Out Of The Archives:
An Empty Gothic Chapel, A Set of Keys, and Silence

An Empty Gothic Chapel, A Set of Keys, and Silence in Kutna

Turning the ancient skeleton key in the lock, I entered the chapel, and turned back to the door to lock it behind me. Alone. I was in this one room chapel alone with no chance of anyone walking in on me. I walked down the stairs and sat on the bottom step. In all my searches for Gothic architecture, this was the first time that I had a whole building all to myself. Even though it was a small building – but that observation was really unimportant. As I sat on the step, I rolled the skeleton key between my fingers. The young woman in the office said that this key was the original key, passed from hand to hand, keeper to keeper, for the last seven hundred years.

Bozi Telo (Chapel of the Body of the Lord) was originally designed as a two story structure but for unknown reasons, only the bottom floor was completed. It is known as Gothic not because of its access to light (which is not present) but because of the rib vaults that hold up the low ceiling. The unusual aspect of the rib vaults is that they go right into the outside walls, without the support of a visible column. Built c.1385 for use as a cemetery chapel, it was used as an ossuary (a repository for skeletal remains) for a time, and now it is vacant and empty, quiet and serene.

Running my hands over the columns and the walls – I feel the cold stone beneath my fingers. Studying the room from every angle, corner to corner, light and dark, I impress it into my memory.

I return to sit again on the bottom step to take in the silence – something that is so precious and rarely found when touring the ancient sites of the world – and know that I can sit here all day if I like. When I’m in a space like this, I always let my imagination run away with me … imagining not only what this building was like and what it was used for when it was built, but also what I would use it for if it were available for me to use. A meditation room? A painting studio? Would I like to live in a room like this?

The stairs at the side of the building lead to the roof where a sweeping view of the river and the green landscape, and of the old town of Kutna Hora can be seen.

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Out Of The Archives:
The Santa Casa

The Santa Casa within The Loreto in Prague.
The Santa Casa within The Loreto in Prague.

The Santa Casa, at least the original one, was the house where it is believed that the Archangel Gabriel told Mary about the future birth of her son Jesus.

It is also believed that the original house and the scene played out within it, were in Nazareth. The original Santa Casa was moved from Nazareth to Loreto, Italy in 1278 because it was being damaged by the Saracens. The legend has it that because of this, the house was lifted up and moved by a host of angels, but it is quite possible that the angels took the human form of sailors and the moving was done brick by brick on a ship at the bequest of an Italian family by the name of Angeli.

In any case, it’s a great story and there were fifty replicas of the house built in Bohemia and Moravia. This one, at The Loreto, is by far the most venerated. The building of the small house began on June 3rd, 1626, by the grace of Baroness Benigna Katharina von Lobkowitz. She chose an Italian, G. B. Orsi, from Vienna as the architect of the Casa. It was for centuries the focus of pilgrimages by Catholics from all over Eastern Europe.

The Santa Casa also contains a miracle-working Black Madonna, Our Lady of Loreto, made of linden wood.

The Santa Casa
The Loreto
Loretanske Namesti 7
Hradcany, Prague 1

Open: Tu – Su: 9am – 12:15pm and 1pm – 4:30pm

Getting There: Trams 22 and 23, go to the top of the hill and follow the signs. If you walk all the way to The Castle, you’ve gone too far.

Out Of The Archives:
Bones, Bones, And More Bones

It’s a strange sort of beauty that awaits at the bottom of the stairs of the gothic Bone Church of Sedlec. Bones are everywhere. Human bones. Forty-some-odd-thousand of them to be not too exact.

Originally the bones were arranged in neatly stacked piles by a half-blind monk in the early 16th century, while the chandeliers, columns, and decorative shields of the noble Schwarzenberg family were created later by a Czech wood-carver, Frantisek Rindt who began this run of creativity in 1870. For his creations, he used these bones and skulls of the dead warriors who ended up here after fighting in the Hussite Wars in the early part of the 15th century (1419 to around 1434).

In 1278, the abbot of Sedlec went to the Holy Land and brought back a jar full of earth which was spread over the cemetery. This immediately made the cemetery one of the holiest burial places in central Europe. By 1318 there were over 30,000 bodies buried here, many of these people had died due to the plague. The All Saint’s Kostinice was built in 1400 and then the ossuary was added in 1511. The church itself is built of stone, not bones, it is merely the decoration that takes its abstract human form.

Weird Note: When looking up the word Kostinice in my Cesko/Anglicky dictionary I noted the Czech word kost means bone and the Czech word kostel means church.