Hallstatt Churches Part 1

LINKS to pages in the Hallstatt site and to the Colin Day Travelling Days series:

1 : Hallstatter See
2 : Hallstatt Churches

3 : Hallstatt Town
4 : Hallstatt Funicular

"The Roman Catholic parish church of the Ascension of Our Lady in Hallstatt is a gem in the midst of the world cultural heritage village. The small church dates back to 1181 - its tower dating back to the 12th century bears witness to this fact. Daringly built in the late Gothic times high up on a rock with a steep drop down to the lakeside it became finally in 1505 the church seen today. Shortly after, the church became the centre of disputes and was, for a while, protestant. Since 1939 the maintenance of this gem has been in the hands of the small church community along with friends and visitors. In 2002 the church was completely renovated."
The photograph (left) of the church was taken on the boat trip as we were returning to Hallstatt.

A steep stairway leads from the town up to the church (below).


"The rocky grounds of the parish church became the Hallstatt cemetery. The front is assigned to the Protestant (Evangelist) Christians. Following the rules of the cemetery there are no family graves. A grave can be re-occupied after ten years. The dead are buried horizontally; the grave verge covers only a small part of the grave."


In the ground floor of the two storied chapel dating back to the 12th century is the Beinhaus (Bone house). Karner or ossuaries have a long tradition in Central Europe; literally hundreds existed in Austria and Bavaria although they went out of fashion during the late eighteenth century.

It has long been the practice in Austria that graves are only rented for a limited period, usually between ten and thirty years. This custom continues in much of Austria. After the lease is up, family or friends either have to renew the lease or the grave is reused.

The German word Karner is derived from the Latin carnarium (caro meaning flesh) although Beinhaus (bone house) is much more common. In English, the formal term is ossuary, derived from the Latin ossuarium (os meaning bone).

Since the Hallstatt cemetery is small and without any possibility of expansion, and due to the fact that cremations were in former days forbidden there was not enough space for all Hallstatt residents to be buried there. The graves were therefore opened ten to fifteen years later and the skulls removed along with other bones.

The skulls were cleaned and exposed to sunlight for weeks until they were bleached ivory white. From the eighteenth century it became a habit to paint the skulls before placing them in the bone house. These paintings often include the name of the person, year of death, and some other decorations such as flowers, leaves, and even serpents.This tradition began in 1720 AD. The last skull to go into the Beinhaus was in 1995 and was that of a woman who died 1983; it was her last request to be stored in the there. (Note in the picture above the blindfolded Christ on the cross.)


The Beinhaus (bone house) in Hallstatt actually dates back to twelve century AD. There are over 1200 skulls in the charnel of which 610 have been painted in in various ways.

Lack of space and the need to recycle graves are usually given as the main reason for the existence of the bone house in Hallstatt. However, research has shown that of over 30,000 known deaths and burials, just over 2,100 skulls were documented. Even allowing for bureaucratic laxness, it seems moving skulls to the bone house could not have been an automatic process.


We leave the Michaelskapelle (St Michael Chapel) and return to the cemetery which overlooks the town and lake ......


...... and move into the church where a birthday celebration for the parish priest is taking place. The interior pictures of the church were taken later !! The church houses an ornate late Gothic altar and murals dating from the early 16th century and a painted altarpiece from the mid-1400s (below).



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