Funeral Traditions: Austria

by P-Francone

Opened in 1874, Zentralfriedhof in Vienna, Austria is the second largest cemetery in Europe. It spans 2.4 square kilometres with 3.3 million interred there including such notables as Beethoven, Schubert and Johannes Brahms.

Austria is mainly a Catholic country, and thus many of their funeral rites and traditions are based on Catholic traditions. Austrian funerals are often grand affairs, with lots of high fashion and live music. In fact, one of the largest cemeteries in Europe calls Vienna home, and the Funeral Museum is also located in Vienna.

The Austrians have been known to have quite the preoccupation with death, which they have inherited as part of their Germanic history. Back when the country was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, people used to pay heavily to be remembered, spending everything to ensure they would have a “schöne leiche”, or beautiful corpse.

The Vienna Undertakers Museum is home to many historical funeral traditions from the country, including elaborate uniforms worn by the Pompfuneberer, or pallbearers, and other elaborate hearses, wreathes, sashes, flags, urns and coffins. The museum also has an old pack of cigarettes made just for undertakers which carry the words “Rauchen sichert Arbeitsplätze”, which means: “Smoking protects jobs.”

Cremation is not very popular in Austria, the rate currently hovers around 20 percent. This can be attributed to Austria’s traditions of the schöne leiche, and also because the Catholic Church, until recently was not particularly fond of the practice.

Austrians have always been scared of being buried alive, thus a device with a cord attached to the hand of the deceased that would ring a bell above ground if they came back to life was common in the country. Some Austrians also stipulate in their will that after death they should be stabbed in the heart with a sword.

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