November 11, 2009

Salzburg, Austria: St. Peter's Cemetery

As my closest friends can tell you, I love cemeteries. I cannot really explain why; I can tell you that it is not an obsession with death or the dead. Something about them is completely fascinating, calming and beautiful to me. I especially enjoy those that have markers that are old and weathered. That would be because I like old stuff. Yup, old stuff is the best.

Many people recognize Saint Peter's Cemetery because a scene in The Sound of Music took place there. That is to say that they created a set that looked like this cemetery for the movie. Most recognizable are the vaults that run along the walls. They belong to families who pay to basically rent them.

In fact, all of the plots in the cemetery are rented. As long as you or a descendant of yours pays the fee, the plot is yours. Once no one can or does pay for the spot, your remains are dug up, moved somewhere else, and your resting place is put on the market. Although this sounds very strange, especially to most Americans, it is fairly common practice, especially in places where space is limited.

There are a wide variety of markers in the cemetery. Some, like the one above, appear hand painted; quite a few of them were very worn from the weather. Others are made of marble and carved with names and figures that range from patriotic to grotesque. Others still are statuesque. Some plots are surrounded by stones, some by wrought iron gates, and others had no official border markings at all.

All of the graves within the cemetery are very well tended. The families of those buried there obviously take pride in caring for their loved ones' resting places. We saw lots of candles and even some flowers. The whole cemetery was crammed full of beautiful things; it was tough to decide where to look or which part was our favorite.

Saint Peter's is located right along the Mönchsberg which means that when they needed a catacombs, a natural solution was provided. The rock was cut to allow for a place to keep the remains of those whose time in the ground had run out. From below a window and door in some rather worn brick are all that is visible of the old catacombs.

Entry to the catacombs is partly hidden. Behind the vaults that run along the mountain is a tunnel that climbs up into the rock. The short skinny tunnel leads up to a room that at one time held the bones that had been disinterred.

These days all that awaits visitors are a couple of altars, murals and the barred off door and windows leading to a dangerous drop off of the cliff. The climb wasn't too long or difficult and the area was mildly interesting; I am guessing that is why the cost is one euro (if you don't have the Salzburg Card).

On the way up to the main catacomb room, there is a landing. There are also some windows along the way that provide views of the cemetery and Romanesque Chapel of the Holy Cross.

While we could not enter the chapel, we could visit Saint Peter's Church. This was probably the most beautiful interior we saw while in Salzburg. Photos were not allowed, but if you'd like to catch a glimpse, go here. It is done in the Baroque style and is breathtaking. The interior decorations of silvery blues and greens as well as the cream/white surrounding the paintings makes the church feel very lofty and light. This contrast with the exterior and one's general feelings after touring the cemetery combine to provide for an almost shocked feeling when you enter. It is quite literally like a breath of fresh air.

No comments: