Ossuaries & Charnels

Vienna, Austria historic print of catacombs

Vienna, Austria historic print of catacombs

Vienna, Austria historic print of catacombs

Some information is needed here because this is a reference to sites which are not detailed in the book. One thing that surprised me (and in a joyous way) throughout the research for this project was how seldom I was ever told no by a site. I can count on one hand the number of sites which would not grant me access–sometimes it was difficult to get, and sometimes it took awhile, but in all but a few instances, I was always granted access and permission to photograph. Two of these instances, however, were in Vienna, so who knows, it must be something in the schnitzel. Like Rome, Paris, and other large, predominantly Catholic cities which a lengthy history, Vienna has charnels which still contain stores of bones. There are old ossuaries at both St. Michael’s and the Stephendom. In both cases, however, it is simply impossible to get permission to photograph–both sites find it to be a violation of the sanctity of the dead. I do very much respect that, which is why I complied with their desire to not be featured in the book. In the case of St. Michael’s, I was in fact granted full access, and given a personal tour by the very kind church secretary, Kerstin Timmerman, and I give her my thanks. As I said, however, photography was not permitted by order of the church. St. Michael’s does hold periodic tours of its crypt, and I urge anyone interested in this subject matter to go on such a tour if they are in the Vienna area–the crypt contains some interesting mummies, naturally preserved. As for the Stephensdom, they are not nearly so congenial. One can tour the crypt, and see some bones through grated windows. That is about all, and it is not particularly edifying. In any event, it should be stressed that the charnels at both of these sites are really just large, medieval bone stores, and not elaborate bone chapels or something of fanciful design which we might consider among the great ossuaries. As for the illustration which I have provided here, it is from a nineteenth-century book on a tour of the Vienna underground.
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