Some people think death is the end.

But it needn't be.

As the good people at the Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic have proven, it seems we can all still be of some use after we leave this earth... as ornate interior decorations.

This chandelier at Sedlec Ossuary contains at least one of every bone in the human body

Be honest...who wouldn't one one of these in at least one room of their house

In what can only be described as Changing Rooms / 60 Minute Makeover / Backyard Blitz gone mad, Sedlec Ossuary put all those pesky bones that were literally lying around their cemetery and basement into the shape of vases, coats of arms, chandeliers and furniture.

Family crest made from bones at the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic

Schwarzenberg family crest

Family crest made from bones at the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic

Close-up of the crest


So why does a small Roman Catholic Chapel on the outskirts of Kutna Hora in the Czech Republic decide to forgo the painted feature wall, strand of fairy lights or other more conventional interior design trends in favour of lovely bones?

Well, it seems it was a victim of its own success.

This chandelier at Sedlec Ossuary contains at least one of every bone in the human body

This chandelier is equal parts beautiful and creepy

Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic, where every piece of art is made from human bones

Get me this for Christmas and I will love you forever


Way back in the thirteen century, the monastery's abbot went to the Holy Land and brought back some dirt from the site where Jesus was believed to have been crucified outside Jerusalem.

Obviously customs was pretty slack at this time and/or the abbot failed to declare this to them upon his return. Needless to say, it's not recommended anyone attempt this today as the Australian entry customs form clearly asks whether you carrying any dirt, seeds, plants or plant products.

Pile of skulls and femurs at Sedlec Ossuary

The scattered skull and femur look: very in, very now

Anyway, the abbot sprinkled this dirt around the cemetery prompting something of a property boom for the dead. Suddenly everyone in Central Europe wanted to be buried there. Subsequent plagues, wars and general passing of the years meant the cemetery became full to bursting.

Over time, a Gothic church built on the site started to be used as a storeroom for "old bones" to make way for "new bones" in the cemetery. The ossuary is estimated to contain the skeletons of up to 70,000 people. (Warning: "dad joke" ahead) Clearly people were just dying to be buried here.

Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic

Garlands of skulls (I know what I'll be using instead of tinsel this Christmas!)

In 1870, the local aristocratic Schwarzenberg family, realising they were not going to get into the pages of Vogue Living with this unholy mess, decided to bring some order to the chaos.

Liking the work of Czech woodcarver Frantisek Rint, they gave him a free reign on the piles of bones, resulting in a unique decorating style which can only be described as "Macabre Chic."

If there was an award for recycling at the time, I think he would have won it.

It actually would have been amazing to watch Rint at work; seeing him choose some bones over others and trying different creations. It also would have been interesting to see the local reaction at the time to his creations: "Is that Aunty Beryl?"

Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic

Close up of the garland of skulls

Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic

You just know when something is meant for your home


Stepping inside the ossuary, and once you've become accustomed to the gruesome factor, it's hard not to appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship which has gone into the pieces.

In a weird way, it also gives you an appreciation of human anatomy that would make your school biology teacher proud. After all, it's not often you come face to face with human skulls and bones.

And the whole concept certainly validates the old adage used by countless home improvement shows: you really don't need to spend a lot of money to make a big impact.

Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic

One idea to spice up your '90s painted feature wall)

It's also a startling reminder that we really are all the same deep down. Literally. Once you strip away the skin, tissue and muscles, we all just look like that.

And really, how much more macabre is having your bones converted into a chandelier compared to just having your bones rotting away under a tombstone. If anything, it's nice you're still being of appreciated long after you've gone.

Knowing that design trends fall out of fashion only to later come back into vogue, you can't help but wonder if the "bone look" is the next one to be resurrected?

What do you think, Better Homes and Gardens?

Published in Czech Republic

My friend and I had hoped that we would just "stumble across" Greta Garbo's grave at Stockholm's Skogskyrkogarden.

 

Given the status of the Swedish-born Hollywood star we assumed her grave would be easy to spot, or at the very least there would be a signpost every three metres pointing us in the right direction.

 

But it wasn't long after we arrived at Skogskyrkogarden that we realised our assumptions were wrong.

 

 

This way to a the forest / cemetery maze where we would spend the afternoon

 

Calling Skogskyrkogarden a cemetery is a little like calling Buckingham Palace a "dwelling".   It's huge.   So huge it has lots of subsections of forested graves worthy of being cemeteries in their own right.   So huge it had a shuttle bus with bus stops.

 

So how to find Greta?

 

While signage was limited, we found cemetery sections which matched the right period for when Greta died.

 

The expansive entrance to Skogskyrkogarden

However, after a good 20 minutes of doing random sweeps along rows of graves we realised we were trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack.

 

Somewhere in among the forest and cemetery was Greta

We thought we could possibly die there ourselves just trying to find the grave.   However, given it was a sunny autumn afternoon, and the calm and peaceful woodland setting, that might not be a bad thing.

 

A keen movie buff, my friend was determined to find Greta's grave.   Given the amount of time and energy we had devoted to the mission so far, I was also keen to track her down.

 

Many graves and many paths led to many dead ends

 

In life Garbo was famous for her elusive mystique and need for solitude.   It seems she had continued this trait after her death.  

 

So my friend risked a hefty mobile phone bill when he got home by using the internet on his Australian iPhone to see if we could find any more details on where Greta could be hiding.

 

The best we could find was a picture of her grave, but that was enough to give us renewed hope and enthusiasm for our mission.   We could tell the headstone looked relatively new and was red, which we hoped would stand her out from the crowd.  There were also some vague instructions about being in a particular section on the left of a path.

 

Lost in Skogskyrkogarden

The next hour passed slowly.  

 

My friend and I split up to "halve the work" as we scoured the rows of headstones.   We then lost each other and had to text each other to find each other again.  The search resumed.   We then started forgetting where we had looked and so retraced our steps.   We pounced hopefully on any grave with a red headstone (of which there were more than you would think).

 

When all seemed lost and we were about to give up, my friend wandered up some steps on a nearby mound (to the right of the path, not left as the internet had advised) and sure enough there she was.

 

Greta's grave was the only one on this raised area, which was surrounded by flower beds.   In hindsight it seems obvious that she would be here - separate, but still connected to the other graves and with areas for people to sit and contemplate.

 

It is not a flashy grave and the absence of any other inscription, such as the years she lived between 1905 and 1990, seem to imply that Greta Garbo was simply a Hollywood creation played by the real woman Greta Lovisa Gustafsson.

 

 

Greta's grave

 

It's a peaceful and beautiful setting with an elegant but simple headstone.  Perhaps a fitting location and grave for someone who is forever linked to the line "I want to be alone".

 

Greta's grave, and the Skogskyrkogarden itself, is a short distance from the heart of Stockholm.  If you go looking for it you're probably better off finding someone else other than us to guide you!

 

Published in Sweden

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