Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Matter of Perspective

Sedlec Ossuary, just outside Kutna Hora was by far the most macabre place I've ever been to. I had been itching to visit ever since I had seen it on the DVD series "Long Way Around", a round-the-world motorcycle odyssey by British actors Ewan MacGregor and Charlie Boorman. It was one of places they visited in the Czech Republic that were featured on the DVD set, the others being Prague Castle and the Charles Bridge.

I was fascinated by how this place came to be and why so many people (or rather their remains) ended up there. The ossuary was built over a small church several centuries ago. As the story goes, one of the abbots, a man named Henry, paid a visit to the Holy Land in 1278. While there, he colected some earth from the site at Golgotha and returned with it, sprinkling over the graveyard beside the church. As word of this spread, many people, being the good little Catholics that they were, wanted to be buried there. The ensuing Black Death, along with the Hussite Wars of the 15th century, meant the church grounds were soon jammed packed with bodies. So many bodies in fact that the graveyard could hold no more. So an ossuary was built. When that filled up a man was hired to find a creative way of dealing with all the bones. The result is some rather bizarre bone ornaments decorating the wall of the ossuary.

All this got me thinking, especially after bumping into Greenpeace protesters on a hot, stuffy day in Brno. The bones, at Sedlec, while considered gruesome by some, are there in part due to the cultural leanings and belief system of the time. Inuit hunt seal as part of their culture and belief system. People often pass knee jerk judgements on the Inuit seal hunt. But I wonder what Inuit would think of human bones hanging off the walls. So really, which is more gruesome? Is either situation really "wrong"? Its all a matter of perpective.