Mělník bone church
Perhaps the most interesting part of St Peter and Paul’s church in Mělník is the crypt below the main altar.
Accessible from outside through a small but ornate door, the crypt was originally intended to be a final resting place of the Bohemian princesses and queens who resided in Mělník at the time.
However, an epidemic of the plague in the early 1520’s filled the small cemetery that surrounded the church and the crypt was pressed into service as an ossuary; a storage place for the older bones that were exhumed to make way for the new.
In the 1780’s ossuaries were banned by imperial decree for hygienic reasons and the one below Sts Peter and Paul’s was bricked up and stayed that way until 1913, when it was reopened and studied by the University professor and anthropologist Jindřich Matiegka.
Open six days a week
Since the end of the professor’s research, the ossuary has again been accessible to the public. Currently it’s open six days a week from at least 10am to 4pm (there may be a short pause for lunch) and the admission fee is 30Kč. According to the signs, photography is strictly prohibited, but I asked nicely and explained I wanted to write about the ossuary so the caretaker agreed it would be a good idea to have some photographs.
Bones of thousands of people
The crypt is the size of a squash court and at least half the floor space is taken up by the mounds of skulls and bones. The largest mound is in immediately in front of the entrance and at five metres square by two metres in height, it alone is estimated to contain the bones of up to 10,000 people.
The bones in the front of the piles are arranged into shapes and symbols and on this large pile there’s an anchor and a cross, symbolising two of the three Christian virtues; faith and hope. The mound of bones immediate opposite has skulls arranged into a heart to symbolise the third; love.
The Mělník ossuary is smaller and simpler than the more famous one at Kutná Hora, but it’s also more intimate, less expensive and far fewer people know about it, which makes visiting perhaps a little more special. In any case, if you’re in Mělník, don’t miss it.
Mělník chapel of bones
Tel. 315 622337, or 731 479031