A Peaceful Place of Death

by K-Dean
Hallstatt Cemetery is so small that graves are reused.

The cemetery in Hallstatt is so small that graves have been regularly dug up so another can buried in its place. The remains of the deceased are bleached in the sun before being laid to rest in the village’s church.

Stuck between a lake and a hard place is the village of Hallstatt. Tucked away among the mountains of Austria is the small lakeside village, with a population of fewer than 1000 residents. The peaceful little village is in fact so small; the cemetery can only hold so many bodies before they have to be dug up every decade or so to make room for new burials. Once the bones are dug up, they are exposed to sunlight for weeks until bleached ivory white. They are then painted with floral designs, the date of death and name of the deceased and placed in the local chapel.

Ossuaries have long been a tradition in Central Europe. At one time there were hundred of these bone houses in Austria and Bavaria up until the eighteenth century. It was a common practice for graves to be rented for a limited time period, ranging from 10 to 30 years. After the lease is up, family or friends would have to renew the lease or the grave would be reused.

The main reason ossuaries were necessary was due to the limited space in Hallstatt. The custom of moving skulls to the bone house declined in popularity during the mid-twentieth century. These days skulls are only moved to the bone house if a local inhabitant specifically requested it in writing.

The newest skull is of a local woman who died in 1983, her skull was placed in the bone house in 1995 and can be found at the foot of the cross in St. Michael’s Chapel. You will know its her when you see her flashy gold tooth still in place.

Read more:

Chapel of St. Michael In Hallstatt

Hallstatt Churches

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