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The Bone Church: Real and Imagined

April 15, 2014

bone church exteriorThe Ossuary at Sedlec – or Bone Church of Kutna Hora as it’s more commonly known – is a relatively plain church from the exterior. At least as far as Old World European standards go. It sits about an hour outside of Prague in the Czech Republic, and last time I was there, some ten years ago, it was still a dingy mustard color on the outside.

In fairness, most ossuaries are just church basements filled with neatly piled up human bones, so there typically isn’t anything out of the ordinary about the actual structure it’s housed in. There’s no electrically powered Grim Reaper standing with a scythe and chuckling a deep MWAAHHAAHAAA, the way there is at any self-respecting haunted house.

In fact, the only feature that advertised that there just might be more than meets the eye to The Bone Church of Kutna Hora was the skull and crossbones spiked at the top of its spire – right where you’d usually see a crucifix.

Otherwise, the place just sat there like Boris Karloff without make-up.

bone head

When I visited on a gloomy October day in 2004, dragging my 20 month-old son and a prehistoric digital camera with me, I thought I would have to muscle my way through a throng of tourists.

But we were alone there.

Suitably, the only sounds we could hear were my own boot heels clicking on the stone tiles as we entered the foyer, the wheels of my son’s dilapidated MacLaren stroller and the whistle of a fall wind – the kind that blows tufts of dead leaves in a swirl. Some of those, mostly a fresh cluster of fiery orange oaks, blew with us into the Bone Church. A young man, very pale and black haired with a warm smile and crooked teeth, greeted us.

It should have been eerie, but it was exquisite.

A short staircase – also stone – led us down into the chamber, where an enormous chandelier lorded over the place. It was fashioned entirely of human bone – utilizing every bone in the human body, the young man told us in his hushed, churchy voice. The skulls would have held candles, I suppose, but the chandelier was unlit. In fact, the only light in the Bone Church came from the outside through a few kidney-shaped Gothic windows.

There were urns made primarily of femurs, a bone Coat of Arms belonging to the Schwarzenberg family, an endless garland (skull-vertebrae-vertebrae-knee cap, skull-tibia-skull-tibia) strung loosely along the trim like it was Christmas and several pyramids constructed of bones – ones that sat in iron-barred enclaves like slayed prisoners. bone church chandelier

My son and I stood there absorbing the sheer magnitude of death around us. People who’d died of flu, arsenic poisoning, small pox, swords thrust into their rib cage, a heart-attack, a mallet to the temple, infection, childbirth, trampling, a broken heart.

The bones of some 30,000 Christians beautified this stark, chapel-like holy chamber – prominent and presumably pious Christians who had been promised burial in the Church of All Saints cemetery. But due to a string of plagues and wars, had found themselves without a place to land after they blew their last breath.

bone church 6

It occurred to me this strange permanent installation of sacred art – the devil’s art, some called it – was actually a clever solution to a very sensitive dilemma. Church teachings, after all, forbade cremation. And the poor souls who had counted on burial in the Church of All Saints holy cemetery had paid considerable tithes to earn their way into some kind of dignified and noble entombment.

And what could be more noble than the care and inspired vision required to create such a communal, yet deeply personal way to honor the departed? To me, it was the ultimate expression of both grief and hope.

cherub bone church

My little son – and my first and most tender reminder of my own mortality – was getting restless and hungry, so I snapped a couple of pictures and we left.

But The Bone Church stayed with me and made its way into a story I’d begun writing.

The Bone Church: A Novel is now available on Amazon:

BoneChurch_border

http://www.amazon.com/The-Bone-Church-A-Novel/dp/061598052X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1397503269&sr=8-1&keywords=the+bone+church+victoria+dougherty

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14 Comments
  1. Victoria, I just purchased THE BONE CHURCH on AMAZON and by all your posts I know I am in for a thrill and a treat. You area goddess of prose magically and carefully weaving words to convey stories and opinions. I simply LOVE the way you write and I am certain you will be most successful. Thank you for letting me hear the clicking of your boot heels as I saw in my minds eye what you just shared. Again greatest wishes for the most spectacular success !

  2. Catalina – you are the best. And your words mean so much because I love your work as well.

  3. ~meredith permalink

    What a wonderful way to introduce your book. You ground your stories in the most compelling ways… this was a great read to begin with before reading the book. Congratulations! Meredith

  4. Catalina – I mean every word. And Meredith thank you as well. 🙂

  5. Wow! 30,000 Christians! An amazing blog – Your writing is original and spellbinding… The world is in for a treat with “The Bone Church.” All the best.

  6. Thanks, BR. When’s you next one coming out?

  7. Thank you, Tim 🙂

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. ASMSG Horror-Thriller Emagazine – The Bone Church: Real and Imagined
  2. ASMSG Horror-Thriller Emagazine – Take a tour of THE BONE CHURCH with @VicDougherty #Espionage #Thriller #ASMSG
  3. The Bone Church: Real and Imagined | Cold | T. W. Dittmer
  4. ASMSG Romance Erotica Ezine – Night Flight
  5. asmsg.com – The Bone Church ~ Real & imagined, via Victoria Dougherty

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