I have visited the Czech Republic several times, and on this trip, I decided to check out Kutná Hora, home to the famous Czech ossuary (bone church) and once the country’s centre of silver mining.
I wanted to venture out of Prague city centre to explore more of the Czech Republic to uncover some of its hidden gems, and with Kutná Hora, I did just that!
In this travel post, I detail the highlights from my Kutná Hora day tour from Prague, which include the Sedlec Ossuary, St James Church and St Barbara’s Cathedral.
Uncovering the History of Kutná Hora
Kutna Hora was founded in the 13th century as a mining town and was once the second most prosperous town in the ancient Kingdom of Bohemia. This was thanks to the extensive network of silver mines beneath its streets.
In the 14th century, silver from the mines was minted in Kutna Hora. These provided silver coinage for Bohemia and the rest of Europe.
The town attracted the kings of Bohemia, who occupied the Italian Court during their trips and enjoyed the lavish lifestyle this mining town could provide them.
During this affluent time, the magnificent St Barbara’s Church (often called a cathedral) was built in the grand Gothic style and used by the mining community.
Sadly over time, the once prosperous mines were over-mined and depleted of their bounty. The royal court remained in Prague, and Kutna Hora returned to its previous existence as a sleepy rural town.
In 1995 this medieval Czech town was recognised by UNESCO and placed on its list of world heritage sites.
Kutná Hora now attracts many curious visitors, mostly day-trippers from Prague, who want to discover more about its unique history.
Getting from Prague to Kutna Hora
Kutna Hora is one of the popular day trips from Prague due to its fascinating history and proximity; it is an hour away.
Our guided tour of Kutna Hora started with a 10 am pickup from our accommodation in Prague, Hotel Golden Star in Lesser Town (Castle Quarter).
After several other guest pickups, we drove to our first stop, the famous Sedlec Ossuary (Bone Church).
During the drive, our tour guide gave us general information (in English) on the Czech Republic’s history from its rule under a communist government, its invasion by Germany and its subsequent joining of NATO and becoming a democratic state.
I was astounded to hear that the Czech Republic had been under communist rule until 1989!
History lesson over, we arrived at the Sedlec Ossuary, which sits just outside the main town of Kutna Hora.
Best Things to See in Kutná Hora
Sedlec Ossuary – Bone Church
I wanted to visit Kutná Hora to see inside the Roman Catholic Sedlec Ossuary with its obscure bone chandelier, candlesticks and wall decorations made from over 40,000 human bones.
It is not the only ossuary in the Czech Republic. Another less-ornate one can be found in Brno, the country’s second-largest city. That said, the Sedlec ossuary in the sleepy town of Kutná Hora is far more famous.
In fact, it is nearly as popular as the Paris Catacombs, the largest ossuary in the world, attracting many visitors each year.
The origin of this unique chapel is interesting.
In the 13th century, an abbot brought back a small amount of earth from Jesus’ burial place and sprinkled the soil over the Sedlec cemetery, making it holy ground. Suddenly it became the most popular place to be buried in town.
The burial business was booming from the 13th to 14th century until the cemetery ran out of room.
The solution? Human remains were exhumed from their final resting place to free up graves. These were then sold to incoming guests!
The bones were piled high, and no one knew what to do with them. Not until a local woodcarver, František Rint, was employed in the 18th century to do a spot of interior design.
Objects Made From Bones
Rint decided to string together skulls, femurs, humerus, and spinal cords to make obscure items to decorate the church.
The unique centrepiece is a giant chandelier, using every human bone. It is suspended central to the chapel. A bone-encrusted coat of arms hangs on a wall, and soulless eye sockets peer at you from every direction.
I wasn’t sure how I would feel seeing human remains used in this fashion, but because of their quantity, it dehumanises the situation. Honestly, it felt more like a film set for a gothic horror film than the interior of a religious building.
No Photography in the Ossuary
The irony of the chapel is that you are asked not to take photographs out of respect for the dead. Let’s face it, that’s what everyone wants when they come here, a picture to show friends and family of one of the weirdest places on earth.
I feel double standards are at play here as you have to pay to enter (whereas most churches are free) to see human remains that have been used to create art in a most undignified, although creative, manner. I’m not sure there’s anything more disrespectful than ending your days as a candlestick or part of a chandelier!
There are also artificial skulls (let’s hope that’s true) on sale in the gift shop to take home as souvenirs.
Everyone on my tour took a few discreet photos, and no disrespectful selfies were involved, as has been the craze in past years and has led to the current photography ban.
Some visitors put baseball caps on the skulls and touched the bones to get their photos. Sadly it’s idiots like these that ruin it for others.
Visitors can request official permission to take photographs by contacting the church three days before a visit.
So would I recommend visiting the Sedlec Ossuary? If you are only coming to see the bone church, then maybe not, as it will take less than 15 minutes to walk around it. However, it is worth seeing as part of a more extended tour of Kutná Hora.
Angie’s Travel Tip: Opposite the Sedlec Ossuary, a small cafe serves the most delicious ice cream. Try the pistachio and vanilla; it’s lovely.
Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist
The UNESCO Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist is also in Sedlec but sadly was not included on this tour.
It is the oldest Cistercian abbey in Bohemia (circa 1142) and, together with the bone church, forms a complete complex in the oldest part of Kutná Hora.
The Church of St James
Leaving the bone church and after a short drive across town, we arrived at the 15th-century Catholic church of St James, the oldest church in Kutná Hora. It was built in the centre of the medieval city and is the most prominent landmark in Kutná Hora.
