Sunday, June 9, 2013

Hues & Bones

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On Friday, our class ventured outside of the Prague city limits to the small town of Kutna Hora. Our full day adventure included a self-paced tour of several Gothic churches, a trip to a bone church, lunch at a delightful cafe that overlooked both a grand cathedral and the idyllic town, and finally, a trip deep into a silver mine--complete with dripping water, stalagmites, and cramped, close spaces. The silver mine was definitely not for the claustrophobic.

We visited two churches, one of the early Gothic period and one built during the late Gothic period. The first was built by a group of nuns and one can venture up into the upper levels of the churches skeleton and see remnants of Romanesque architecture--the wall are still thick in order to carry the weight of the ceiling, and stained glass windows are not heavily incorporated here.

In contrast, the second, grander Gothic cathedral has visible flying buttresses, an innovation during this period that allows for higher ceilings, thinner walls, and lighter elements in general in order to give the building a more ethereal atmosphere--light and closer to the heavens.

In contrast to both cathedrals however, the large surprise of the trip was visiting a bone church. Around 1400, a small Gothic church was built in the center of a cemetery in Kutna Hora, and included an ossuary to be used as mass graves were unearthed during the construction of the structure. In 1511, a half-blind monk was given orders to organize the bones of collected bodies. Then in 1870, woodcraver František Rint was to organize the bones of nearly 40,000 to 70,000 bodies, which led to the construction of the bone scuptures.

The macabre sight is rather morbid, but the Schwarzenberg family landowners, wanted to create a reminder of the impermanence of human life and inescapable death. I am still struck by the oddity of this church in comparison with classic Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals, also with humankind's fascination with death. I saw more people visiting the Sedlec Ossuary (Bone Church) in Kutna Hora on Friday, and desiring to have their photos taken in front of stacks of bones, rather than marvel as the architectural innovations of a large Gothic Cathedral. Go figure.

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