View into Death

For a writer of scary stories, such as myself, death inspires. It is the ultimate dark for us mortals, the ultimate terra incognita. Some of us try to hold on to life as long as possible, trying to extend life into death by pinning their faith on a hereafter. Truth is that we don’t know, we just don’t know. We can stare at a corpse for as long as we want, but we will never know where the person it once was went (if it went anywhere…).

Silver and Bones

This spring I took my Writer’s Residence to Kutná Hora, deep into Bohemia and the Czech Republic. Kutná Hora’s story is a story of death. The discovery of silver in the twelfth century was a lucky windfall and made the town the second most prosperous in the area for years to come. But, as often, windfall is haunted by downfall. Black Death came along and the Hussite wars, leaving thousands and thousands of dead, flooding the graveyard of the small chapel of Sedlec. A half-blind monk was set to exhume skeletons to make room for new burials. He stacked the skulls and bones in the chapel. In the sixteenth century the mines flooded and together with repeated calls of the plague and the Thirty Years’ War Kutná Hora was swept of the map, burying mournful heaps of skulls and bones in oblivion.

The Schwarzenberg Coat of Arms

In 1870 the aristocratic Schwarzenberg family hired František Rint, a woodcarver, to rescue the thousands and thousands of skulls and bones from obscurity. Rint did it with zeal, creating a magnificent chandelier of skulls and bones, creating piers and monstrances, and livening up the chapel with garlands of skulls hanging from the vault. In honor of his employer he created the Schwarzenberg Coat of Arms. Those who cling to life frenetically may regard the results of his hard labour macabre, but to me it is a festive celebration of death and an inspiration.

Go and decide for yourself. It’s worth the trip.