Original designs show that the church should have had two towers, but due to silver mining underground, the area wasn’t stable enough to have held the weight!
Inside the church (free to enter), the Gothic architecture is visually stunning, as are the important works of art on the walls, including the Holy Trinity painting from 1734.
There is also a nod to the mining workers shown by statues of miners in their white robes and leather aprons carrying the rocks containing the silver.
You can almost feel the weight of his load from the carved expression on his face.
I, for one, have never seen statues within a church that aren’t of a religious form, and so this was interesting and a bit whimsical to see in St James.
St James sits behind the Italian Court, once used as a palace for Bohemian royalty, then as the Royal Mint and now as a town hall and museum dedicated to the historic silver mining and minting industry in Kutná Hora.
I didn’t go inside the museum, but the information my tour guide gave was enough for me.
Angie’s Travel Tip: Opposite the entrance to St James church is a viewpoint from where you can take fantastic photographs of St Barbara’s Cathedral and the Jesuit College.
Learning about Kutná Hora from our Tour Guide
We continued walking away from St James church and up the steep cobbled path through the town and towards St Barbara’s Cathedral.
Our tour guide pointed out several historic buildings on the way.
One was the Czech Silver Museum, which runs tours for visitors to see a medieval silver mine underground. Other museums in town include the Alchemy Museum and the Chocolate Museum.
I glimpsed the town’s beautiful Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings as we walked along.
I would have loved to explore Kutna Hora in more depth, but that would mean an overnight stay which wasn’t part of this tour, so maybe next time!
Has this post inspired you to spend longer in town? If the answer is yes, there are plenty of places to stay in Kutná Hora.
As we passed the Silver Museum, we walked along a beautiful pathway lined with the statues of saints. Countryside views to one side and the Jesuit college, now home to the GASK art gallery, on the other.
Once again, our guide was a font of knowledge telling us about the statues. It was great that she gave us just enough useful information without overloading us.
The Cathedral of St Barbara
At the end of the saintly walkway was the stunning Church of St Barbara, standing majestically above Kutná Hora.
St Barbara was the patron saint of miners, and this church/cathedral was built and dedicated to her by the mining community of Kutna Hora.
Even before the roof went on, the miners would come and worship here, praying for safety and guidance in the mines.
Construction of the church started in 1388 but wasn’t finished for another 500 years.
You can see evidence of how long it took to build by the differences in the architecture and art inside the church.
Much like the miner statue in St James, a larger version can be seen here.
The figure is dressed in the white miner’s robes (to be seen in the dark) with a leather skirt/apron used to help the workers slide down into the mines.
The tools of his trade can also be seen in his hands and standing on a pile of rocks.
Other mining imagery inside the church includes wall frescoes and stained glass windows depicting life in this mining town.
You will love the Gothic frescoes, Renaissance paintings, and ornate Baroque ceilings, which are all breathtaking and show how the church has evolved through the centuries.
If you have a head for heights, you can take the stairs up to the gallery and get a bird’s eye view of the church interior from the heavens.
There is also an outdoor balcony with views across to the Jesuit College art gallery.
Angie’s Travel Tip: The sweeping views back towards St James Church are incredible from the viewpoint beside the church (up the stone steps by the empty chapel).
Kutná Hora Sculpture Park
Being the wanderer that I am, I can never wait for a tour group to reform but instead like to continue exploring my surroundings, and in this instance, I am glad I did.
My regular readers will know that I love contemporary art, street art and 21st-century art, and a small garden behind the GASK art gallery had some entertaining exhibits on show, so I was in my element.
I loved the skeletal hand with the pointing finger, possibly a nod to the Sedlec Ossuary or maybe guiding the viewer skywards towards the heavens.
Who knows what went through the artist’s mind when he created this piece, but I liked it and thought the modern art juxtaposed in a medieval setting was visually stunning.
The second piece had me baffled as to what it was, and I’m still none the wiser, whereas the sculpture consisting of half a robin and half a car may have been a nod to the Reliant Robin car of the 1970s.
I would have loved to spend a little longer in the sculpture garden, but this little detour was not part of the Kutna Hora tour I was on, so I quickly re-joined my group to head back to Prague.
Angie’s Travel Tip: The sculpture garden is up the stone stairs opposite the church entrance. This is also an excellent spot to photograph St Barbara’s Cathedral.
Traditional Czech Lunch
Our time in Kutná Hora had ended, and we piled into the coach and headed back to Prague with a stop for a late lunch on the way back.
Lunch was included in this tour and consisted of a starter of soup, a main of grilled pork, chicken, cheese or sausage with potatoes or dumplings and washed down with wine, beer or a soft drink. As with most Czech food, it was basic but filling and pretty tasty.
My Final Thoughts on my Tour with GetYourGuide to Kutná Hora
As an independent traveller, I usually baulk at joining a tour group as I don’t particularly enjoy sticking to regimented timings.
In this instance, it was a lot easier to be picked up from my hotel and taken straight to Kutná Hora without needing to change trains on the route from Prague and then walk to get into town.
It also struck me that this Kutná Hora day tour was value for money considering all that was included – travel, entry fees, a guide and lunch.
So if you are curious to see a chandelier made out of bones, see a church dedicated to miners and want to experience a beautiful small town in the Czech Republic, then this Kutná Hora tour is perfect for you.
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