Some skeletons and mummies are all dressed up with no place to go.
Most Catholic churches have a relic of one sort or another. Many are small bone chips in decorative gold and glass cases. Some are rather mundane personal possessions of a saint or some strands of hair. The Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul in Prague’s Vyšehrad fortress has the empty coffin of St Longinus, the man who held the spear at the crucifixion. The same church has a fragment of the shoulder of St. Valentine.
St. Vitus’ Cathedral in Prague Castle has an elaborate silver coffin of St. John Nepomuk, along with royal tombs as well.
But there are a few churches in Prague that have truly unsettling items. Four churches have glass cases with pretty complete dressed up skeletons or mummies. One more had a shrouded set of bones looking like a lazy ghost waiting for inspiration. Finally there is the mummified arm of a thief hanging as a warning to all who would try to rob the altar.
Across the Czech Republic, there are even creepier finds, with ossuaries in several towns including the famous Bone Chapel in Kutná Hora. There are also mummies of monks in Brno, as well as a rather large underground ossuary that was opened n 2012. In the town of Křtiny in Moravia there are painted skulls in a church crypt.
So Prague maybe has some catching up to do, but it does have a few choice items for dark tourism.
1. Mother Elekta
Church of St. Benedict
Kostel svatého Benedikta.
Hradčanské nám. 184/3, Prague 1–Hradčany
The mummy of Abbess Marie Elekta of Jesus has been preserved for more than 350 years. She lived 1605–63. Her original name was Caterina Tramazzoli, and she was the third daughter of an impoverished Italian nobleman. Her uncle, a monsignor, urged her into clerical work. She became involved with the Carmelites and founded several convents.
She established the convent for the Discalced Carmelites in Prague at a church in Malá Strana. The convent later moved to its current location in Hradčany.
After her death, she was buried in the Chapel of St. Elijah. Nuns visiting her grave reported the scent of flowers. One saw an aura around the tomb, another was cured of migraines.
The new mother superior investigated by having the tomb opened. Mother Elekta’s clothing has fallen apart and the coffin was filled with foul black water, but her body was intact. The body was washed in vinegar and herbs, and set down in a chair.
She is still seated, dressed in a nun’s habit and in a glass case.
Doctors from the Medical Faculty of Charles University examined the body in 1677 and found it “perfectly intact, having skin completely preserved, with a color of brown or chestnut and all the limbs flexible and having some kind of jasmine scent.” They declared it to be “absolutely miraculous and beyond all natural forces.”
2. Saint Prosper
Church of the Most Holy Trinity
Kostel Nejsvětější Trojice
Spálená 6, 110 00 Prague 1–New Town
The scariest looking relic is the most mysterious. “Saint Prosper M.” is the text above a skeleton dressed up in a red outfit, with leaves around his skull and a green plant in his hand, likely meant to represent the palm frond of a martyr. The “M” after the name also likely stands for martyr. Gauze covers the bones, giving the body the ghostly appearance of something from a 1960’s Gothic horror film.
There is a St. Prosper who was a fifth century scholar and religious writer, but this person was not a martyr.
The Church of the Most Holy Trinity was a Roman Catholic Church until 2006, and is now used by the Slovak Greek Catholic community.
The original architects of the church was Antonio Octavio Broggio and Kryštof Dientzenhofer.
The church is most known for its exterior baroque statue of John Nepomuk with a cubist shed, joining it to an adjacent cubist building.
3. Sanctus Exuperantius
Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary at Strahov
(Bazilika Nanebevzetí Panny Marie na Strahově)
Strahovské nádvoří 1/132, Prague 1–Hradčany
Another mysterious saint in a glass case is Sanctus Exuperantius, Martyr. He is covered in a flesh-tone smiling wax mask with wax hands. His joints bend in a rather snakeline manner, giving him an overall comical effect. He is in rich courtly clothes, and has his name on a sash as if he won a beauty contest.
There is a Saint Exuperantius, and his symbols are a banner and a book, but he was a fifth century bishop in Africa, it seems. So who this Exuperantius is remains an open question.
The church, built in 1140 and later remodeled, is best-known as a place where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart improvised on the organ in 1787.
It is easy to miss Sanctus Exuperantius in the richly ornate church, as the glass coffin is a bit hidden on the left side of the church under an altar.
Another saint’s relics are also in the church, St. Norbert, but in a gilded wooden coffin, so there is nothing to be seen.
4. Sv. Kolumba
Church of St. Ursula
(Kostel svaté Voršily)
Národní třída 8, Prague–New Town
The bones and blood of Saint Columba, a virgin and martyr from the third century, are in a glass coffin under a shroud. A paper near the glass coffin calls her a patron of Czech pigeons and gives a brief history.
The coffin has the Czech spelling of her name, Kolumba. She lived from 257 to 273 A.D.
Her name may have originally been Eporita and she may have come from a noble pagan family in Saragossa. At 16, she fled Spain for France and was baptized with the name Columba.
Emperor Aurelian wanted her to marry his son, but she refused and was imprisoned in a brothel. A bear allegedly saved her from being raped.
Columba was beheaded, near a fountain called d’Azon. She was to have been burnt live along with the bear, but rain put out the fire. The bear escaped.
How her relics wound up under a shroud in Prague is a mystery. Her story is not considered historical, but it is widespread in France. So if she is a myth, then whose bones are these?
5. Sanct Juste
6. Beate Boniface
Saint Thomas Church
(Kostel svatého Tomáše)
Josefská 8, Prague 1–Malá Strana
Little is known about the two dressed mummies in glass cases at side altars in Saint Thomas Church. They are identified as St. Justus and St. Boniface, but matching them up to any known saint has been difficult.
One glass coffin has the legend “Beate Boniface, Martyr subscribe votisque tibi servi fundunt,”
meaning “Blessed Boniface, the Martyr, listen to the prayers your servants pour forth to you.”
There are 10 saints named Boniface, and two are martyrs, but they do not seem to match the elegantly dressed skeleton at hand.
The text refers to him as blessed, rather than saint, so possibly he made it part way through the canonization process and was forgotten.
The other coffin has the text “Sanct Juste Martyir exaudi Vota Precesque nostras = 1734,” meaning “Saint Justus, Martyr, hear our vows and prayers = 1734.” Again, nothing is known about the person.
He is at the altar of the most Holy Cross, with a Crucifixion scene by painter Jan Jakub Stevens of Steinfels.
The church itself has a main altarpiece painted by Rubens, though the one on display is a copy.
7. Hand of a thief
Church of St. James the Greater
Kostel svatého Jakuba Většího
Malá Štupartská 6, Praha 1–Old Town
The dismembered hand of a thief is not really a relic, but it has been in the back of the Church of St. James the Greater as a warning for more than 600 years. Most people miss it, as it is behind the entrance a bit, and it has shriveled so that it doesn’t seem to be a mummified human arm and hand, but at closer inspection it can be nothing else. It is on a chain suspended from a metal pole coming out of the wall.
Sometime around the year 1400, according to a sign in the church, a thief attempted to steal valuables from the altar. A statue of the Virgin Mary grabbed the thief’s arm and refused to let go. The arm had to be amputated. Just after it was, the statue of Mary went back to its normal position.
Allegedly the meat butchers union was active in the church at the time and supplied the chain that now holds the arm.
Another legend regarding the church is that Count Jan Vratislav of Mitrovice, who has an elaborate tomb in the church, was buried alive. By the time people investigated the noises coming from the tomb it was too late. He was found outside of his coffin but trapped behind the sealed wall of the doorless vault