pretty much never wheelchair accessible, I
tucked it away somewhere and didn't think
about it again.

Until yesterday.

A myspace friend wrote a blog about a book
she recently read. The book was written by
John Connolly. Her interest in his book lead
her to his website, which then lead her a
quicktime video made by Connolly about Sedlec.
I watched the video and was once again
fascinated by this place. Unlike last time,
I now had quick and easy access to more info
about it. Also unlike last time, I now may
be able to physically navigate the place - if
and when I get an iBOT. There is one large
obstacle that may be a problem and that is,
getting the iBOT from Prague to Sedlec. I
doubt transportation for power wheelchairs
is common there. There's gotta be a way though.
I'd probably have to rent a special van or bus,
which I'm sure would cost a small fortune, but
worth it. But who knows if I will ever make it
there. There isn't enough time or money to see
all the places I want to see... I have always
wanted to visit Prague though. When I went to
Europe in my 20s, I considered stopping in Prague.
I decided against it because it seemed so much
more wheelchair unfriendly than the places I did
visit, including London, Paris, and Amsterdam.

I did some internet searching about Sedlec today
and I found its history interesting. In 1278, a
monk from Sedlec travelled to Palestine. He
brought back a handful of earth from Palestine
to Sedlec and referred to it as 'Holy Soil'. He
spread the soil over the cemetery and it quickly
became one of the most popular burial grounds in
central Europe. People from all over the country
and Europe wanted to be buried there. In one year
alone, during the 14th century, it is said that
nearly 600 bodies per week were brought to Sedlec,
largely due to victims of the plague.

Huge ditches 30 feet deep and 20 feet across were
dug to accomodate all the bodies. The dead were
sewn up in their shrouds and placed in these large
common graves, sometimes as many as 1,500 in a
single pit. They were then covered by a thin
layer of dirt. The bodies very quickly decomposed
in these conditions. As more bodies came in and
one pit filled, another older pit was uncovered
and emptied of it's bones. These bones were then
stored wherever space could be found.

Around 1400, a church was built in the center
of the cemetery. The lower chapel was built
to be used as an ossuary to hold the skeletons
of more than 40,000 people, most of whom were
killed by the plague.

In 1870, a woodcarver named FrantiĊĦek Rint was
hired to put the heaps of bones into order. He
artisically arranged approximately 40,000 human
skeletons to form decorations and furnishings
for the chapel, which still remain today.

If you are interested in seeing an excellent 6
minute video about Sedlec, go here:

You can also see a short film about it here:

The 2nd one is, IMO, not as good as the first one I
listed. It was done in 1970 by surrealist Czech
filmmaker Jan Svankmajer. It is grainy, b&w, not
in English and a little over 10 minutes long. If
you like trippy stuff, you might prefer this video
over the other one.

And now for something completely different, my
tulips are blooming! Yay for tulips. Yay for
spring. Yay for yellow. Yay for photography.
Yay for life.

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