The Cemetery Church was a part of the oldest Cistercian monastery in Bohemia founded in 1142. A unique Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady and St. John the Baptist nearby (a UNESCO-listed sight since 1995) and a former baroque convent (a seat of a tobacco factory since 1812) were also preserved.
Church of All Saints was built in the late 14th century and is an important monument in the High Gothic style of architecture. Architecturally it is a Gothic charnel house with an upper chapel and an underground Ossuary.
According to the legend, one of the local abbots was sent by the Czech king to Jerusalem around the year 1278. The abbot brought a handful of soil from Golgotha and scattered it over the Sedlec cemetery. The soil from the Holy Land was used for consecrating and healing. Also, people from Europe desired to be buried in Sedlec. (Similar Holy fields were also in Rome, Pisa or Paris). The cemetery was considerably extended during great epidemics in 14th century, where 30,000 bodies were buried there.
In the spring of 1421 the Hussite troops captured Kutná Hora and they also attacked Sedlec. The cathedral and its monastery were plundered, burned to the ground and the cemetery of the Church of All Saints was devastated. During the time of the Hussite wars there were about 10,000 dead buried in Sedlec.
At the end of the 15 century the cemetery – area of 35 000 m2 – was partially reduced and bones from abolished graves were moved into the Ossuary. The legend of a half-blind monk who arranged the bones and skulls into the pyramids comes most probably from this time, and it is said, after this work he got his eyesight back.
The bones were already decoratively arranged in the 16th century, according to the chronicler Š. E. Kapihorský (+1630).
Between 1661-1663 the church finally received repairs including rearranging of the bones and an original Gothic star-shaped vault from the upper chapel was replaced.
The major repair of the monastery began in the Baroque period in the early 18th century. The repair was entrusted to Jan Blažej Santini – Aichel, who rebuilt the Cathedral of the Assumption and the Church of All Saints with the Ossuary in Baroque Gothic style.
Santini is also considered to be the architect of the basic concepts of skeletal decorations according to the Baroque piety and principles of the Baroque aesthetics. There are liturgical symbols of cups and monstrances in the niches, garlands of bones, Baroque angelic heads and the pinnacles-shaped candleholders from 1742 symbolize the eternal light.
The Sedlec monastery was abolished by Joseph II. in 1783. The property of the abbey was purchased by the Schwarzenberg family from Orlík. Thanks to their patronage the Sedlec Ossuary was maintained. The Baroque bone decoration was renewed and extended by František Rint from Česká Skalice in 1870. The bones used by Rint were disinfected and bleached with chlorinated lime and placed in original patterns i.e. a chandelier in the middle of the chapel and a coat of arms of the Schwarzenberg’s. There is a Rint´s signature made of bones at the bottom of the staircase.
MEMENTO MORI – „Remember the death “– associated with the Christian Hope of Resurrection remains a valid message for each visitor of this unique place and helps us to understand the symbolism of the place and its decoration. It is not a celebration of death, but it symbolizes the equality of people in front of the throne of God.