Monday, February 4, 2013

Skull Garlands and Odd Conversations

I went on a nice trip to the Sedlec Ossuary. Here are some blurry but lovingly taken pictures. It was a dream come true to visit here. I guess it "proves" dreams do come true, even if your dream happens to be 40,000 to 70,000 skeletons artfully arranged, all in one place. It was cold an rainy with mysteries lurking around the crooked cobblestone streets leading to the relatively small church.

There are four large mounds of bones neatly stacked in the corners. I kept imagining a scene with all the bones laid out before they were put into their current places. It must have been overwhelming to be surrounded by endless piles and piles of bones. At one point they might have been bleached in the sun to get nice and white. It must have been a field of bones as far as the eye can see. I also wonder what some of the alternative arrangements might have been like. There must have been a macabre brainstorming session and inevitably someone had suggested a skeleton nativity scene. Someone shot down that idea and proposed instead to fashion them into household utensils and sell them. Some one else got offended because they didn't want their great grand mother's thighs turned into salad tongs or something. It was time to bring in a professional. František Rint was chosen to arrange the bones. The  pyramid shaped piles below were actually made by a "half' blind monk".

One's immediate impression of the ossuary is that it's creepy but upon further contemplation one might find it surreal as well. Most surreal things are creepy somehow, anyway. The Czech surrealist filmmaker Jan Svankmayer made a short film of the ossuary. I suggest his version of Alice in Wonderland, if you want to watch the creepiest possible version of the story. Here is the video, it shows the variety of ornaments and the fascinating details quite well, the ossuary has, fortunately not changed since his visit. 

 Anyway the surreal elements here are human parts in unusual places (chandelier among others), religious symbols in strange contexts and ornaments of the mysterious past (the baroque style of the architecture). These are at least the most recognizable ones that come to mind immediately.

Below is the Schwarzenberg coat of arms rendered in bone. What looks like a bird poking out the eye of a skeleton in the lower right hand corner, is the head of a Turk with a raven plucking his eyes. That is at least two layers of macabre. Again, the conversation  about the coat of arms must have been very interesting. 

The Sedlec Ossuary is one of those mythical places that exist in random pockets of the world, that most never see but I feel fortunate to know what this place was like. 

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