Czech Republic Travel Guide

This Macabre Magnet for Instagrammers Is Now Banning Selfies

PHOTO: Shutterstock/Pavel Burchenko

Former people are people too.

Most people know that it’s common courtesy to ask someone’s permission before you take a selfie with them. But what if that person has been dead for hundreds of years? It’s not an unusual question for those that maintain the Sedlec Ossuary chapel in the Czech Republic town of Kutná Hora. They recently made headlines for clamping down on tourists who are getting a little overzealous about taking pictures with the dead.

The Tourist Attraction

While visiting an ossuary might not be on the top of everyone’s travel bucket list, Kutná Hora’s Sedlec Ossuary has been attracting tourists from around the world to their quiet town in the Czech countryside. What’s there to see here? The Sedlec Ossuary contains the bones of nearly 60,000 skeletons. And, unlike those in the Paris Catacombs which are simply, hauntingly, stacked, the bones in the Sedlec Ossuary are decoration. Skulls adorn the walls in macabre columns, they comprise a giant coat of arms and, most famously, they are used to build a massive chandelier that contains at least one of every human bone.

Why so many bones? It all started back in 1278 when the abbot brought back “holy soil” from the Sedlec Cistercian Monastery to Jerusalem to be used in a cemetery in Kutná Hora. Now that the cemetery was home to “holy soil” people from all over requested to be buried there on holy ground. The cemetery got so large that eventually a 15th-century Gothic church was built on the grounds, and the cemetery’s bones were placed in its basement ossuary. In 1870, woodcarver Frantisek Rint was appointed to put the bones in order and he created the works of art that draw crowds to this day.

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Image: Shutterstock/Sergey_1974

The Tourist Problem

Unfortunately for the decorative bones at the Church of Bones, they may be too popular. In 2017, roughly half a million visitors came to see the bones, and that number is expected to keep rising Radka Krejčí, director of the Sedlec parish blames it on the age of Instagram. The decorative bones are such a unique visual spectacle that social mediaites are clamoring to get their own shot of them in their feeds.

Photos aren’t the only problem. Despite signs that politely ask visitors to remember that the bones at the Sedlec Ossuary are dead bodies and should be respected as once-living people, tourists have been removing bones from the walls, attempting to touch or kiss the skeletons, put hats or sunglasses on them for photos.

Now, there’s a ban on casual photography. Those who want to take pictures with the dead who make their home in the Church of Bones must get permission from the parish three days ahead of time. The nearby Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, both managed by the Sedlec parish, are also subject to the guidelines.

Who will be allowed to take photos? It isn’t clear yet. Although it has been announced, the photography ban’s rules have not yet been publicly enumerated. But, until then, if you do visit the erstwhile citizens of the Sedlec parish, church officials hope that you’ll do the right thing and give them a little respect.